Arrest, arrest, and a beating: it's daily life in Zimbabwe

By Jan Raath (THE TIMES, 07/12/06):

The audience in the cinema in Bulawayo was distressed, said the German Ambassador. Pius Ncube, the outspoken Roman Catholic Archbishop, was quite emotional. Paul Themba Nyathi, the articulate opposition figure, had just been charged with inciting the Armed Forces to rise against Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe. Police had intercepted pamphlets that he and a party worker were distributing, which criticised the Government’s failure to ensure their welfare . “They are struggling to pay for food and health and education because they are poorly paid,” it said. He could get 20 years in jail.

The reason for the audience’s distress, though, was the film they were watching, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. Miss Scholl was also arrested for distributing pamphlets that criticised the Government over its reckless military policies. Only it was in Munich, in 1943, and the pamphlet was about the Wermacht’s casualties at Stalingrad. She was guillotined.

“It was the echo that was so disturbing,” the ambassador said. The film won first prize in the local film festival, probably because of that, he said. Here it comes again.

Miss Scholl’s father was jailed after a workmate reported him for making a critical remark about Hitler; just like Bassanio Chikwiriri in Gwanda, who remarked in a bar that Mr Mugabe was the architect of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse. He got three months — suspended.

That’s all that seems to happen these days, arrest, arrest, arrest, usually with a beating, for the crime of inciting revolt or insulting the President, which seem to be the same thing. A word, a gesture out of line is hammered flat when it’s barely spoken. Last week four street actors in Bulawayo were performing a skit on hunger and queues. They were arrested and beaten up. No one in the commuter minibuses in Harare opens his mouth any more because of the likelihood of a Central Intelligence Organisation plant among the passengers.

Die Sonne scheint noch,” (the Sun still shines), Miss Scholl said before they cut off her head. Like-minded Germans had an Allied invasion to look forward to, but Zimbabweans are content with lesser victories — such as Charles Zinyembe after he staged a demonstration in the small, dangerous town of Rusape with a placard saying, “Mugabe must go”.

Which Mugabe? The magistrate asked, and bravely acquitted him.

Or the elderly white man caught cursing the President under his breath as he left a Harare supermarket, which is what most people do, in shock at the latest surge in prices. He sped off before the police could stop him, and they couldn’t track him down at the central vehicle registry because the records were in chaos. He got away with it, and those who heard the story rejoiced in their hearts.