Mugabe… what happened? Again

After the successful film screening held at the University of Sussex a few weeks back, by popular demand there is another one being held in Brighton as part of an initiative of People Can, the Black and Minority Ethnic Community Partnership and Brighton and Hove Council on June 25th, as part of ‘refugee week’. The Sussex University event is now more thoroughly documented, with a short video(slightly delayed but do check in later next week when it’s posted) and radio programme, both accessible on-line, so do take a look. The panel debate in particular was, I found, fascinating. The film continues to provoke much debate. Following a screening in Oxford recently, Blessing Miles Tendi produced a critical review which provoked a very public spat with the film’s director, Simon Bright. This – and the flood of comments that the exchange stimulated – was revealing on a number of fronts.

In his review, Tendi asked rhetorically: “Were this a documentary about any other African leader or the neglected crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Madagascar, would the public interest have been this similar?” He thought not. He continued: “Mugabe is the British media’s bogeyman for everything that is wrong with Africa and one can never escape the naked reality that the fallout from Zanu PF’s violent eviction of white farmers in Zimbabwe from 2000 onwards, many of whom were British descendants, continues to attract a disproportionate amount of international focus compared to other more severe crises…”. Certainly the public fascination with Mugabe in the UK is extraordinary. Everyone has a view, no matter how ill-informed. And of course as a figure he divides Zimbabweans – and Africans more generally – too.

Tendi argues though, as I did in my earlier blog, that a longer, deeper, more nuanced historical perspective is needed to understand why state-led violence has become the norm in political conduct in Zimbabwe. The history of the liberation struggle, the formation of the different political parties, and the positioning of the key leaders come into play. Tendi argues: “What we ought to ask is what happened to Zimbabwe’s political culture? What is it about our political culture and values that debases leadership? Zimbabwe’s problems are much bigger than Mugabe. By focusing on him, we miss the crux of the matter”. He recalls the words of the late Masipula Sithole speaking in 2000: “The fundamental crisis our country is facing today is a crisis of political values. Should we manage to fix the economy without revisiting the values crisis, we are building on quick sand.”

In the responses to Tendi’s review, however, it was his questioning of whether ‘genocide’ was the appropriate term to use for the massacres in Matabeleland in 1980. The definitional niceties are to my mind a diversion: what is clear is that a massive crime was committed, and those who perpetrated have not been brought to account. This is a terrible blot, stretching across the whole post-Independence period, on the political culture that Tendi highlights as lacking, to which many others beyond Mugabe – including Britain – are complicit.

The other strand of responses that stand out in the comments on the New Zimbabwe blog, was the reaction to a white Zimbabwean (no matter how liberal, as in the case of Simon Bright) making a film about this period of history. He was condemned by a number of contributors as a ‘Rhodie’ (white Rhodesian and a term of contempt), someone who should not attempt to write Zimbabwe’s history. The racial dimension was very explicit, and perhaps surprising in the independent Zimbabwe media. It was also revealing: this current has not gone away; and any inclusive political settlement that follows address race and identity head on in any process of healing and reconciliation. Whites, including liberals, will have to take this on board, and it’s going to be tough. Anyway, if you get a chance to see the film, do – and then make up your own mind. And come along next week to the screening in Brighton if you are anywhere nearby.

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One response to “Mugabe… what happened? Again

  1. Pingback: Documentaries on land reform in Zimbabwe | zimbabweland

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