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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
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Repression and Resistance Intensify in Zimbabwe
Bernice Powell Jackson is the Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries at the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, OH.
When I first became involved in the struggle for freedom and against apartheid in southern Africa some 30 years ago, we were working on behalf of blacks in both South Africa and Rhodesia. Rhodesia, despite its covert support from the United States, was the first to fall and became Zimbabwe after the racist government of Ian Smith was defeated. Many African Americans not only rejoiced, but some even considered moving to the nation headed by Robert Mugabe, one of the most respected leaders of the African liberation movements.
We could never have imagined that Mugabe would become one of the most repressive, bordering on despotic leaders of modern-day Africa. Yet, it seems that Robert Mugabe has presided over a government which has repressed, harassed, and brutalized political opponents and human rights advocates, drastically curtailed the press and citizens' freedom of expression and assembly and plunged the once-prosperous nation into near starvation. Members of the judiciary, non-political community leaders, and church officials are also increasingly being targeted by state security forces and by youth militias thought to be working for the Mugabe government.
Now the international agency Human Rights Watch has charged the Mugabe administration with using food as a political weapon against its opponents, who are many. With nearly half of the 14 million Zimbabweans suffering from hunger and unable to obtain enough food to meet basic needs, not only are political opponents denied food, but so too are teachers, former commercial farmers, and many urban residents, according to the Human Rights Watch report. The report also challenged those international relief agencies which have withdrawn support for humanitarian programs in Zimbabwe out of concern they could be supporting a repressive government.
The economic conditions in Zimbabwe grow worse daily. Many citizens are forced to become scavengers of everything from coffins to electric cable and metal. The per capita average income is less than a dollar per day, a decrease of one-third over the past five years.
Much of the economic downturn is due to the Mugabe government's fast-track land reform, which had the stated aim of taking land from wealthy white commercial farmers and redistributing it to landless poor black Zimbabweans.
But the reality is that much of the land which has been taken has been given to Mugabe's political supporters and family members, many of whom do not know how to farm the land. This has caused a collapse in agricultural production, and ensuing starvation.
In other recent events, the Mugabe government arrested the four managers of the nation's only independent newspaper as a part of its crackdown on dissent. The state controls the other two daily newspapers as well as the only television and radio station. All foreign journalists have been expelled from Zimbabwe since February 2003 under a law which charges that outside reporters are tools of Europe and the United States.
Throughout 2003 there have been protests and general strikes by the people. As of November, 500 doctors went on strike, and nurses may join them, demanding pay raises to keep up with the 455% annual hyperinflation. Earlier, in the capital city of Harare, police beat and arrested 400 demonstrators who were demanding a new constitution and changes in the legal system. In the nation's second largest city, hundreds of factory workers fought with police when the out-of-control inflation pushed them into a 45 % tax bracket, and a non-violent civil disobedience on Mother's Day was met with violence.
Sadly, the neighboring government of South Africa, it seems, has chosen to protect the Mugabe government rather than try to get it to change. Indeed, there has been much silence across the continent of Africa while the people of Zimbabwe are suffering greatly.
Last year a group of African American leaders sent an open letter to President Mugabe asking him to change his government's policy of repression. It described the current crackdown as "in complete contradiction of the values and principles that were both the foundation of your liberation struggle and our solidarity with that struggle." It called on President Mugabe to dialogue with the political opposition and to ask African states and institutions to intervene diplomatically before it is too late.
It may already be too late for President Mugabe and too late for
Zimbabwe. That's a sad legacy from one of the great liberation
leaders of Africa.