An image of burned-down huts in Centenery in the north of Zimbabwe. Photographs of tortured, beaten and intimidated Zimbabweans. Food queues, desperate starving people clambering through razor wire at border posts in an endeavour to escape from a bankrupt Zimbabwe to another life in South Africa. And there is international criticism of Mbeki with his smokescreen of ‘quiet diplomacy’ that seems to shield Mugabe and his brutal tactics.
But it is complex, it is a half-told tale and I am so aware of contradictions — the failure of the British government to honour the Lancaster House agreement, the debts owed to the IMF and World Bank, the refusal of Mugabe to pay lip service to the neo-cons of the West. And the peasants of Zimbabwe who voted Mugabe into power again and again because he had led the Zanu-Patriotic Front to victory in the hard-fought Second Chimurenga, had driven out the white farmers. Had defied the West and asserted African primacy and independence. The corruption and suppression of opposition, the censorship of the press. The tangle of rumours and histories and bitter exiles’ stories and detainees silenced and talks behind closed doors.
Threading my way through this towards understanding, political awareness and historical perspective. Filled with heartache and dread all the same. While some have the luxury to deliberate from armchairs and a safe distance, others are fighting for their lives and caught up in the struggle for civil liberties.
Walking up Berg Road, my face and lips numb with cold at dawn. Encouraging K to get up and join me, drinking hot water with fresh lemon juice. She cannot imgine I was ever as bad as she is. I talk about how drinking clouded my judgement but she hears my laughter and quick replies and thinks I am just being kind. She is amazed that I can think to identify with her. Listening, I know I am waiting for her desperation to equal mine.
And the police have called her to go to an identity parade to pick out the men to who attacked her with pangas and raped her, left her to bleed to death on a Free State farm on a winter’s night, hands tied behind her back. She rang me an hour ago and I said I wuld go with her. She knows she needs to stay sober now. She is terrified and lost. It may be a turning point. It may not.
Violence is so close to us here in southern Africa. It is both a threat and an opportunity to learn something about who we are and what we are called to become.