May you live in interesting times
Apparently, the title to this post is an ancient Chinese curse.
I’m not sure how true that is, but times sure are interesting at the moment. With revolutions and uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Libya, demonstrations in Iran, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Djibouti, Sudan and even China, not to mention those planned (according to Twitter) in Cameroon, Benin and Morocco, my mind has kept coming back to wondering what will happen in Zimbabwe.
Well today I received two pieces of news. Both worry me enormously.
The first piece of news
Mrs Jessica Mandeya was found dead at her home in Mrewa Mission District yesterday morning (Sunday 20th Feb 2011). It appears that she died on Friday but because she lives alone she wasn’t discovered until friends went to meet her to walk to church yesterday morning.
It also appears that she was murdered.
Who was Mrs Mandeya? A rabble-rousing political activist? No. She was an 89-year old Anglican priest.
Why was she murdered? In all likelihood, because she belonged to the Diocese of Harare CPCA. In the days and weeks leading up to her death, she’d been threatened with violence because she consistently refused to join the breakaway congregations of Dr Kunonga, the ex-communicated ex-Bishop of Harare, who happens also to be a strong supporter of President Robert Mugabe.
The history behind all this is complicated. A bit of digging online will get you most of it, if you’d like more let me know and I’ll write it up. But regardless of how we’ve come to this place, we’re here. Church members and Kunonga’s replacement as Bishop in Harare, Chad Gandiya, are living in fear for their lives, because they’re part of the ‘wrong’ congregation.
The second piece of news
Several (reports vary between 46 and 54) people, including Munyaradzi Gwisai (leader of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) Zimbabwe and ex-member of the MDC), were arrested in Harare over the weekend for attending a “subversive” meeting, at which footage of the Egyptian uprising was shown and discussed. There are also reports that “the alleged ‘ring leaders,’… have been severely beaten by police.”
Predictably, those arrested have denied accusations they were planning anti-government protests, claiming instead to have been holding and academic debate, but the provincial police spokesperson, Inspector James Sabau, confirmed that Zimbabwean authorities will not tolerate any uprising and will clamp down on any plotters. “It has been said before by our commanders and I will also say it that the Egyptian style (revolution) has no place in Zimbabwe and it will not take place here,” he said. We have responsible citizens as compared to the irresponsible citizens in other countries – hence it (revolt) will not work.”
The arrests appear to a be a small part of a wider plan of containment. MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa has spoken of “an escalation of intimidation tactics by ZANU-PF,” to remind people who’s in charge and what might happen if they start getting ideas from the reports they’re watching on Al Jazeera news.
Why am I writing this?
Because for a long time Zimbabwe was ‘the big story’ and now it’s not. I’ve been back 6 months and barely heard or seen it in the news. As the media gaze shifts about, looking for the next uprising, the next story, I hope it’s gaze will, some point soon, fall again on Zimbabwe. I pray it does so without the need for the bloody horror that will proabably come with any uprising in the country.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be watching what’s going on, in Egypt, in Iran, in Libya. We should be. I’ve been glued to my Twitter stream for days. We should stand witness to the struggle of our brothers and sister (becasue that is who they are) and we should be asking difficult questions of our own leaders – about what they’re doing to help and how culpable they (and, by extension, we) are in the first place. But we need also to find practical ways to show our solidarity with ‘the people’ of this world. We can donate money, through organisations like USPG and the International Red Cross/Red Crescent. We can donate skills, share first aid knowledge, use blogs and tweets to raise awareness. We can put pressure on our leaders, our banks, our big multi-nationals, each other.
But I wanted to do something now. This isn’t something. This is me looking for something.
Edit: Seconds after I posted this I read the following…
Following links took me to a press release which appears to have gone live last week (19th Feb) and calls on “Organizations and groups to self organize and come out in large numbers” on Tuesday, 1st March at 11:00am.
Our time gets more interesting by the day.
Coverage of the arrests
Zimbabwe Arrests Over ‘Egypt-Style Protests’ – Sky News
46 Arrested for plotting Egypt style protest in Zimbabwe – bulawayo24.com (independent news site)
Gwisai arrested, badly beaten, over ‘plotting’ Egypt style protest – SW Radio Africa (independent Zimbabwean radio station)
Increasing Violence Worries Churches – Worldwide Religious News (wwrn.org) coverage
China and Zimbabwe restricts [sic] reports of Egypt protests – The Zimbabwe Mail (an independent paper)
Restricted coverage on Egypt’s Anti-Government Riots in Zimbabwe – bulawayo24.com (independent news site)