Last week’s violent crackdown on a peaceful rally in Harare has led to speculation that Mugabe’s government is finally crumbling and that change is on the way in Zimbabwe. That may be true, but in the short term what’s more apparent is the increasing violence and desparation of the Mugabe government. Reading the headlines this weekend, I found myself comparing the tragic nature of different events and wondering which once should be considered the most upsetting and offensive.
The beating of Nelson Chamisa, an aide to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, is profoundly disturbing. Chamisa was travelling to Brussels for an EU meeting (perhaps because Tsvangirai, who was beaten while in police custody could not make the trip himself…) According to MDC spokesmen, he was beaten unconscious with iron bars by “a gang” and is now recovering from injuries at a private hospital in Harare. Doctors say that Chamisa may lose an eye from the beating, which occurred just before he entered the departures lounge, in the view of the general public. According to witnesses, one of the men who beat Chamisa wore an army vest, leading to speculation that the attack was carried out by the Central Intelligence Organization.
Sekai Holland’s injuries
It wasn’t a good weekend to fly out of Harare. Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh, two activists who’d been beaten last weekend were being medevac’d to Johannesburg for treatment of their injuries on Saturday. They were stopped on the tarmac and ordered to return to their hospital until they were officially cleared for travel by the ministry of health, a new requirement apparently created to prevent the women from leaving the country, having their injuries treated and speaking to the press in South Africa. The police have now said that all activists arrested on March 12th will need to appear in court before being allowed to leave the country – no word on whether the police and prosecutor will fail to show up in court, as they did last time the opposition figures appeared to face charges.
The detail that made me angriest in all these reports was the report that the CIO had seized the corpse of Gift Tandare, an activist shot by the police in their March 12th crackdown. According to the MDC, his body was seized so that his burial wouldn’t turn into a spontaneous demonstration. The government sees it differently – according to the Herald, “The body had been collected by the dead man’s father and the government had helped the family with the burial at his rural home in line with traditional custom…”
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Mugabe last week spoke to the youth movement of his party and authorized it to use any means available against the opposition.
“What we believe is that we’re witnessing a major split inside the security forces, where the regular police, the real police, the professional police of Zimbabwe, are reluctant to carry out such orders, and therefore the regime is increasingly relying on youth militias and special agents from their Central Intelligence Organization, the CIO of Zimbabwe,” Dell said.
Do not be surprised if Dell is expelled from Harare – I predict we’ll see his expulsion in the next few days. Dell walked out of a meeting with Zimbabwe’s foreign minister earlier today after being criticized for offering food and water to jailed opposition activists. While I admire Dell’s words and actions in the past days, I worry that losing a US diplomatic presence in Zimbabwe would further restrict the information we’re able to get from Harare.