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reading against the regime of Robert Mugabe
SW Radio Africa
June 26, 2007
If you wish
to partake in the world-wide
reading against the regime of Robert Mugabe, please contact:
for a worldwide reading on September 9, 2007
rights abuses go back to the early 80s, when he implemented the
Gukurahundi operation - the bloody murder of more than 20.000 Ndebele
people. Since 2000 he has been responsible for the eviction of white
farmers from their land, actions which have led to corn shortages
and, consequently, to terrible famine. During the Murambatsvina
(filth removal) campaign of 2005, Mugabe responded to the opposition's
demonstrations by having several slums bulldozed. Hundreds of opposition
members and dissidents have been arrested, kidnapped or tortured.
A general ban on demonstrations has been in force since February
2007. The freedom of the press is extremely limited and there is
discrimination against foreign media. Mugabe influenced the election
by means of violence and absolute control in such a way that fear
was caused to everyone who voted for the opposition. In mid-March
2007 Zimbabwe's most important opposition party leader, Morgan
Tsvangirai, was arrested during a protest rally and later severely
beaten in custody.
Only a decade ago Zimbabwe
had been one of the richest and most developed countries in Africa,
with the highest educational standards on the continent and a literacy
rate of almost 85%. Over recent years Mugabe has led his country
to economic collapse and his people into bitter poverty. Officially,
Zimbabwe's inflation rate is 3700%, the highest in the world.
The unemployment rate is 80%. With an average life expectancy of
34 years for women and 37 years for men, Zimbabwe has become the
country with the lowest life expectancy in the world.
Through this reading
the international literature festival berlin would like to help
draw attention to the situation in this post colonial country. The
reality of Zimbabwe had been concealed long enough, unfortunately
also by members of the political class in South Africa, which shoulders
a special responsibility in this matter.
We would like
to ask for your support for our project and we appeal to radio stations,
schools, universities, theatres and other cultural institutions
in Africa and all over the world to read poems by Chenjerai Hove,
Chirikuré Chirikuré and Dumbudzo Marecharas, Elinor
Sisulu's foreword written for the book "Gukurahundi
in Zimbabwe: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the
Midlands 1980-1988" (Johannesburg 2007). It attacks the silence,
the result of a false sense of solidarity, which is one of the bases
of Mugabe's power. Everybody is authorised to use the attached
texts and poems in readings and performances as all the rights lay
open on September 9, 2007.
appeal has been signed by:
Hector Abad, Colombia;
Ali Abdollahi, Iran; Tariq Ali, Pakistan; Eugenijus Alisanka, Lithuania;
Maria Teresa Andruetto, Argentina; Yuri Andrukhovych, Ukraine; Hanan
Al-Shaykh, Lebanon/ U.K.; Homero Aridjis, Mexico; Jorge Luis Arzola,
Cuba/ Germany; John Ashbery, USA; Margaret Atwood, Canada; Ricardo
Azevedo, Brazil; Alessandro Baricco, Italy; Jeanne Benameur, France;
Breyten Breytenbach, South Africa/France/Senegal; André Brink,
South Africa; Martha Brooks, Canada; Pam Brown, Australia; Melvin
Burgess, England; José Anibal Campos, Cuba; Raúl Antonio
Capote, Cuba; Patricia Cavalli, Italy; Gianni Celati, Italy; Dilip
Chitre, India; J.M. Coetzee, South Africa/Australia; Edgardo Cozarinsky,
Argentina; Alonso Cueto, Peru; Bei Dao, USA/ China; Siddhartha Deb,
India; Xabier P. DoCampo, Spain; Ariel Dorfman, Chile; Tishani Doshi,
India; Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, Russia; Dave Eggers, USA; Asli Erdogan,
Turkey; Jeffrey Eugenides, USA/Germany; J. Glenn Evans, USA; Nuruddin
Farah, Somalia/ South Africa; Raymond Federman, USA; Enrique Fierro,
Uruguay/USA; Christoph Fleischer, Germany; Jonathan Safran Foer,
USA; Jon Fosse, Norway; Carlos Franz, Chile/ Spain; Greg Gatenby,
Canada; Jochen Gerz, Germany/ France; Natasza Goerke, Poland/Germany;
Jorie Graham, USA; Günter Grass, Germany; Ha Jin, China; Ulla
Hahn, Germany; Ulf Peter Hallberg, Sweden/ Germany; Milton Hatoum,
Brazil; Hannes Heer, Germany; Daniel Hevier, Slovakia; Jaime Luis
Huenún Villa, Chile; David Huerta, Mexico; Jabbar Yassin
Hussein, Iraq/France; Nancy Huston, USA/ France; Eirik Ingebrigtsen,
Norway; Drago Jancar, Germany; Louis Jensen, Denmark; Ulrike Kistner,
Germany/ South Africa; Ingrid de Kok, South Africa; Nicole Krauss,
USA; Ekkehart Krippendorff, Germany; Antjie Krog, South Africa;
Goretti Kyomuhendo, Uganda; Claudio Magris, Italy; Jamal Mahjoub,
U.K./Denmark; Norman Manea, USA; Simon Levy, USA; Zakes Mda, South
Africa; Abdelwahab Meddeb, Tunisia/ France; Pauline Melville, U.K.;
Amanda Michalopoulou, Greece; Poni Micharvegas, Argentina; Pankaj
Mishra, India/ USA; Adrian Mitchell, U.K.; Verónica Murguia,
Mexico; Alberto Mussa, Brazil; Azar Nafisi, Iran/ USA; Per Nilsson,
Sweden/Denmark; Elsa Osorio, Argentina /Spain; Michael Palmer, USA;
Thorsten Palzhoff, Germany; Hagar Peeters, Netherlands; Hans Pienaar,
South Africa; Henning J. Pieterse, Netherlands; Antonio José
Ponte, Cuba; José Prats, Mexico; Jose Manuel Prieto, Cuba;
Francine Prose, USA; Prof. Tania Quintero, Cuba/ Switzerland; Adrinne
Rich, USA; Raúl Rivero, Cuba/Spain; Santiago Roncagliolo,
Peru; Rolando Sánchez Mejías, Cuba/Spain; Faraj Sarkohi,
Iran/Germnay; K.S. Satchidanandan, India; Peter Schneider, Germany;
Eugene Schoulgin, Norway; Hermann Schulz, Germany; Thomas Schwarz,
Germany; Eduardo Sguiglia, Argentina; Nicholas Shakespeare, U.K.;
Nasrin Siege, Iran/Tanzania/Madagascar/Germany; Manuel Sosa, Cuba/
USA; Peter Stamm, Switzerland; Matthew Sweeney, Ireland/England;
Tajima Shinji, Japan; Nathaniel Tarn, U.K./USA; Paulo Teixeira,
Portugal; Ivan Thays, Peru; Annika Thor, Sweden; Peter Torberg,
Germany; Jutta Treiber, Austria; Ko Un, Korea; Mario Vargas Llosa,
Peru; Haris Vlavianos, Greece; Ornela Vorpsi, Albania; Abdourahman
Waberi, Djibouti/France; Eliot Weinberger, USA; Cao Wenxuan, China;
Herbert Wiesner, Germany; Gernot Wolfram, Germany; Yang Lian, China/
in Zimbabwe: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the
to the 2007 Edition by Elinor Sisulu
that is needed for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
- Edmund Burke, 18th Century British statesman and political thinker
anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Whatever affects one
directly, affects all indirectly."
- Martin Luther King Junior, African-American civil rights leader
humanity is one individual and indivisible family and each one of
us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others. I cannot detach
myself from the wickedest soul."
- Mahatma Ghandi, Indian freedom fighter and philosopher.
The Shona expression
"Gukurahundi", meaning "the first rain that washes
away the chaff of the last harvest before the spring rains"
used to have pleasant connotations. For farmers in water-scarce
environments, there are few things more pleasurable than the smell
of the first rains on dry dusty soil, the coolness and freshness
of the air afterwards and the promise a new season of bountiful
In the 1980s the term
Gukurahundi assumed an entirely new meaning when the notorious North
Korean-trained Fifth Brigade murdered thousands of people in the
Zimbabwean province of Matabeleland and parts of Midlands. Both
the Fifth Brigade and the period of mayhem and murder they caused
were called Gukurahundi, which is why, since then, the word Gukurahundi
invokes nothing but negative emotions among Zimbabweans, ranging
from indifference, shame, denial, terror, bitter anger and deep
trauma, depending on whether one is a victim, perpetrator or one
of the millions of citizens who remained silent.
When I was asked to write
this foreword, my first reaction was to refuse. "What right
do I have to be given such a platform," I asked myself. "Surely
such an honour should be accorded to one of the survivors?"
But then I recalled a writer's conference a few years ago
where I listened to the testimony of Yolande Mukagasana, a Rwandan
woman whose husband and three children were murdered in the 1994
genocide. In the aftermath of that catastrophe, Yolande has worked
on healing herself and finding a purpose in life by taking care
of Rwandan orphans and through writing. I was profoundly distressed
by Yolande's testimony. The title of one of her books "Les
Blessures du Silence" (The Wounds of Silence) comes to mind
whenever I grapple with the capacity of human societies to ignore
gross human rights violations even if these happen right in their
midst. Nelson Mandela commented on this tendency with reference
to Rwanda: "The louder and more piercing the cries of despair
- even when that despair results in half-a-million dead in Rwanda
- the more these cries seem to encourage an instinctive reaction
to raise our hands so as to close our eyes and ears." (Nelson
Mandela In the words of Nelson Mandela by Jenny Crwys-Williams,
It is no coincidence
that this report is entitled "Breaking the Silence."
Indeed, one of its main intentions is to get national acknowledgement
of a "chunk of Zimbabwean history which is largely unknown
except to those who experienced it first hand." The report
points out that one of the most painful aspects of the Gukurahundi
massacres was that the plight of the victims and survivors was and
continues to be unacknowledged. They are still suffering from the
wounds of silence. And who is responsible for inflicting these wounds?
The perpetrators obviously have a vested interest in maintaining
this silence. But what about the rest of us who lived through those
years and continued our lives as if nothing was happening? Are we
not equally responsible for the wounds of silence, both while the
horrific events of Gukurahundi were unfolding and in their aftermath?
Even today many of us continue to be silent.
As I read this report
I feel a deep sense of shame about my own silence. There are many
in Zimbabwe who would give the excuse that they did not know what
was happening, and indeed many of them would be speaking the truth.
Emergency regulations designed by the Mugabe regime ensured a total
media blackout of the affected areas. The activities of the dissidents
were reported in much detail but the operations of the army were
a no-go area for the media. Consequently, large sections of the
population remained ignorant. But those of us who had family in
Matabeleland had no excuse. Right from the start of the Fifth Brigade
campaign, news filtered out through family and community networks
that there was something horrendous going on. When I visited my
grandparents' home on the outskirts of Bulawayo, I recall
the lowering of voices when there was discussion about relatives
who had been forced to flee the terror in the rural areas, arriving
in the city with little more than the clothes on their backs. We
did what we could for them and kept our mouths shut.
As a young civil servant
in Harare, I was conscious of the divisions between those who would
engage in whispered conversations about this awful thing called
Gukurahundi and those who would simply pretend it did not exist.
I recall an oft-repeated conversation, or various versions of it"
"Does Mugabe know what is going on? His people cannot be giving
a true picture of what is happening otherwise he would not allow
it." What a naïve and ridiculous belief! The Fifth Brigade
did not fall within the army chain of command but was directly answerable
to the highest office in the land. With hindsight we know without
a doubt that President Robert Mugabe was fully aware and part of
the campaign of mass murder in the Matabeleland hinterland.
At the time many of us
were too enamoured of our great liberation hero to allow ourselves
to confront all the evidence of his direct complicity. Zimbabweans
were not prepared to see the fly in the ointment of their newly-found
peace. The ZANU PF government did well in the first years of its
rule, investing massively in education and health. A world of new
opportunities had opened for the black middle class and black peasant
farmers for the first time had access to credit and extension advice.
They made the most of these opportunities and in the first few years
of independence they dramatically increased their agricultural production.
The eyes and ears of
the international community were also closed. In contrast to the
propaganda image of the radical Marxist leader, Robert Mugabe was
moderation itself during his first few years in office. There was
no nationalisation of industry and he won accolades for handing
an olive branch to the white population. Zimbabwe was a problem
that had been solved and no one was prepared to open a Pandora's
box. The cries of the Ndebele people fell on deaf ears.
Reading the report after
all these years, I am amazed by my own ignorance about a period
that I thought I knew. The stories of physical and psychological
torture, rape and other forms of sexual abuse, starvation of the
population, burning of homes and granaries, disappearances, bodies
thrown down mineshafts and murders are all familiar and consistent
with what I had heard described by relatives. However, I was taken
aback by the account of the mass shooting of 62 young men and women
on the banks of the Cewale River in Lupane on 5 March 1983. The
silence that greeted this massacre is in direct contrast to the
1960 Sharpeville Massacre, news of which reverberated around the
The Gukurahundi operations
came to an end with the 1987 Unity Accord between ZAPU and ZANU.
As at the end of the liberation war in 1980, all those guilty of
violations were protected by a general amnesty. The Report notes
the important fact that once more in Zimbabwe's history, those
responsible for the most heinous acts against unarmed civilians
were not held accountable for their actions, thus strengthening
the culture of impunity that prevails in Zimbabwe. The human rights
violations since 2000 are a product of this culture of impunity.
The same tools of intimidation, physical and psychological torture
and murder have been used, albeit on a lesser scale, in the recent
violations. The difference is that they are targeted not at a particular
ethnic group but at opposition leaders throughout the country.
The 2005 Operation Murambatsvina
campaign in which the government deployed police and army units
to bulldoze or burn down the homes and businesses of people in urban
areas around the country has echoes of Gukurahundi. Once again the
imagery of cleansing is used, murambatsvina literally meaning ‘to
remove filth'. Once again people are defined as in terms that
justifies their removal - just as the Ndebele were the "chaff"
to be washed away by the first rains, so the poverty-stricken urban
masses are described by the police chief Augustine Chihuri as a
"crawling mass of maggots bent on destroying the economy."
Some survivors of Gukurahundi
have reacted cynically to the furore around Operation Murambatsvina.
They comment that Murambatsvina "is absolutely nothing compared
to Gukurahundi. They (implying the Shonas) are making a fuss because
they themselves are affected. When it was happening to us they said
nothing." This reminded me of German anti-Nazi theologian,
Pastor Martin Niemöller's prophetic statement in 1945:
"First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak
up, because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then
they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because
I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there
was no one left to speak."
Far from being a closed
chapter, Gukurahundi has left a festering wound in the psyche of
the Zimbabwean nation. As anti-apartheid campaigner and bomb survivor,
Father Michael Lapsley has pointed out: "The poison of hurt
that has happened over generations continues to infect the present.
The present has been infected by the past." (Statement made
in presentation at Symposium on Civil Society and Justice in Zimbabwe,
August 1983). The Zimbabwean people are speaking out and as much
as they would hope to bury the discussion, ZANU PF leaders are forced
to respond. Present Robert Mugabe came as close as he could to an
apology when he described Gukurahundi as "a moment of madness"
that must never be repeated. A long moment indeed.
Veteran ZANU PF leader
Nathan Shamuyarira recently said he had no regrets about the operation
because it had been necessary to deal with the dissidents in Matabeleland.
Such comments underline the need for this report. It is absolutely
crucial for the healing of the Zimbabwean nation to work towards
some form of restorative justice. Giving death certificates to the
families of all those who disappeared would be a good place to start.
It is crucial for all Zimbabweans to read this report not only to
understand and acknowledge the grief and trauma of their compatriots
but also to understand the violence of the past five years.
Father Michael Lapsley
has noted that "If we have something done to us, we are victims.
If we physically survive, we are survivors. Sadly, many never travel
any further and remain prisoners of moments in history, psychologically,
emotionally and spiritually. To become a victor is to move from
being an object of history to becoming a subject once more."
It is high time Gukurahundi survivors became subjects of their history
by having their stories acknowledged.
The report is
important not only for Zimbabweans but for others in the region,
especially South Africa, which hosts the largest Zimbabwean diaspora.
Speaking about Rwanda, South African President Thabo Mbeki said:
"A time such as this demands that the truth, the whole truth
and nothing but the truth should be told. It should be told because
not to tell it is to create the conditions for the crime to recur."
In the same statement he said: "Because we were preoccupied
with extricating ourselves from our own nightmare, we did not cry
out as loudly as we should have against the enormous and heinous
crime against the people of Rwanda that was committed in 1994. For
that we owe the people of Rwanda a sincere apology, which I now
extend in all sincerity and humility." (Statement of the President
of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki at the Commemoration
of the 10th Anniversary of the Commencement of the 1994 Genocide
in Rwanda, Kigali 7 April 2004).
could easily apply to Gukurahundi. The truth needs to be told because
not to tell it is to create the conditions for the crime to re-occur.
The silence needs to be broken. Hopefully, one day the leaders of
this region who have not cried out as loudly as they should have
against the enormous and heinous crimes against the people of Zimbabwe
that were committed in the past 23 years, will see fit to apologise
to the people of Zimbabwe.
With Ghosts - A Child's Letter from the Rubble
(written after Operation
Murambatsvina, the operation in which the Zimbabwe government
destroyed 700 000 houses)
i will never see you again;
maybe i will.
but i shall not know
until father finds us a a new address.
we have none anymore.
we are of no address.
now that i have written
where do i post it to?
shall i say,
care of the next rubble
or shall i say,
care of all the filth,
our little street,
the one without broken glass,
the one where we urinated freely
behind the small market
and our mothers called us names
with the sweet voices of mothers?
our little street,
with chickens that belonged to no one
is no longer there:
i don't know your address,
you don't know my address.
i am standing on a broken brick,
the only survivor
of our home.
what are you standing on,
you see, samueri,
we don't have guns
they bring guns
blood in their eyes
to destroy our only home?
even teacher mutawu,
he also has no address.
i saw out school
in the fire.
i saw our teacher crying,
carried away by police
with guns and anger.
i will continue writing
till i know
teacher mutawu's address
my father's work address
my little sister's address
my little dog's address
my mother's address
care of spca
care of filth department
care of order
care of caledonia camp,
care of tribal trust land
care of the river bank!
care of coackroach camp1
care of maggots
care of crime and grime
care of state house!
tell teacher mutawu,
i want to learn to write
so i can erase memories
of our home
in the rubble.
tell teacher mutawu,
we will meet
when i have grown a beard
and drive a car
like the police car
like the soldiers with guns.
i send you only
a broken brick
before they break it again
for the second time
the third time
the fourth time.
a broken brick
a broken heart
a broken father
a broken mother.
beware of falling bricks
Asking for salt
doesn't mean I am poor
Borrowing salt doesn't mean I am broke
Our salt ran out unexpectedly
Our salt got finished unexpectedly
If the tuck-shop was
The kids could have gone to buy some
Now the tuck-shop is nolonger there
It was destroyed by the tsunami
The sadza is ready
The relish is ready
The family is waiting
But salt is not there
Don't think that
I am mad
You and I know who is mad
Don't think that I can't plan
We know who the poor planner is
Please help me with salt
Even a teaspoon measure will do
Please, it's not my fault
Our land has been gripped by evil spirits
cry with hope
We know where
we came from
We had some good times
We also had some sad moments
We know where we are
Happy moments are rare
Sadness is right on our backs
We know where we want
Let happy moments multiply
Let sadness be a thing of the past
We should definitely
But let us cry with hope
Tomorrow we shall celebrate
of the Povo
Of out-of-work heroes
Who yesterday a country won
And today poverty tasted
And some of the hills
hurried their thirst
And others to arson and blasphemy
Waving down tourists and buses
Unleashing havoc no tongue can tell -
Her vision`s Droughtstricken acres
Of lean harried squatters
And fat pompous armed overlords
Touching to torch the makeshift shelters
Heading to magistrate and village court
The most vulnerable and hungry of citizens -
Her vision`s Drought Relief graintrucks
Vanished into thin air between departure point
And expectant destination -
In despair, she is found in beerhalls
And shebeens, by the roadside
And in brothels: selling the last
Bits and pieces of her soured vision.
You want to
A rat with a conscience.
A rat with a permanent conscience?
That`s the general idea.
Well I have several you can choose from.
This one just ate Grenada,
Ripped it to bits and shat it out
American Girl cleansing lotion.
It`s already started to nibble and salivate at a dainty
Piece of Nicaraguan cheese.
But it`s (wink, nudge) really aiming BIG now in Berlin
London, Amsterdam, Paris
Aiming at Natasha`s tits in Moscow -
Show me another.
Okay. Now, this one is the sly type.
It eats colonialism
So that it can shit in pure malice on its own.
I tried to buy it in Kenya
I tried to buy it in Malawi
I tried to buy it right here
But you know where I got the bastard?
Having dinner with the ghosts of
Malan, Verwoerd, Vorster, and Botha.
Show me the others.
Well this one was involved in the Aquino affair
That one befriended the Shah and introduced him to
That other one called the Ayatollah.
That short clerical one and that fat grey old lady . . .
the Only Telephone Is the Washbasin Hole: Blow and We`ll Hear!
Write the poem
not from classroom lectures
But from the barricade`s shrieking defiance
From the mortuary`s brightly frozen monocle
From day`s gunburst to night`s screaming human torch
From bleeding teeth that informed to underground
Perception of black fire
Write the poem not from
the rhyme & reason of England
Nor the Israeli chant that stutters bullets against
Nor (for fuck`s sake) from the negritude that negroed us
Write the poem, the song, the anthem, from what within
Fused goals with guns & created citizens instead of slaves
Do not scream quitly
We want to hear, to know
And forge the breastplate a poet needs against THEM!
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