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Mugabe's words echo eerily - nearly 43 years later

By unknown | Jul 04, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

During his years in exile South African novelist Es'kia Mphahlele wrote The Wanderers, encapsulating his and his compatriots' plight arising from the evils of apartheid.

Among other wanderers who portrayed their misfortune were Lewis Nkosi and Noni Jabavu.

In Home and Exile and Drawn In Colour, respectively, they too penned portraits of a whole race in the turmoil brought about, finally, by humankind's inhumanity to humankind.

South Africa, free since 1994, has no more such exiles. It is now Zimbabwe's turn to have "wanderers", in an ironic twist of fate. Their country is free in almost every sense of the word, but millions have fled, mostly to South Africa.

They haven't fled from a human pestilence with the potency of apartheid, unless you want to describe the political turmoil in Zimbabwe as the equivalent of an attack by man-eating locusts or piranhas.

This was brought home to me at a gathering of Zimbabweans at Oxford University in England recently. Under the auspices of the British Zimbabwe Society we were ventilating about the subject of researching Zimbabwe's history. There were many scholars, intellectuals and journalists at St Antony's College, most of them giving vent to their passions on the sorry state of their country, independent since 1980, but plagued for years by political and economic woes unimaginable for a country not at war.

By the way, one of the three South Africans I mentioned earlier returned home this month in her 80s. Noni Jabavu died in East London at a home for the elderly. She had lived in England, East Africa and in Zimbabwe, where I met her after reading of her in a book by Patrick Duncan, another South African.

A few months ago, a South African researching material for a biography on Jabavu called on me in Harare, to confirm my brief exchange of letters with her in the 1980s and 1990s. One letter from her concerned the publication of her book by a South African publisher, without her permission.

This was outrageous, and my advice to her was to sue the publisher. I am not sure she took that route or if she succeeded. Publishers with such a reckless disregard for authors are unlikely to turn into honourable human beings when confronted with their sins.

Jabavu was a great South African and a distinguished author. At Oxford, I had time to reflect on the plight of some of the Zimbabweans gathered within its hallowed portals to discuss research into our political, economic, literary and freedom of expression history.

Where and when would it all end - the post-independence trauma into which we have been plunged nearly 30 years after 30000 died in the struggle?

All this was happening against the backdrop of one election and before another election, both described by neutral observers as distinctly devoid of freedom and fairness.

In the vortex of the turmoil are President Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF, whose uniform response to anybody - Zimbabwean and foreigner - with the guts to challenge them to justify their blithe disregard for even the most elementary requirement of fair play in an election or the running of a democracy is GO TO HELL!

If there is something eerily familiar in that response, there is no need to search too far back into history to identify the authors of a similar reaction to the people's demands for change.

On November 11 1965, another group made that declaration. They too reaped the whirlwind.

l Bill Saidi is deputy editor ofThe Standardin Zimbabwe.


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