Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Last week, the Zimbabwean government shut down the country's only independent daily newspaper, The Daily News, a move roundly condemned by southern Africa's nascent independent press. Today, the dictatorship arrested the entire editorial staff of the newspaper for working illegally, according to the BBC, which is banned in the country.

A judge had previously ruled that police should allow the journalists to work, but the authorities ignored the judiciary, as they've so often done in the past. The newspaper's ownership group "had failed to meet the requirements of the law," according to the country's media and information commission, calling for respecting the law without the slightest hint of irony.

The shutting down of The Daily News is only the most recent episode in the rampaging mis-rule of its dictator Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party. Although media harassment and eviction of white owners of large farms have gained greater attention in the American and British press, ordinary peasants and workers have suffered most from the regime's viciousness, incompetence and outright contempt for humanity. A recent documentary by Radio Netherlands, also banned in the country, detailed the horrors of Zimbabwe's so-called National Youth Service Training program.

Supposedly created to instill patriotism and provide job skills, the camps have turned into "re-education" centers where young people are trained to be militiamen loyal to Mugabe and where they are [o]ften drugged or intoxicated, noted the doucmentary. The camps are "brainwashing [young people] into Mugabe's party ideology so that these young people become like robots," observed the Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city and in the heart of opposition-dominated Matabeleland.

Earlier this year, the regime was accused of manipulating distribution of international food aid in Matabeleland to punish political opponents. While Mugabe's cronies are brainwashing people and trying to extinguish free thought from the country, nearly 4 million Zimbabweans need food aid to survive.

One victim of the brutality of the re-education camps testified, "They started assaulting me, accusing me of selling them out to the MDC [the main opposition party who Mugabe and his thugs accuse of being stooges of Britain]. They beat me. And then they hit me with an axe. They were aiming for the back of my skull, but I turned, so they hit my eye. I lost my eye, but I think it's God who did that for me. It's better to lose an eye than your life."

I used to think Robert Mugabe was merely a garden-variety dictator. Loud-mouthed, corrupt, occassionally harassing political opponents; unquestionably greedy, certainly power hungry and egomanical, bad but not evil. And perhaps he was. But he has clearly evolved into something much worse. His small group of fanatical, and well-armed supporters, truly believe that Mugabe is the country's Savior (capital S). In the eyes of his zealons, that Mugabe overthrew the racist Rhodesian regime gives him license to commit crimes against humanity that even Ian Smith would never have dreamed of. And the South African government's policy of pandering to Mugabe should make its president Thabo Mbeki ashamed to look himself in the mirror. While the South Africa leader's "constructive engagement" may have had merits in the short-term, it's clear that the policy has been a miserable failure in stopping the rampant state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe. If things are getting worse, not better, then the policy clearly isn't working. How much more suffering do Zimbabweans have to endure before President Mbeki realizes this?


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