13 December 2010

The Fear

The Last Days of Robert Mugabe

by Peter Godwin

Picador. Biographical. Paperback rrp $34.99

Guest Reviewer - Di Bates

‘Bearing witness’ is a phrase usually associated with religion, but there is no missionary zeal about the way in which the author bore witness in Zimbabwe. It’s June, the year is 2008 and elections – marked by intimidation – have just been held in the African nation. Robert Mugabe’s increasingly tyrannical rule should be at an end as the people have overwhelmingly voted out him and his MDC party. However, instead of conceding defeat, Mugabe digs in his heels and retaliates against those he considers his enemies.

As a background to the 2008 election, it helps to know that Mugabe had earlier formed a coalition government with Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), but he removed Nkomo in 1982. In 1984 the two parties were merged as ZANU – Patriotic Front, as Mugabe moved to convert Zimbabwe from a parliamentary democracy into a one-party socialist state. His rule was marked by violence and intimidation and by a decreasing tolerance of political opposition. Long-simmering political tensions between Mugabe and the opposition party, headed by Morgan Tsvangirai, led to the 2008 hotly contested presidential election and a protracted political crisis.

Into this uneasy climate enters Godwin, an international journalist from America who has previously incurred Mugabe’s displeasure. Author of Mukiwa and When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, Godwin decides to document the unfolding calamities that beset the post-election period as the tyrant Mugabe sends his ZANU-PF thugs to plunder, destroy, rape, torture, mutilate and kill his opposition.

This is not a book for uneasy stomachs, but it is a book that needed to be written. As he travels the country, Godwin listens to many stories of survivors who speak their truths with great courage and belief that justice will prevail. Many of the stories are truly horrific; whole villages were decimated as death squads roamed the country and many were imprisoned in the worst of gaols. Zimbabweans called this period The Fear. Diplomats, farmers and ordinary people risked their lives to end the deaths and destruction. Godwin bore witness to the carnage over a three month period before leaving the country.

Finally, on the political front, an agreement for a power-sharing government was reached in September 2008. Mugabe would remain president but would cede some power to Tsvangirai, who would become Prime Minister. The power-sharing government was implemented in February 2009.

As a post-script to the book, tensions rose after Mr Tsvangirai was injured and his wife, Susan, was killed in a car crash on March 6, 2009, that many of his supporters believe was an assassination attempt. Mr. Tsvangirai, though, called it an accident. In 2010, Mugabe was still in government.

Dianne (Di) Bates

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