Saturday, May 23, 2009


Friday 22nd May 2009

Dear Friends,

They call her 'The Lady'. Her name is Aung San Suu Ki and she is the leader of the opposition in Mynmar (Burma). In 1990 the military junta allowed free elections for the first time in 30 years and Aung San Suu Ki's National League for Democracy won 392 0f the 489 seats. It made no difference; the military junta led by Than Shwe refused to step down. The Lady has been under strict house arrest ever since and although she is known and revered by the free world, her own supporters at home only saw her again after 4 years when she appeared outside her house in 2007. That was until May 04 this year when a mysterious American named John Yettaw swam across the lake to her house and, for whatever reason, placed the Lady in violation of the terms of her house arrest, which prohibits visitors. It was then that the world got a glimpse of Aung San Suu Ki as she stood trial inside the notorious prison where she is now being held, pending sentence for breaching the terms of her house arrest. Reports from foreign diplomats allowed inside the court to witness the trial, indicate that The Lady was in fine fettle. Her indomitable spirit shines out and her resistance is undiminished by the years of incarceration in her own home. Along with an estimated 2000 other political prisoners, Aung San Suu Ki has come to symbolise the spirit of resistance to cruel and repressive regimes the world over.

Mynmar is many thousands of miles away from Zimbabwe. The people are a different race, different culture and different colour but the intensity of their suffering under a brutal military dictatorship has evoked courageous resistance and earned the admiration of the world and a Nobel Peace Prize for Aung San Suu Ki. In Zimbabwe, too, we have seen and continue to see the courage of ordinary citizens in the face of police brutality. There was a reminder of that courage- and incorruptible integrity – this last week when the Zimbabwe Law Society, represented by a group of lawyers once again took to the streets to protest the arrest of their colleagues on patently concocted charges. The banners they carried proclaimed the lawyers' unfailing belief in the rule of law and not as one of them said 'Rule by Law', referring, of course, to the illegal behaviour of the police who appear to believe that they are above the law. This week also saw another demonstration by the tireless Woza women, accompanied by their colleagues in Moza. 1000 of them took to the Bulawayo streets in protest at the GNU's failure to bring about meaningful change in their daily lives. The small miracle of both these protests was that in neither case was a single baton raised or shot fired by the police at the protesters. The lawyers were allowed to hand in their petition at the Ministry of Justice, even escorted by a police officer. The Minister was not there – surprise, surprise! Perhaps he was hiding out in the loo? So, the petition was pushed under the door for the Minister to find when he returned to his office. The Woza/Moza women and men were similarly allowed to disperse in peace after their demonstration. No bandaged, bloody heads, no arrests on spurious charges – not this time anyway.

Is this a sign that Zimbabwe is becoming a more tolerant society, that the police are at last doing what we expect of law enforcement officers? Sadly, those two examples are not typical of what we see in Zimbabwe as a whole. There are still too many instances of the police working hand in hand with the law breakers and failing to protect the innocent victims. Farmers continue to be brutally assaulted and the shocking attack on an 80-year old farmer's mother - apparently while she was in police custody - seems to suggest that the police themselves are not a united force. The truth is that the situation varies from place to place; it all depends on the political allegiance of the local police chief. We have never been told how many of the police are in fact professionally trained officers but are in reality war veterans or Youth Militia promoted to wear the ZRP uniform and following their own agenda. The continuing, inexplicable silence of the MDC partners in the GNU on the issue of the violent farm invasions and the connivance of the police does not help matters at all. We hear that Robert Mugabe has finally agreed to swear in Roy Bennett as the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, that may be another small sign that things are changing for the better but it will be an uphill task to restore order on the farms after almost 10 years of chaos. What remains an absolute priority is that the land must be used to grow food for the near-starving population. Dependence on donors and Food Aid is not the answer to Zimbabwe's problems.

"Would you like to see President Mugabe go?" Hilary Clinton was asked in a recent interview. The American Secretary of State replied, "I think that would be in the best interests of everyone…and South Africa has a big role to play in this." The MDC's decision to refer the outstanding issues of the GPA to SADC and the AU, however comatose those bodies may be, is the only step available to the MDC in the light of Mugabe's intransigence over the Gono/ Tomana issue. While these two men remain in office there can be no meaningful reform of the economy or the justice system and without that Zimbabwe cannot move forward.

Like the suffering people of Mynmar, Zimbabweans are the victims of a power-hungry kleptocracy about which the world can do very little. Only the courage of the brave men and women prepared to demonstrate publicly their longing for true justice and democracy will keep the hope alive that true change is on the way.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH



Anonymous X said...

There should be some extra global attention called to Africa as the World Cup plays out and Obama visits Ghana but, even despite Clinton's recent comments, I do not expect Zuma to exert much real pressure on Mugabe in the near future. It will be interesting to see how public health issues such as the threat of a flu pandemic play out with regard to foreign aid. However, if real change for the better is going to come to Zimbabwe anytime soon it appears as though it must come from within.

4:23 pm  

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