Thursday, November 16, 2006

Zimbabwe: The Language of violence

"...“Mugabe uses the rhetoric of revolution to excuse repression,” a prominent liberation war veteran, Wilfred Mhanda, observed recently of the harsh and offensive language that Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's head of state, frequently uses.
As a cabinet minister, Nkomo asked the premier whether reports about the secret training of a private army were true, although they had not been discussed in cabinet. Mugabe retorted with an arrogance and vehemence that has become characteristic, “Who are you? Why should you be consulted?”

Nevertheless, Nkomo soon got his answer in the most horrific of ways. What was to become the Fifth Brigade, a crack army unit answerable directly to Mugabe, was being trained clandestinely in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands by more than a hundred military instructors sent from North Korea by the dictator Kim Il Sung in preparation for a ruthless crackdown on the Ndebele people of Nkomo's home provinces in Matabeleland.

The assault by the 3500-strong 5th Brigade on the Ndebeles, in the west and south of the country, began in January 1983. By the time some 20,000 Ndebele villagers had been massacred and countless others tortured and terribly beaten, Mugabe said the operation - launched by Colonel Perence Shiri, one of Mugabe's former guerrilla chiefs - had been necessary to weed out Ndebele dissidents who wanted to topple him.

But many analysts believe the assault was directed at the Ndebele as a whole, not just the radicals in their midst. "Throughout Matabeleland as a whole [dissident] numbers never exceeded more than 400 at the peak of [their] activity," said Zimbabwe historian Martin Meredith of the Ndebele "revolt" in his book "Robert Mugabe: Power, Plunder and Tyranny in Zimbabwe"...

The real motive behind the Fifth Brigade's storm of terror was to cow the Ndebele, destroy PF-ZAPU and establish a one-party state with Mugabe at its head, which he achieved in 1987.

When Catholic peace and justice activists accused Mugabe and Shiri of conducting a reign of terror in Matabeleland that included "wanton killings, woundings, beatings, burnings and rapes [that had] brought about the maiming and death of hundreds of people who are neither dissidents nor collaborators", Mugabe responded by warning a gathering in rural Matabeleland, "We have to deal with this problem quite ruthlessly. Don't cry if your relatives get killed in the process ... Where men and women provide food for the dissidents, when we get there we eradicate them."

Over the years, Mugabe's language has become ever more coarse and callous....

When he launched the brutal confiscation of white commercial farmland in 2000, which plunged the country into anarchy and a spiral of economic decline, he warned farmers who resisted, “We have degrees in violence ...I will be a Black Hitler ten-fold!”

There followed a period when the laws of the land were virtually suspended as Mugabe launched his so-called "fast-track" land reform programme, ostensibly to resettle poor blacks but in reality to destroy what he perceived as the power base of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC - the white commercial farmers and their mainly black workers.

After narrowly winning the parliamentary election of July 2000, which was marked by unprecedented countrywide violence, Mugabe told his ruling ZANU PF congress in the following December, “We must continue to strike fear into the heart of the white man. The white man must tremble.” White farmers were assaulted, tortured or killed on their farms after Mugabe intensified his verbal attack, describing them as "enemies of Zimbabwe who will die" if they resisted the invasions of their homes and properties.

But MDC supporters and farm workers bore the brunt of Mugabe’s fury that an opposition party had dared try to remove him from power. It is estimated that at least 200 people were killed and thousands of others injured in the lead up to the subsequent presidential election in 2002, widely criticised as fraudulent but which maintained Mugabe in power...

n January last year, when three to four million people were desperately hungry as a result of crop failures and the farm invasions, Mugabe refused international food aid for the starving, saying foreigners were "foisting" food upon unwilling Zimbabweans, before adding, "We are not hungry. We don't want to choke on your food."

Targets of Mugabe's hatred are numerous. But while attacking foreigners, white farmers, Ndebeles, political opponents and others, he retains some of his most vindictive rhetoric for homosexuals. He has branded gays "un-Christian" and "un-African" and as "lower than pigs and dogs"....

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