Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Mr Robert Mugabe’s inauguration in Harare yesterday, if it was not deadly serious, would go down in history as the most deranged piece of political satire ever.
As the IFP participants in the previous observer missions to monitor elections in Zimbabwe did in the past, every observer mission, including those of SADC and the PAP, have rejected the result of this fraudulent election. In no way at all did it reflect the will of the people. The IFP supports the calls from SADC and the Pan African Parliament observer missions that conditions be put in place for the holding of a free and fair run-off as soon as possible. This should be made clear to Mr Mugabe in no uncertain terms when he arrives in Egypt today.
An IFP member of parliament, Suzanne Vos, has reported to me that she personally witnessed appalling intimidation and violence in the various provinces of Zimbabwe where she had been assigned to observe not only the Presidential run-off but various Parliamentary by-elections. The crimes committed by the Zanu-PF thugs can only be classified in the same category as Stalin’s bloodthirsty crazed lieutenants in the former Soviet Union for their wickedness.
Ms Vos visited homes where elderly people (in one case a retired teacher and his wife) had been brutally assaulted because the husband was a supporter of the MDC.
On another occasion she witnessed a truck loaded with ZANU PF thugs openly assault MDC supporters after they had left a meeting held on the private property of an MDC Councillor. Even though two of the thugs present were identified as being the sons of a former ZANU PF Senator (who had also been identified as being among the assailants in the attack on the retired teacher and his wife a few days previously) no arrests were made even though Ms Vos reported her eye-witness accounts to the police.
After the closing of the polls, Ms Vos was situated alone at a polling station at a rural school where the MDC had requested the presence of PAP observers. Other members in her team in that area had spread out to cover the counting as much as possible. During the day, while visiting 18 polling stations in that Ward, MDC party agents had pleaded with the PAP observers to "protect" them as they feared being murdered on their way home. Several showed Ms Vos bruises on their bodies inflicted in previous "beatings" by persons they said were "War Veterans".
Minutes before the ballot boxes were to be opened a group of men silently entered the polling station blocking the door and forming a menacing line in front of the election officials (who consisted of the principal of the school and various teachers). Their presence was clearly unlawful and alarming.
Showing considerable courage, Ms Vos said the chief electoral officer exorted the men to leave and quoted electoral law as to who was allowed to be in the polling station during counting. He then pointed to the presence of the Pan African Parliament observer. The men then slowly left.
Ms Vos was told the men were "War Veterans" and "Green Bombers" who had been terrorising residents in the area.
Voters were told that "Operation Red Finger" meant they had to vote (and show the red dye mark indicating they had done so) and then report to the home of a local "War Veteran" nearby not only showing that they had voted but they also had to write down the serial number on their ballot paper on their hands.
Ms Vos personally took the terrified MDC party agents away from the polling station to a place where they said they would hide - an area in which the burned out houses of MDC supporters were scattered throughout the township. The party agents told Ms Vos they had not been able to sleep in their homes for many weeks. The same stories of intimidation and destruction of property were repeated to PAP observers throughout the country and is reflected in the PAP Observer Mission's interim report.
Ms Vos also reported that she had to personally intervene with the commanding officer of the police service in one area when MDC supporters trying to hold a rally were threatened with the riot police - even though they had obtained a High Court order permitting them to hold the rally.
The previous day, in the same area, Ms Vos had attended a rally held by President Robert Mugabe where he told the audience that "a ball point pen cannot compete with a bazooka... the MDC will never rule this country..."
Ms Vos observed hate speech in the State-controlled media against the leadership of the MDC and open reporting of the war rhetoric which formed a golden thread throughout the speeches of President Mugabe. Together with her PAP colleagues she said she was "simply shattered" by the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe. Their dignity in the midst of their plight was awe-inspiring. Ms Vos said she was not once approached by beggars - when citizens saw her PAP Observer Mission jacket they whispered: "Help us, we are suffering... please help us" time and time again.
She has described to me how people are starving. The currency has been rendered literally worthless. Citizens now describe their days starting from zero... 0 0 1 means no breakfast, no lunch, a little food at dinner. 1 0 0 means some breakfast and no lunch or dinner.
But even as this appalling tragedy plays out, the entire Mugabe phenomenon, cemented in stereotypes as it is, is baffling for many. Some in our ruling party – but thankfully not many now - and outside lead us to believe that the fiercest opposition to the Mugabe regime comes from the West, its alleged stooges in the Movement for Democratic Change and the dispossessed white farmers.
Today, I fear, few black South Africans would still not acknowledge that the main victims of the regime's misrule have increasingly been ordinary black Zimbabweans, Shona and Ndebele, urban and rural, even when an estimated three million of those same black Zimbabweans live in exile among us. But should we be surprised?
As our Northern neighbour slipped further into chaos in the late 1990s — and I will not add to the countless accounts of the litany of misrule and disasters that have befallen this, former, African jewel — Mr Mugabe's tottering government has been buoyed by considerable populist support of the rawest kind.
Mr Mugabe continues to cannily justify his authoritarian misrule within a discourse of redress for colonial injustice and imperialism. These sentiments have resonated across Africa; large swathes of which feel marginalised by the global economy and its mighty supranational institutions and remain wedded to the Marxist narrative of the liberation struggle. When Zimbabwe rebuilds and heals, as she will one day, we dare not ignore this very real anger.
I watched Mr Mugabe's rousing welcome from many African delegates at the World Development Summit in Johannesburg in 2002 — the same conference at which he launched a scathing attack on Tony Blair and Britain's colonial past.
Two years later, at President Mbeki's inauguration, he received an equally rapturous welcome from many Africans as he stood, immaculately tailored and ramrod straight, in the hot autumn sunshine.
On one occasion, I said that something had to be done about Zimbabwe, at a SADC meeting in Angola. This was after President Bush called on SADC to take a decisive position. Not one minister agreed with me in public, but several came up to me at teatime to express their private agreement.
But let us not paint this as an exclusively black-on-black error. The former National Party government and human rights activists of all colours took a long time before they started criticising Mr Mugabe. World leaders were no different which is why the Matabele massacres went almost unnoticed, except, of course, by the Matabele! Their spilled blood still cries out! Our failure to speak up for Mr Mugabe’s victims has a long history and may have contributed to his sense of impunity.
And this is it. This is where we all, on this side of the Limpopo River, have blundered. This is where lies our, South African, complicity in the failure of Mr Mugabe's regime. We have let the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorate so fast and so far without as much as a word of concern. Yet, all along, those who march to the drum of freedom have celebrated human rights, promoted reconciliation, and respected the rule of law and the political opposition.
Given these obvious double standards in my own country, as an African, I feel I am obliged to take some of the blame for Mr Mugabe's belief, fostered by many ordinary Africans across our continent that he is right to hang on — a truly tragic conflict of loyalty.
Yet for all its past neglect — and the wild cheers for Mr Mugabe —Africa’s stand on human rights is changing and those who once seemed beyond the reach of justice may find that public statements of support from fellow leaders will evaporate once they step down or are forced from power.
Accountability is on the march and better late than never. Let us hope it comes soon to Zimbabwe. Tonight, those of us who are believers in God or a Higher Being, should not only bow our knee and say a prayer for the Zimbabwean people, we should ask for forgiveness for allowing such an evil to be perpetrated on our borders.
God bless the people of Zimbabwe.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP