Magazine article The Spectator

Living in a State of Terror

Magazine article The Spectator

Living in a State of Terror

Article excerpt

THERE has been a row during the last fortnight about whether the government should ban the English cricket team from travelling to Zimbabwe for next month's World Cup. But the cricket has obscured the real issue. And that is whether Britain and the world community will intervene to stop Robert Mugabe from torturing, terrorising and starving to death the people of Zimbabwe.

I spent two weeks in this beautiful country shortly before Christmas, making a film for Channel 4. We travelled illegally. Dr Mugabe does not want the world to know what he is up to, so he has banned foreign journalists. We posed as golfers, using secret cameras.

We learnt that the famine that looms for eight million Zimbabwean citizens - more than half the population - is no natural disaster. There is indeed a drought. But Mugabe, in an act of pure evil, has taken advantage of this for his own loathsome purposes. Elderly and unpopular, he has one weapon left in his battle to hang on to power: the ability to use the power of the state to starve and terrorise.

Everyone we met had been physically attacked by Mugabe's Zanu-PF ruling party at some stage. The guide who took us round had a recent scar on his face. We asked him how he had come by it. He explained that he had been canvassing in a rural area before the assembly elections of 2000. One night he and his friends were sleeping in huts outside a village. They were petrol-bombed, so they ran for their lives to escape. But outside Zanu-PF were waiting. He was tripped up. As he fell to the ground he turned his head. It was as well that he did: his assailant was bringing down an iron bar on to the back of his head. It slewed into the side of his face rather than crashing into his skull. Our guide reacted fast: he threw sand into the eyes of his attacker and ran away.

But his troubles were still not over. He checked into the hospital with a gaping wound from his cheekbone to the top of his mouth, only to be told that he needed police authority to be treated. So he went to the police, who charged him with assault and locked him in a cell for 48 hours, his gaping wound festering all the while and untreated.

The point about this horrible little story is that it was routine, barely a matter for comment. Zanu-PF violence and political murder have become a routine part of the culture of Zimbabwean politics, rather as the television chat show sets the tone in Britain. There have been four assassination attempts on Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change opposition, over the past two years. Two of his MPs have died suspiciously in the past 12 months while a third, Mtoliki Sibanda, is now in hiding after two attempts on his life. All MPs are followed by the secret police and subject to threats. When I met Joel Gabbuza, the MP for Binga in the rural north of the country where the famine is at its worst, I asked him whether he had been terrorised. He said he was relaxed during the day but `when you are asleep at night you are not sure who is kicking around the house'. He told how, after this summer's presidential elections, his little family grocery store was wrecked: `they destroyed all the windows, cut off the door, got inside the shop, cut down all the shelves and smashed all the goods that were inside the shop'.

According to Amnesty, some 58 people were victims of state-approved killing in the first nine months of last year - rather more than one a week. That is almost certainly a gross underestimate. Most of the murders are local, and do not come to national attention. The following episode gives some grounds for believing this to be the case.

Upon reaching Bulawayo, the second largest town in Zimbabwe and an MDC stronghold, we sought to maintain our cover as golfers. The Bulawayo golf club turned out to be frequented mainly by white businessmen from what remains of the town's once prosperous commercial centre. We had some difficulty getting on to the course because of a tournament. …

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