Rating: 3 & 1/2 Stars
In 1980, Robert Gabriel Karigamombe Mugabe (B. 1924) won Zimbabwe’s first democratic elections by a land-slide. His victory dismayed his mother who felt that her son “was not the kind of person to look after other people”.
The mother’s premonition proved true. The 1980 elections held in Zimbabwe were not just its first. Effectively, they were its last as well. Since then, Mugabe has established a single-party government and has attempted to crush all challenges to his authority through systematized state-sponsored terrorism and genocide.
Peter Godwin’s brilliant and unsettling account of Zimbabwe’s human-rights crisis starts with the author and his sister flying to Zimbabwe in 2008 to celebrate what they optimistically hope is the end of Mugabe’s reign of terror. Too late, they realize their confidence was misplaced. The opposition, led by Morgan Tsvangirai may have won the elections, but Mugabe still refuses to make his exit, and has unleashed a red tide of violence and retribution against the people of Zimbabwe. The book covers the two trips made by Godwin in 2008 and 2009 to his home country, and is a bleak report of a nation sinking into cataclysm, while the rest of the world watches helplessly by the side-lines.
The son of post-W.W. II British immigrants, Godwin was born in Zimbabwe. He and his family were forced to flee after Mugabe painted the white race as the scapegoat for all the problems endured by the country. Godwin and his sister, Georgina, faced no small danger in returning. They had both been declared enemies of the state for their criticism of Mugabe’s regime. As they traverse the land, the Godwins catch up with old friends and acquaintances who keep them abreast of the current situation in Zimbabwe.
We see many portraits of courage in this book – from high-level opposition members, from grass-roots workers, from professionals, and from the average Zimbabwean. Inevitably, they all endure the dictator’s wrath for daring to ask for a people’s mandate. Make no mistake about it; their bravery comes at a very high price. Yet, most of the people Godwin speaks with not only ask to be identified by name, they name those who oppress and torture them as well. Words like ‘resilience’ seem woefully inadequate to describe the character of the Zimbabweans.
Despite Godwin’s occasional essays at humor, this book is a harrowing read. It can't be otherwise. Any attempt to soften the conditions to make it more ‘reader-friendly’ would be a betrayal of the truth - the harsh reality of ground zero.