ROY BENNETT'S SPEECH
HOUSES LORD'S & COMMON'S
UK Parliament - House of Commons and House of Lords
10 November 2010
This is what Roy Bennett had to say in Paris on Wednesday when he gave the key-note speech before Morgan was awarded his Democracy award.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
For us in Zimbabwe, elections have brought us 30 years of torment, torture and death. What I want to give you now is not an academic analysis, but rather a personal, real life sense of the pain that this period has brought—to give you an idea of what elections mean for the ordinary Zimbabwean. I also want to explain how this nightmare has evolved and from it, urge that all opinion-makers are mobilised throughout the international community as yet another ‘election’ is to be held in Zimbabwe.
Unlike many countries in Africa, Zimbabwe has held many elections. We have held them on time and managed the mechanics of voting relatively efficiently. This poses an obvious question: why would a regime which believes it has a God-given right to rule in perpetuity bother with elections? The answer to this has its roots in an election which took place in February 1980 and in turn provided the basis for the formation of an independent Zimbabwe.
Robert Mugabe and his party, Zanu, had been fighting a war of liberation from colonial domination supported in that cold war era by China. Zanu’s leaders were deeply sceptical about participating in elections because it believed these would be rigged against them. Zanu was forced into this election by their main guerrilla host sponsors, Mozambique and Tanzania. Zanu participated reluctantly and angrily—yet they also came up with a plan to ensure a manufactured majority of Zimbabweans would vote for them. Advised and trained by Peking at the time, they did this by terrorising and brutalising the rural population which, then, as now, constitutes the bulk of our people.
Terror was not new to Mugabe’s army, Zanla. These guerrilla forces operated largely in the Shona-speaking areas of Zimbabwe, during the liberation war. They relied heavily on Mao Tse Tung’s strategy of terror. Arbitrary killings were the chosen means of putting the fear of God—or, more correctly, the fear of Satan—into innocent, defenceless rural peasant people. One of many techniques was to force so-called “sell outs” or ‘collaborators’ to lie on the ground while their family members were forced to beat them to death. Others were tied with wire and shot at point blank range. One terrible instance remains raw in my mind. These ‘Liberation heroes’ took a metal bar, heated it red hot, made a crook on its end, and disembowelled a woman. Her young daughter was buried alive alongside her. The whole village was forced to watch.
Under the ceasefire agreement at that time, Mugabe’s Zanu was obliged to lay down arms and gather its forces at pre-designated assembly points. Instead, Zanu assembled only a portion of its cadres and instructed the rest to remain at large to intimidate the people and thus guarantee the rural vote. These combatants moved among the villages and the people were told that they would be shot, or have their throats cut, if they did not vote for Mugabe’s Zanu. Against the background of the war, and its sickening violence, people needed little convincing that the threat of death was real. But this did not prevent Zanla from reinforcing the point: many more alleged collaborators or ‘sell-outs’ were butchered during the ceasefire. Shona rural areas in Zimbabwe were made no-go zones for other political parties. In one of many examples, Francis Makombe, a candidate representing the rival nationalist party, Zapu—which was supported by the Soviet Union and, ironically, South Africa’s African National Congress—was last seen having hot coals shoved down his throat.
Mugabe ‘won’ a majority. To his surprise and delight Zanu inherited the ‘Bread Basket of Africa’. International recognition, admiration and aid followed. He and his party learnt a lifelong lesson: elections confer legitimacy, no matter how they are won. Put otherwise, violence could always guarantee power in a so-called democracy, just as it does during war. Before assuming office, the commander of Zanla forces in the field died under suspicious circumstances in a ‘car accident’ in Mozambique. The remains of the charismatic Josiah Tongogara have never been exhumed, despite his family’s requests for an independent autopsy. He was at the time a credible rival to Mugabe. Murder and assassination have never been far from Zanu’s leadership.
After its success in 1980, Zanu embarked on a second objective that it hoped to be achieve by a sweeping victory at the next elections, Mugabe’s ZANU had power—but it lacked the element that had underlined the war effort. Zanu wanted not only to rule, but to rule alone. Zanu decided Zimbabwe should become a North Korean-style personalised one-party state. But there was a problem in the form of Joshua Nkomo and his party, Zapu. Zapu enjoyed overwhelming support from the regionally-based minority Ndebele tribe. Zanu had to manufacture a pretext for wiping out Zapu and its support before the next election was held. A bandit problem in the Zapu heartland of Matabeleland provided this pretext. In January 1983, Zanu deployed to Matabeleland the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade of the army. The Brigade was called Gukurahundi,—which in Shona means the ‘rain that washes away the chaff’. The Gukurahundi was ostensibly mobilised to deal with bandits, known locally as dissidents. Zimbabweans knew then what Mugabe was to embark on. This world needs to now recognise the Gukurahundi massacres for what they were, a shameful act of despicable ETHNIC CLEANSING.
The deployment of the Fifth Brigade brought with it the worst sustained bloodletting ever seen in Zimbabwe. In scale—and in its grotesque, sadist nature—the likes of it had never been seen before. Many, many thousands died; the number will never be known. But this address is not about statistics or numbers. It is about suffering and the need for justice. It is about bringing to justice those who inflicted inconceivably brutal, savage murders on innocent people. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters deserve nothing less. The following are eyewitness accounts, some of which have never been published before:
[They] found him milking. They shot him and broke off his lower jaw and cut off his tongue. He ran away ... They fired again and broke his left arm below the elbow. We found him on the 2nd day ... We brought him home but [he] died the following day.
We were made to sing ... we were then beaten indiscriminately ... Large sticks were used ... Some young men were made to dig a large hole about 2 meters deep ... [three] were asked to jump into the hole ... Six [soldiers] then fired several shots ...While the three were still moving villagers were made to cover up the hole.
We were made to lie with our faces down and they worked on us. Sticks used for roofing were used in torturing us. I was unable to move until the next morning ... [a soldier then] pulled out a pistol and shot Mable and Kate. [Another] tore open Kate’s womb. They laughed when they saw the foetus moving and said, “the dissident wants to run away”.
[He] was thatching his home when the armed men came. They shot him when he was on the roof ... The wife ... had gone to fetch some water at a borehole. She was shot on the way back to her home by the same people who shot her husband. [He] and his wife ... were buried at their home. The grandmother, who had taken care of her from youth until the time she got married, took care of the grandchildren.
The Gukurahundi has left a huge, festering wound in the Ndebele psyche; it hangs over Zimbabwe like a dark cloud. Not one of the architects of the Ndebele ethnic cleansing has been brought to justice—not a single one. Instead, many have been promoted for their loyalty to Mugabe and Zanu. The commander of the Fifth Brigade, Brigadier Perence Shiri, was later promoted to the head of the Zimbabwean Air Force.
He now sits on the Joint Operations Command, a junta which effectively runs Zimbabwe to this day in spite of my party’s victory in parliamentary elections of March 2008—a victory that was even grudgingly acknowledged by Mugabe.
Zanu expected the general elections of 1985 to bring victory in Matabeleland and the obliteration of Zapu as a political entity. But the Ndebele people delivered a rude shock to Zanu, electing Zapu candidates in all 15 Matabeleland seats. The Ndebele people initiated what has become a proud and thoroughly brave tradition among Zimbabweans: continual, peaceful democratic resistance to Zanu tyranny. As they were to do in later years, the Zanu leadership reacted with rage to Ndebele defiance in 1985. They incited mobs to attack Zapu supporters in urban areas. Mugabe made a radio broadcast in Shona saying: ‘Endai munobvisa sora riri mubindu menyu’—which translated means ‘go and uproot the weeds from your garden’. If ever there was a call for vicious retribution, this was it. The Zanu-PF Women’s League—at the time headed by the now Vice-President Joyce Mujuru and deputised by Mugabe’s wife Sally—rampaged through Harare’s suburbs, destroying the houses of Zapu supporters and hacking to death a Zapu candidate with an axe. Two pregnant women were brutally killed. It was a shocking and visible reminder to URBAN Zimbabweans of Mugabe’s brutality, regularly inflicted upon rural peasants for years. Casualty numbers were substantial.
By 1987, Zapu had been thoroughly decimated. Its leaders were completely overwhelmed. They conceded to a so-called unity agreement, (sound familiar?) which allowed Zanu to swallow them whole. Mugabe had achieved his de-facto one-party state.
Unchallenged for more than a decade, Zanu-PF was content to leave the people of Zimbabwe to their own devices. The party leadership then devoted itself wholeheartedly to corruption and the systematic looting of state resources. But the fundamental character of Zanu did not change. It remains a hybrid North Korean-style dictatorship centered around Robert Mugabe. Zanu PF boast: ‘Zanu ndeyeropa’—‘Zanu is a party of blood’. When Mugabe’s Zanu PF is not under pressure, it is happy to let things adrift. But it always returns to its violent roots when the heat is on. We would do well to remember that now, in 2010! Zanu is Zanu and will always be so; the party’s politburo is overwhelmingly comprised of individuals who are serial HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS.
Growing out of the trade union movement and civil society—and rooted in the Zimbabwean people’s resentment of Zanu’s self enrichment and corruption—the Movement for Democratic Change was formed in 1999. Zanu-PF faced its most serious challenge since Zapu. Indeed, MDC was always an even greater threat, because it drew support from all tribal and racial groups in Zimbabwe. Our first objective in the MDC was to mobilise the people to vote ‘NO’ in a constitutional referendum which Mugabe hoped to manipulate to give him even more control around his personalised presidency. The MDC’s second objective was parliamentary elections due to take place during 2000.
As in 1985, Zanu-PF was complacent and underestimated the depth of resentment among the people. Another rude shock was delivered. Mugabe’s draft constitution was rejected. He appeared on TV pretending to be the conciliatory statesman, but reliable sources confirm that inside he was seething and filled with hatred after the MDC’s successful mobilisation. Mugabe’s response this time around was to ethnically cleanse white farmers and their labour force. Zanu-PF used the emotive ‘Land Restitution Programme’ as a cheap, cynical electoral gimmick. White Zimbabwean farmers were to be punished for supporting MDC and their farm workers and dependents, who constituted a bloc of around a million opposition supporters, were driven off the land and left destitute. The pain and human suffering inflicted upon Zimbabwean farm workers—and their resulting circumstances are almost too painful to describe.
Zanu-PF-sponsored anarchy descended upon the vibrant farming community. The prospect of being killed on any day was totally real. Groups of Zanu-PF youth militia began to forcibly evict farmers off their property, beating and killing them and their workers in a classical program.
Remarkably, after less than a year in existence—and in the face of institutionalised vote rigging—MDC still managed to capture 57 of the 120 contested seats in the 2000 elections. In reality Zanu-PF’s Mugabe has never ceased the war it declared on us, the Zimbabwean people. Many outside Zimbabwe do not realise that land invasions have continued for years—and are still continuing. Farmers and their workers, many who had maintained remarkable life-long relationships, became the wretched of the earth: shot, raped, and beaten with chains and logs. Many died long and agonising deaths, without medical care of any kind. For those of us who lived through it, we can never forget. These things are seared on our memories.
The country has been ruined by those whose only interest is retaining power through the barrel of a gun.
On my own farm, so called war veterans, but nothing more than HITLER-STYLE BROWN SHIRT HOOLIGANS invaded six weeks before the 2000 elections where I had been asked by the local community to oppose a Zanu-PF candidate. My workers were savagely beaten. My wife, five months pregnant, lost her baby. The ‘militia’ returned a year later after I was elected to office as the local MDC Member of Parliament. Over the next three years, my coffee estate was looted and plundered. My workers were continuously beaten. Various court orders counted for nothing. The intensity of these attacks increased in early 2004: two teenage girls were raped, and two employees, Shemmy Manyenyeka and Joseph Kaitano, were shot by a soldier. Shemmy was shot in the face at point-blank range. Imagine, if you can ladies and gentleman, people whose lives, circumstances and families were so part and parcel of mine, being killed, tortured, and humiliated simply because of their support for me and the MDC.
Finally, in April my family, management and staff were forced off our farm. We were left with nothing. But we were better off than my workers and their families. They had neither shelter nor prospects and were forced to flee. One study estimates that of the one million farm workers and their dependents, nearly 400,000 have died since 2000 from the effects of malnutrition and lack of access to medical care and attention. The effect of this ethnic cleansing of the agricultural sector of Zimbabwe constitutes a massive series of human rights violations, deserving a full INTERNATIONAL investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.
Meanwhile, more pain and death was brought by the elections of 2002 and 2005 as a result of steadfast and growing support for my party, MDC. In the urban areas, +-700,000 people lost their livelihoods, or had their homes demolished in mid-winter, during 2005’s Operation Murambatsvina—a term that means ‘drive out the rubbish’. This disgusting Zanu-PF initiative was embarked upon in response to MDC’s total
control of the urban electorate. By demolishing MDC’s urban support base, and forcing destitute Zimbabweans to flee to neighbouring countries, primarily South Africa, Zanu-PF resorted again to terror in the elections of 2008. It was these elections that took us to the brink of another Gukurahundi. In spite of the all-too-obvious consequences, the people of Zimbabwe courageously voted in numbers,
defeating Zanu-PF in the parliamentary elections of March. At the same time, Mugabe lost the the presidential election to my colleague and President of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai. With their backs to the wall, Zanu-PF, aided and abetted by South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, bludgeoned their path to a forced presidential electoral run-off. The presidential runoff was characterized by unprecedented violence. It was co-ordinated
by the same individuals who organised the Gukurahundi. This was a military operation organised by Joint Operations Command. Let me give you one example of this junta’s involvement: On 5 May, a group of 300 ‘Green Bomber’ militia organized a meeting in Chiweshe, Mashonaland Central. They told people forced to attend that
they needed ‘re-education’. The people were ordered to confess their support for MDC. When no-one came forward, a 76-year-old woman was selected and beaten for 10 minutes. Three brave men chose to save her by stepping forward. Around 70 people were indiscriminately selected thereafter for punishment. Men and women were made to lie on their stomachs and were beaten with rods. Some had barbed wire tied to their genitals and were told to lift logs with them. Two died immediately and four others died later. This is a microscopic picture of retribution meted out the length and breadth across Zimbabwe. Of more than 4,000 documented victims of political violence between March and July 2008, a very large proportion were lined up face down and beaten on the buttocks and back with hoe handles and other solid objects.
Apart from fractures, the deep bruising which invariably resulted led, in turn, to the development of necrotic tissue—essentially, people’s flesh rotted and those that were saved had to have huge chunks cut off from their bodies. Others were burnt alive. As you can see, we have ample photographic evidence of these atrocities. And these Zimbabweans are the lucky ones! Many more Zimbabweans were murdered. It is also worth noting there is a sickening pattern of continuity in the torture methods employed across decades by this vengeful Zanu-PF politburo led by Robert Mugabe—a Pol Pot in a Saville Row Suit! A case study of Gukurahundi activities in the Nyamandlovu–Tsholotsho area of Matabeleland North records 70 mass beatings in 1983 and notes that the ‘most common beating technique was the victim(s) would be forced to lie down on the ground, and then would be repeatedly beaten … with thick sticks or gun butts’.
None of the violence that has occurred in Zimbabwe since 2000 represents anything new—Zanu PF reverts to the tried-and-tested methods which have worked for them in the past. Far from fearing regional and international consequences, this thoroughly discredited nationalist liberation organisation has always been rewarded for its savagery. This culture of impunity from any form of punishment, in any forum, let alone at The Hague, grows in evil and cynicism each year that the ringleaders escape punishment. The naked truth is that we as Zimbabweans must rid ourselves of this cancer with the help of our friends. Appeasement will not do. Attempts to achieve a permanent peace with Zanu-PF are predicated on the naive assumption that these people will return the favour. But the appeasement of evil has—and always will—fail. Chamberlain’s appeasement failed in the face of Nazi megalomania. Appeasement will fail in Zimbabwe under the weight of Zanu’s insatiable lust for power. But more than anything, the appeasement of Mugabe and his party is immoral. It offends all the basic laws and instincts of human decency and dignity. The time has come for justice to be served. The value of lives lost and lives ruined must be restored.
The democratic will of the Zimbabwean people must finally be respected. We call on you, ladies and gentleman, to reflect on the sufferings of our people, their desire for freedom. Their desire to re-construct our beautiful country and to rejoin the community of nations, with their heads deservedly held high. We know that the key to unlocking our future rests largely within ourselves—and, beyond that, with President Zuma and South Africa. We know that Zanu-PF, this rag -tag discredited party headed by tyrants is now an acute embarrassment to South Africa, to President Zuma’s party, the ANC, to the ANC’s Alliance partners and to South African civil society. But every one of you can, and must, play a vital role. I ask please that you lobby political, civil society and religious bodies in your representative countries. Please assist us with resources and show us how to raise them for ourselves. Finally, help us in lobbying for a democratic transfer of power. The results of the forthcoming elections MUST NOT once again bring shame on our beloved continent of Africa. There must be a transfer of power to the inevitable victors—MDC. I thank you, as a humble spokesman for the people of Zimbabwe. It has been a privilege addressing everyone today and to know that our suffering will be more vigorously brought before the court of international public opinion.
Senator Roy Leslie Bennett
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