ZIMBABWE- LETTER FROM THE DIASPORA !
25th June 2009
There has been a religious foundation on the Southwark site where the present Cathedral stands for over a thousand years. I wonder if, in all those centuries, there have been many scenes that matched in sheer drama what happened there on Saturday June 20th.
Southwark Cathedral has strong ties with Zimbabwe and the Bishop of Southwark is himself clearly in sympathy with the Movement for Democratic Change and has links to many parishes in Zimbabwe. There was thus no reason for him to think that Saturday's address by the Prime Minister would be any other than a joyful occasion. Zimbabweans had travelled from all over the UK to be present to hear Morgan Tsvangirai address them. The vast cathedral was crowded with over a thousand Zimbabweans. I was one of them and what follows is my personal reaction to the tumultuous scene we witnessed.
After two weeks of travel to various capitals and being feted by Heads of State, including President Obama of the US., Morgan Tsvangirai arrived in London. Perhaps the Zimbabwean Prime Minister was a touch complacent about the welcome he would receive from his own compatriots but whatever the reason he was certainly ill-prepared for what happened. It started so well; he entered the Cathedral to a warm welcome from the huge crowd. There was no doubt at all that we all loved him and wished him well. So what happened, where did it all go wrong? There had been press reports all week that the Prime Minister was going to urge the people to go back to Zimbabwe. Indeed on that very Saturday, the UK Independent carried a whole page headed 'Come home, Tsvangirai tells ex-pats. Prime Minister comes to London with message for the Zimbabwean diaspora.' I read it on the train going into London; we knew in advance what he was going to say and they were almost his first words as he stood in the pulpit of this ancient church. That was Morgan Tsvangiral's biggest mistake. He totally failed to gauge the mood of his audience and he failed to understand the strength of feeling among his compatriots, many of whom had lost everything and been brutalised and tortured by the Mugabe regime. By the time he was telling the audience that 'peace and stability prevailed in Zimbabwe,' that schools and hospital were open again and that there were goods in the shops, Morgan Tsvangirai had completely lost his audience. He was hit by a wave of highly vocal anger and he stood apparently bemused by what he was hearing. Instead of raising his voice and reasserting his authority he simply left the pulpit; that was the very worst thing he could have done. When he returned some minutes later, he made things even worse by asking in a rather aggrieved way, 'Did I say start packing now? No, I said you should be thinking about going home.' As if we don't think about that all the time, the audience muttered angrily. The questions from the floor, apart from being very badly organised, were direct and to the point. 'What is there for us to go back to while Mugabe is still there?' And that was the focal point for the crowd's anger; a huge shout went up, 'Mugabe Out, Mugabe Out' but of course, Tsvangirai couldn't respond to that. After all, he sits in partnership with the same man who has given and is still giving the orders to continue the oppression of all dissenting voices. The 'change' we all long for has not come about and the original MDC slogan, 'Chinga' has become no more than an ironical comment on the path the MDC has taken.
Utterly sickened by it all, I walked out of the cathedral only to find hundreds of people already outside. Intensely angry and profoundly disappointed, they sang out their fury at the Prime Minister's message. I spoke to lots of people and I heard nothing but intense disappointment: 'The struggle continues' was the message from everyone I spoke to. What should have been an occasion for renewed hope and belief in the future had turned into a miserable fiasco. One woman, shaking with anger, said “I was raped, my children were beaten and traumatised and Morgan Tsvangirai tells me to go back, go back to what?” she demanded.
I was no longer in the cathedral when Tendai Biti attempted to speak but I understand he was drowned out and the meeting ended with the MDC team being led out of the cathedral by the clerics. It was all over, at least an hour earlier than expected. There are many possible explanations for the ignominious failure of the Prime Minister to make his case. While I understand the choice of Southwark Cathedral as a 'neutral' venue, the setting itself did not make for a suitable meeting place. All the chairs had been removed so the crowd were standing for a long time; the PM was late arriving; the sound system was so poor that much of the input was practically inaudible; there was no obvious chairman to control the meeting and the question and answer session was consequently chaotic. My own impression, however, is that Morgan Tsvangiri himself was not prepared. I had the distinct feeling that he had given little thought to what he was going to say. Perhaps, after weeks of international adulation he just could not believe that his harshest critics would be his own countrymen and women? Yes, there may have been trouble-makers in the audience but if there were, they were tapping into the very real anger of the crowd. Whatever the reason, Saturday June 20th was a disaster for Morgan Tsvangirai and the media, who were present in force in the Cathedral, were not slow to pick up the story. For Zimbabweans in the diaspora their Prime Minister himself had given the British authorities the perfect reason to send them home. Why should the British Home Office allow them to stay here when the Zimbabwean Prime Minister tells his own people that there is 'peace and stability' in Zimbabwe? Just the day before the Prime Minister made that nonsensical claim, the Woza women were savagely beaten by the police and the violent farm invasions were continuing but the Prime Minister made no mention of those unpleasant truths.
As they left the Cathedral, people were asking why could Morgan Tsvangirai not just have told them the truth; that things were not yet right at home but that he and his fellow MDC ministers were working hard to rectify the situation? Instead, he was assuring them all was well. He forgets that all of us in the diaspora are in regular communication with families and friends back home. We understand very well the reality on the ground. He also forgets that without the hard-earned cash contributions from Zimbabweans in the diaspora, thousands of families at home might never have survived. Yet, still, he tells us to Go home. Go home to what? To a country where there is, on Tendai Biti's own admission, 94% unemployment and NGO's are feeding an estimated 5 million people, expected to rise to 7 million next year. It was all utterly incomprehensible and has left Zimbabweans in the UK diaspora stunned and bereft of hope. Instead of an honest and realistic assessment of the situation, the truth was distorted and the man we trusted, the man who was our hero has shown himself no more honest than any other politician.
Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF will be laughing all the way to the ballot box.
Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.
Labels: Zimbabwe Diaspora