Monday, 6 August 2007

Articles appeared in Irish media between 2002-2005

IS MUGABE ANOTHER SADDAM?

WITH events in Iraq hogging the headlines, a Limerick acquaintance, with strong anti-war sentiments and a hint of anti-American hegemony, sought my views on the war on Iraq.
Without considering whether this could be one of those ‘loaded questions’ I ran her the usual line that whilst I was totally against any war where innocent civilians were killed or maimed I felt some outside assistance was necessary to rid some of these forsaken countries of tyrants that terrorised and butchered their own people just to stay in power. It was a case of using one evil to get rid of another, I hazarded.


With a smug look, my acquaintance wanted to know whether in that case, I would support a war against another despot who was terrorising his own people - Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.
Even before the launch of hostilities in
Iraq, when we chanted Resolution 1440 than we could repeat our ATM numbers, I had considered this poser several times.Would I and the multitudes of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora who had been forced out their country of birth, away from their families, support a war to remove Mugabe?

The answer is a resounding No!


With the war on
Iraq so dominant in many people’s minds, I figured the best way to explain events in Zimbabwe, was to pick on a few similarities between the two regimes.
Without doubt, the Mugabe that has emerged in the last few years has behaved more like someone who served an internship under Saddam.


The majority of the people of
Zimbabwe are against Mugabe and have tried to unseat him through the ballot, but he has gratuitously rigged himself back to power, unleashed untold suffering on the opposition prior to major elections, changed the constitution several times and gave himself sweeping powers.

I am certain the day he leaves, there will be celebrations on the streets of
Harare and other Zimbabwean cities, as you witnessed in Baghdad.

Saddam had his Ba’ath Party, Mugabe has his loathed Zanu PF. Matching Saddam’s Fedayeen militia would be Mugabe’s Green Bombers, the rampant militia that terrorises anyone deemed to be Mugabe’s opponent.

Saddam once ‘won’ a 100 percent vote, Mugabe once claimed a 96 percent margin of victory in a presidential poll, despite the fact his opponent had withdrawn from the race citing gross electoral discrepancies and intimidation.

Like Saddam, Mugabe has surrounded himself with close family and has a tight grip on all security forces who are very partisan. Those under his patronage have been enriched beyond their wildest dreams through endemic corruption and therefore swear allegiance to him. All this while over half the country’s population live in poverty and face starvation as disastrous economic and political policies have been exacerbated by a prolonged drought.

Mugabe even has his own ‘Comical Ali’ for a Minister of Information. ‘Comical Ali’s equivalent in
Zimbabwe is a learned gentleman who insists on being properly addressed as Prof. Jonathan Moyo. Now if you thought Comical Ali was hilarious, then you have to listen to ‘Motormouth’ as he is known in media circles, churn out his brand of propaganda.

He is most famous for claiming that his party had, for a campaign rally, filled 70,000 supporters in a sports arena with a capacity of 15,000. Comedians had a field day coming up with various permutations as to how that could be achieved.


Whilst it would certainly be an exaggeration to liken Robert Mugabe to Saddam Hussein, the fact remains that both ‘despots’ have terrorised and killed thousands of their own people.
We know of Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds, the decimation of any opposition and the wanton disregard of human rights where his own people were concerned. We are in no doubt of Saddam’s ranking alongside the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Milosevic and Pol Pot.


The world ignored the fact that
Zimbabwe’s new leader had, a few years after coming to power in 1980, presided over the massacre of thousands of minority Ndebeles in the south of the country, on the pretext of eliminating a perceived rebellion by the opposition.
It is well documented that Saddam was at one stage strongly backed by the West. It is no secret that Mugabe was once feted by the western world, seen as the model African leader.
It was however, decades too late that the world began to take notice of his despotic tendencies when he started targeting white commercial farmers, seizing their multi-million dollar farms, resulting in the gruesome deaths of a few.


Notably with the world’s attention focused on
Iraq, of late, there has been an upsurge in state sanctioned violence that can be directly attributable to Mugabe’s speech in which he said he could be a “black Hitler ten-fold” in crushing his opponents.

In fact Mugabe, who sports a Hitlerite moustache, left noone in any doubt as to how he views himself when he was reported to have said last month: “I remember when in 1976 we met with the British at the Geneva Conference (talks to end the bloody war of independence in the then Rhodesia) and at that time... I was the Hitler of that time. I am still a Hitler of their time. If Hitler fought for the justice of mankind, many nations would not have fought against him. Hitler in
Zimbabwe has one objective – sovereignty for his people, recognition of their independence and their rights to freedom. If they say I am Hitler, let me be Hitler ten-fold and that’s what we stand for.”

Mugabe made these remarks when he addressed mourners at the burial of one of his cabinet ministers, just as his state security agents including the police, perpetrated unprecedented torture, arrests and assaults countrywide on civilians. Now recognised as his trademark, Mugabe is prone to hijacking funerals to launch hate filled tirades against his opponents, real and imaginary.
Still it is comforting to note the world has not totally forgotten about the country. In a recent statement, the United States State Department strongly condemned the unprecedented violence carried out by the
Zimbabwe government against domestic opponents.
Also the governments of
Australia, New Zealand and Britain have maintained their condemnation of the repression carried out by the Zimbabwean government.


I still would not support a war to remove Mugabe, which would kill so many innocent civilians, but I ask the world not forget the people of
Zimbabwe.

________________

FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF IRELAND

COMING to Ireland a couple of months before kick-off at the 2002 World Cup in Japan/South Korea must have been a master stroke.

For it accorded me the priceless first hand experience of the Irish’s immense sporting fervour, that was all very evident as the nation awaited with great expectations, the forthcoming exploits from Mick McCarthy’s Boys in Green. I arrived in this country when the anticipation was reaching fever pitch and there was well guarded optimism on how Roy Keane and the lads would spoil the party for traditional power,
Germany and African giant, Cameroon and advance to the latter stages of the finals.
And talking of Irish hopes at the soccer showcase, I too was completely engrossed in Mr Keane’s pre-kick-off side-show which for a while threatened to pull the rug from underneath the tournament and completely overshadow the squad’s preparations.


You could feel the passion with which Keano’s unceremonious exit from the Irish camp was debated at almost all levels of Irish society including the immigrant community.
As a journalist, I was fascinated by the amount of column inches and airtime that was accorded to the issue. And rightly so too!


Certainly, the bizarre Keane saga was a media bonanza which for a while banished from page one, the usual front page fare. Sport or more precisely Mr Keane had taken over the front page. And TV, radio...
Needless to say, the Boys in Green did the Emerald Isle very proud with the kind of performances that would make a good Steven Spielberg epic.


And I assure you, the Irish fans who travelled to the
Far East would get a co-starring role. And how about an Oscar for Mr McCarthy’s priceless facial expression as Robbie Keane cancelled out Germany’s lead in injury time. Heart stopping moments even for an ‘outsider’. Those fans were absolutely amazing. One could only but marvel at their energy, superb humour and unstinting loyalty to their national heroes.

But hey, enough of that!


Before coming to
Ireland, I had been made aware of GAA, thanks to one of my Irish tutors in high school. It was then with much anticipation that I watched my first Gaelic football match, several weeks after my arrival. Quite an amazing and fast paced spectacle, was the thought that first sprang to mind. Reminded me of Aussie Rules, which I occasionally followed back home.
To sum up my first impressions of Gaelic football, I will just repeat what I told a friend back home, who wanted to know what indigenous sport the Irish played. Well, I told him that my initial impression was that it appeared to be a remarkable mixture of soccer, rugby and basketball. Certainly an innocent and pedestrian view of a stranger to the sport!


I have to say though that while I am still in the process of getting the hang of it all, I’m making steady progress. I now understand how the points and goals are scored, but am yet to grasp the rules governing the sport.


I do look forward to being part of the amazingly carnival and electric atmosphere generated by the fans in the stands. It must be quite an awesome experience cheering on your county inside that amphitheatre that is
Croke Park. Or in a few years’ time, Limerick’s own modern successor to the Gaelic Grounds.

I confess, as a international rugby fan I only knew of
Lansdowne Road as I watched Ireland play its home tests and Six Nations matches. Not Croke Park! One of Ireland’s many best kept secrets, I must say.

_______________

MY PREVIOUS IRISH ENCOUNTERS

I GREW up in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo. Zimbabwe, which neighbours South Africa, is a country of approximately 14 million people and is a former British colony. It was a country, which at independence from the British in 1980, was hailed as a beacon for other African nations.

Under Robert Mugabe,
Zimbabwe, well endowed with prime farming land and abundant natural resources, was touted as a future economic miracle, a good example for other African nations. For a while it was ‘The Bread Basket of Africa’ as it produced enough food to feed its neighbours.
Needless to say, that potential was never fulfilled as Mugabe dropped the sheepskin and the wolf was there for all to see.


Unfortunately, it had to take the gruesome murders of a few white commercial farmers, for the world to realise what a psychopath they had on their hands. After all, most Zimbabweans argued, Mugabe had presided over the massacre of thousands of Ndebele people in southern
Zimbabwe soon after independence, under the guise of quelling a rebellion. No one then, had said anything about the genocide, they said.

So within a few years Mugabe had catapulted
Zimbabwe into an abyss that it now finds itself in, all for sake of clinging on to power. Apart from killing and maiming his own people, who are valiantly opposed to his misrule, the 78-year-old has also ‘exiled’ thousands more, most of whom are well educated young professionals, who would otherwise serve their country.
In any case, I found myself in
Ireland and after a couple of weeks in Dublin, I moved on to Limerick. The same affinity I had to my hometown Bulawayo, I now transferred to Limerick.
That was easy as I had never been too keen on big cities anyway. I find them rather impersonal and cold, which I think applies to the Zimbabwean capital,
Harare and with all due respect, to Dublin. In that regard I took to Limerick and it just happened to be more or less what I had expected.
I had been looking forward to a small city of just under 60,000 that had one prominent thoroughfare; a city with a river coursing through its heart as is usually the case with most European cities.


I had expected a city that had clinging to it, picturesque villages, shopping centres, richly lawned suburbs, village greens and of course, a city generously endowed with pubs.


I was not disappointed!


As for its inhabitants, I personally have not had any cause for complaint apart from the occasional stereotyping, such as every black face must be Nigerian. Or the rife misconceptions about asylum seekers and refugees, which in turn give rise to them being resented by some members of society.
Of course, one gets a few stares which vary from curiosity to bewilderment, especially as you leave the city and head out into the county.


Some (cheeky) teenagers, perhaps taking a few liberties, ask if I'm 'down with' actor/singer Will Smith or any of their favourite black stars. Amusingly, I have been asked if I’m from
Jamaica or that rather hilarious chap who told me: “judging by your accent, you must be Brixton.” Really?
Part of my Irish experience, here in
Limerick, has without doubt been richly endowed by sports.
I must add though, that coming to
Ireland a couple of months before kick-off at the 2002 World Cup in Japan/South Korea was indeed good timing.

That accorded me first hand experience of the Irish passion and grit I had been told or read so much about. That was all very evident as the whole nation awaited with great expectations, the forthcoming exploits from Mick McCarthy’s Boys in Green. In
Limerick, you could not help but join in the revels as the Irish tricolour fluttered from most rooftops and vehicles. One could feel the pride in the Boys in Green.

I agree with those who say sport is very effective in integrating people from all sorts of background and as such I have set about ‘learning’ the indigenous sports of
Ireland.
As a sport nut, it appears the best way of learning alot about Irish society. And I’m told there’s no better way than following the GAA. Fortunately before coming to
Ireland, I had been made aware of Gaelic football and hurling, thanks to my Irish tutors in high school in Zimbabwe. I am in process of ‘learning’ about both.

And of course, as a keen rugby fan, it was a pleasant coincidence that I found myself in a province which boasts one of the best rugby sides in Europe.

_______________

DIFFERENT STROKES, DIFFERENT LIFESTYLES!

SOME of the questions I was asked upon my arrival in Ireland concerning my previous existence on the ‘dark continent’ of Africa, were quite amusing to say the least.

Quite sincere as these queries most often were, I was initially at a loss as to what response to give as some were certainly not what I had expected.

Generally, when one moves to another country, the main changes in lifestyle are mainly centred on language, food, culture and climate, especially for those like me who have moved from the mainly warm southern hemisphere to the milder northern hemisphere.

So apart from the usual, ‘how come your English is good’ query, I was asked whether I had adjusted to the weather. Well, yes I have, though at first it was obviously rather startling having continuous wet spells.

Whereas, at first I would take out my umbrella at the slightest drizzle, I can now walk through a light shower without much of a fuss.

As for the food, there is not much difference and that apart from the few traditional dishes, basic Zimbabwean fare is as continental as you can get. So thankfully, not much gastronomic change there.
Someone recently wanted to know if there were any ‘big buildings’ in
Zimbabwe. Yes, I replied, indeed there are several ‘big buildings’ in Zimbabwe, some which are spectacular concrete and glass multi-storey structures.

I have also noticed that perhaps due to space constraints here, the average home here is smaller than the one back home.


And of course, like every other Zimbabwean in the Diaspora, I have not escaped queries on ‘that lunatic of yours, Mugabe’. And the answer to that is always decisive: Yes, the man is totally barmy and should just go away. Thankfully though, the questions I get here have not been as bizarre as my friend who now resides in
America faced when he first arrived there.
Always armed with a wicked sense of humour, my friend’s modus operandi, whenever asked the more bizarre questions, was to sometimes play along on their naivetĂ© for as long as they let him. Very naughty of him, I thought!


For instance, he said that when he first got to the States, he was asked if he had ever lived in a ‘proper’ house and whether he only worn ‘proper’ clothes in America, perhaps implying he had to make do with loin cloth or maybe on special occasions, ‘designer’ leopard skins. Goodness me!
And the fact that he spoke good English was a source of great amazement to them. Then again my friend had gone to a really small college town in the Midwest where the locals were probably not as cosmopolitan nor worldly as their compatriots in metropolises such as
Los Angeles and New York.
At first, my friend was annoyed at what he initially thought were patronising and humiliating questions, but when he realised that in most instances the queries were not meant to poke fun at his roots or him and that they stemmed from sheer ignorance about Africa, he had his bit of fun at their expense.


For example, he would convince them that on reaching puberty, every young male would have to single-handedly overpower some wild beast during an elaborate initiation ceremony that catapulted one into adulthood. Or that, for the evening meal, the men would simply pounce on unsuspecting game with their hideous knobkerries. No need at all for the local butcher around the corner.
To his utter astonishment and great remorse, his audience lapped this all up. He thought they would realise he was just kidding them. They didn’t!


Of course, my friend claims these yarns raised his profile significantly with the local lassies but was regarded with veiled loathing by the lads.


In hindsight, it would be harsh to blame them outright, without considering how these ideas are planted into their psyche. What with the stuff they watch on the telly on a daily basis. Like that amusing commercial on television these days, about tribesmen from a Southern African country who apparently believe snipping off a lock of a lion’s mane restores their hair.


The only images viewers here get to see of
Africa on the major news channels, are of a continent ravaged by so many ills accompanied by shots of starving women and children in the bush. That is true in some cases but such images help perpetuate the old colonial stereotypes of the continent.
Granted that the continent is plagued by so many afflictions, there are still some positive stories or insights that can help erase some of these stereotypes.


How many times have you seen shots on the major news channels of urban
Africa or generally of any positive stories from the continent? Respectively, I would say very rarely and virtually none.
_______________

IMMIGRANT’S IMPRESSIONS OF IRELAND

ASK most immigrants whether they knew much if anything at all about Ireland prior to their arrival here, you will find some of the responses rather amusing.
Some would probably tell you quite honestly that they had no idea at all where the country was or that they only knew about the island maybe a few months or in extreme cases, a few weeks before their arrival.


Or worse still, there are those who would hazard a guess and say: “I thought it was part of the
United Kingdom,” probably a grave mistake of mixing up the Republic and Northern Ireland. Fortunately such people now know better than utter such inaccuracies.
Which reminds me of some hilarious tourists from the
United States, who said that prior to their visit to Zimbabwe, they had no idea at all there was such a country. Or those who thought Zimbabwe was part of South Africa, a oversight that mainly emanates from the fact that Zimbabwe’s spectacular Victoria Falls and other popular holiday resorts are packaged and advertised by travel or tour agencies as South African destinations.

As to what gives rise to this ignorance about the Emerald Isle, various plausible reasons are given. The best reason I have heard being given and I think its a very fair one, is that
Ireland never colonised anyone.

The argument is that if
Ireland had participated in the scramble for Africa, you can bet she would have been known in some of the far flung regions of the world.

You see, most independent African nations maintained strong ties with their former colonial masters. Hence most nationals from some of these African countries know are well versed in the language, history and culture of those powers.


And the fact that
Ireland is a relatively neutral (as any recent arrival can deduce from ongoing Nice Treaty debate) country that usually minds its own business, means that many are not aware of its clout in world affairs.

Unless of course you follow international soccer and rugby, then of course you would know a bit about
Ireland.

In my case, I came here with a few facts on
Ireland. I was fortunate enough to spend my six years in high school at Christian Brothers Colleges in Zimbabwe.

Now the Christian Brothers, despite the scandals of late, are well respected educators where I come from and their schools, most of which are multiracial are highly regarded. They started and in some cases still run some of the best schools in Southern Africa, particularly in
Zimbabwe and South Africa.

And so in those six years, I had my fair share of Irish tutors. These are people who years before I even dreamed I would land on these shores, coloured my already rather vivid imagination on what kind of place
Ireland was.

As a result I briefly perused through 19th and early 20th century Irish history which included the Irish potato famine, the skewed land ownership, absentee landlords, the massive emigration to
America and the struggle for independence. I managed to squeeze in between reading about Wellington, Disreali, the Pitts and other major 18th and 19th century English history figures, the likes of Daniel O’Connell, Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera and in general the early 1920s history of Ireland. All thanks to my Irish tutors.

In all honesty, at the time I thought it was a sheer waste of time having to study Irish history, let alone British history. Little did I know how useful it would become some years later.
My early Irish experience was not limited to history alone. I once had to do a book report on James Joyce’s Ulysses and I assure you at the time I had no inkling at all of what Mr Joyce’s stature in Irish and indeed, world literature.

I found out later in college!

And then of course, there were the green themed St Patrick’s days, every March 17, when we would dress up in green and hold the much anticipated St Patrick’s Ball. There were elaborate Irish themes and decorations at these dances and I recall many a time when the braver amongst us tried to make it a ‘real Irish experience’ by cheekily asking ‘for a bit of Guinness’.
Then there were the strong sporting ties, whereby CBCs from
Ireland would tour Zimbabwe and South Africa and vice versa. Sadly for me, these were mainly rugby and hockey tours. I played cricket, so only toured South Africa, never Ireland.


So when someone asked me recently if I knew anything at all about
Ireland before coming here, the answer was, “YES!”

_______________

MUGABE: RACIST OR DICTATOR?

IS Robert Mugabe really an irremediable racist? Judging by his rhetoric and his cronies’ subsequent actions against white Zimbabweans, one would assume he is. Perhaps he is, always has been and always will be! Then again maybe not.

These days, the septuagenarian leader’s relentless persecution of whites makes great copy in the western media and
Ireland is no exception. I have read and listened to so many opinions being expressed on what Mugabe is doing to the white farmers. hilst in most instances I have concurred with those who criticise Mugabe’s actions, I have always begged to differ when these opinions become so blunted on the reality of the situation in Zimbabwe.

Perusing through the occasional coverage of
Zimbabwe in the world’s press you would be forgiven for thinking that Mugabe is selectively unleashing his myopic brand of politics on white Zimbabweans.
Very few make an effort to accurately point out that the suffering of Zimbabwean whites under Mugabe’s regime is minimal (not at all inconsequential, of course) compared to that of their black compatriots.
There is no doubt at all that Mugabe has turned into a psychotic old man who has clung on to power by any means necessary and whose motto now seems to be ‘to hell with what the world thinks’. And it is an undeniable fact that the majority of Zimbabweans now hate the man especially after his highly dubious reelection ‘victory’ in March, when they missed what was their best chance of ditching him.


These are the same black Zimbabweans who have had front row seats watching, with much chagrin, as Mugabe gradually mutated into what the dictator he now is.
The same treatment being meted out to the whites now, was unleashed on a much greater and horrifying scale on the ethnic Ndebeles in southern
Zimbabwe in early 1980s. The west and some of the whites now being persecuted, largely ignored the Ndebele people’s pleas when Mugabe sent in a ruthless North Korean-trained brigade which carried out the massacres in the Matabeleland province on the pretext of quelling a rebellion.

With that in mind, every time I read about how Mugabe is treating the whites, I wonder if some of these ‘Zimbabwe experts’ actually know or even care, what is happening to those of Mugabe’s own race ‑­ the blacks - whose only misfortune is that they support the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).


And the MDC is the main reason why Mugabe is acting the way he is. Not entirely because he hates whites.
Fact is, up until 1999, there had been no viable parliamentary opposition to Mugabe and his Zanu PF party such that
Zimbabwe was one of those curious countries where supposedly democratic elections were held regularly with the results known beforehand.

This complete lack of opposition came about when Zanu PF swallowed up the late Joshua Nkomo’s PF Zapu in a dubious 1987 unity accord which officially ended the massacres. That was when Mugabe fiddled with the constitution and became executive president with sweeping powers. Alarm bells should have started tolling then.


In effect, the 150-seat parliament virtually became a Zanu PF chat room where there was no dissent.
Then along came the labour movement-based MDC in September 1999 and at last
Zimbabwe had what looked like a viable opposition at last. Mugabe had at last met his match.
The first jolt Zanu PF got from the MDC was in the landmark February 2000 referendum for a new Mugabe-sponsored new constitution. Zanu PF lost as voters resoundingly stood behind the barely five month-old MDC. Mugabe was shocked into action! A few days after the referendum, the first commercial farm was invaded by Mugabe’s storm troopers, the once respected but now widely loathed liberation war veterans.


It should be noted that prior to the invasions there had been muted calls for equitable land redistribution to which Mugabe had not paid much heed as he did not needed a trump card up his sleeve to stay in power. Now that he had resoundingly suffered his first ever electoral defeat, he had to come up with one, especially as another huge test was a few months away--the June 2000 parliamentary elections.


This trump card was handed to him on a platter, when it became evident that some of the very same whites who had willingly or unwillingly supported him since independence were now firmly behind the MDC. He had found his new scapegoats and they would suffer for deserting him and supporting those ‘upstarts’, the MDC.


Needless to say, despite his thugs killing and maiming opposition supporters, Mugabe got a nasty shock as his Zanu PF lost 57 seats to the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC.
Next up was the 2002 presidential poll and this time Mugabe would not take any chances. He would ‘win’ votes by ‘giving his people land’ and of course, by any other means necessary.
His campaign strategy? Well, he would blame the whites for all the ills bedevilling the country and they would be accused of controlling the MDC on behalf of past colonial masters,
Britain. He would play to his rural gallery, his main supporters, by forcibly taking white-owned farms and redistributing parcels of land to ‘his people’.

Just as he had in the 1980s with the Ndebeles, Mugabe had now found a new internal enemy which he would persecute to extend his grip on power and this time around they just happened to be white Zimbabweans.


So forgive me for not eagerly jumping onto the media bandwagon that portrays Mugabe primarily as a racist. He is just a myopic despot who no longer cares what you say about his leadership style or what he is doing to the country.


So next time you read a piece on Zimbabwe and Mugabe’s excesses, spare a thought for the following;
What are the opinions of the average black Zimbabwean, who does not have the luxury of having his/her opinions expressed on the world stage?


What about the thousands of black farm workers who are still being tortured, maimed and even killed by Mugabe’s thugs for standing up for their bosses, the same afflicted farmers. The same, miserably poor farm workers who in the ‘good old days’ before Mugabe turned nasty, were treated so despicably by some (not all, of course) of these now ‘poor’ farmers?


Ask yourself if the average Zimbabwean would have felt much pity for that young white farmer in eastern Zimbabwean who last year, peed into the mouth of his napping black farm worker, had he been attacked by Mugabe’s thugs?


Furthermore, have all these sudden Mugabe/Zimbabwe experts who paint him as a racist ever traced this man’s early actions as the newly elected leader of a free
Zimbabwe? I bet not, but one would at least expect them to know what he did soon after independence in 1980.
They would recall Mugabe, a Catholic educated Marxist-Leninist (quite a contradiction in itself), who immediately after independence invited his former arch-foes, the whites to co-exist with their black compatriots. This, so soon after leading a bitter and bloody liberation struggle against Ian Smith’s
Rhodesia. Unbelievable, it seemed!

This totally unheard of concept of reconciliation with his erstwhile colonial masters brought Mugabe much international acclaim and plaudits. He was hailed a new breed of African leader.
I recall as a young lad, how Mugabe would shuttle from country to country garnering all sorts of accolades, being called upon occasionally to address the UN General Assembly. He was the darling of the west then!


That same Mugabe shied away from alienating the whites who owned virtually all the highly productive commercial farms and controlled all industrial and mining concerns in the country. As such, apart from a few farms voluntarily designated for rural resettlement, not much significant land reform was carried out. In hindsight, that was the opportune time to do so.
Simply what Mugabe has done is copy what most despots did before him‑‑political scapegoating.

_______________

ZIMBABWE’S 9-11 MEMORIES

IT was just before 3pm, Zimbabwean time, on September 11, 2001, when a visibly flustered advertising manager rushed into the newsroom and sensationally told us that America was being attacked. Despite knowing her as a very composed person, we initially thought she was talking gibberish. Who in their right mind could attack America, we asked her. In fact, as I now recall, we did not pay her much attention.

But when she persisted, insisting that she could never joke about such a thing, we promptly switched on the newsroom television and there, courtesy of CNN and to our utter shock, were scenes of unparalleled horror and of Armageddon magnitude. We were dumbfounded as we gaped at the scenes, which for weeks to come, would dominate our TV screens and newspaper columns.
How could this happen? Attack
America, the sole superpower? Who could do such a thing? Why...? Would America now unleash its nuclear arsenal in retaliation? But against who or what? These were but a few of the many questions that plagued our minds, thousands of miles away.
It had been just another slow Tuesday at The Standard newspaper in the Zimbabwean capital,
Harare.
Little did we know it would end in shocked and hushed tones, as we tried to digest what had happened in
New York and Washington DC. The fact that we were so many miles away from the tragic events did not deem the magnitude of the terrorist attacks.
For apart from being an attack on the American people and their beloved landmarks, several nations also lost citizens turning the attacks a global tragedy in more ways than one.
What brought the terror even closer to home for us was the news that there were possibly, at least four Zimbabweans who worked in the twin towers and one Zimbabwean-born computer scientist at the Pentagon.

All Zimbabweans, who themselves were in the middle of an acrimonious and bloody presidential campaign, forgot about their woes for a while and joined the rest of the world in condemning the attacks.
Robert Mugabe, seeking re-election and to that cause, having unleashed his ruthless militia on the populace, condemned the attacks and offered his heartfelt condolences to the American people.
Shamelessly, Mugabe and his henchmen then promptly proceeded to style his onslaught on the opposition after Americans’ ‘War on Terror’.
The average Zimbabwean viewer had to endure CNN-style teasers from the state-owned pro-Zanu PF national broadcaster, declaring Mugabe and his thugs were fighting terror at home just as the Americans were bombing Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Anyone against Mugabe was labelled a terrorist and henceforth dealt with like one. Whilst September 11 will always hold bitter and sorrowful memories for those that lost their loved ones, some survivors of the attacks are thankful that somehow they are alive today.
For some survivors, the attack, as unbelievably evil as it was, somehow renewed their faith in God.
There was the story of one Zimbabwean broker who had in July 2001, been offered a lucrative job by a leading Wall Street investment firm housed on the 85th floor of north tower of the World Trade Centre.

However, a week prior to his joining the company, the broker was summoned to the offices and given the bad news that the company was no longer in a position to hire him. Vague reasons were given for the very late change of heart and he recalled descending those 80-odd floors, a very dejected and angry man.

Two months later, on a clear Tuesday morning, Flight 11 slammed into the section of the north tower, where the Zimbabwean broker would have more or less had his promised corner office.
Two months before the attack, he had been devastated by the company’s surprising u-turn, but on September 11, his dejection and anger had turned to mortification as he watched events of that awful day unfold. He thanked his God like he never did before.
Elsewhere, there are other such tales of how by a higher being’s grace, lives were saved.
The horror of September 11, 2001 will be forever be etched on the minds of all who in one way or the other watched as the catastrophe unfolded right before their eyes or those countries away, on the global news channels.


On this, the first anniversary of that fateful day, the magnitude of the terror that descended on
New York and Washington DC reminds us what horrors man can unleash on man. We remember those who lost their lives in the tragedy, those who went in bravely to save others and never came back, those who lost their loved ones and those who survived but will never ever forget that ‘Day of Infamy’.

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ITS NOT RACISM, ITS IGNORANCE

LAST MONTH, a breakfast radio show, made me feel very unwelcome and unwanted in Ireland for the first time since my arrival a year ago. Whilst there had been several other occasions, which could have left me wishing I never landed on these shores but did not, this particular show categorised me and my kindred, in a way I had never been pigeonholed before. Well, certainly not for the benefit of a national listenership driving to work and tuned in.

The radio show in question had been triggered by one of those ubiquitous ‘investigative’ multi-page spreads in one of the tabloids about the ‘asylum system menace’. ‘We’ were curtly referred to as ‘those people’. As I listened to the presenter holding forth, I could tell from his tone and those who called him in support, that ‘those people’ was not said in the friendliest of tones. Thank God those who did not share the presenter’s sentiments phoned and said as much. As a result, I spent the next few days wondering whether all the people I came across in the street were glaring at me because they felt I was solely responsible for draining the country millions of euros.

Until you have been classified as one of ‘those people’, you have no inkling whatsoever how this kind of labelling can desolate your sense of belonging in any community. It leaves you vulnerable and wondering what other labels are being lumped on you. Especially when the accusations and insinuations being made are beyond your feeble powers to rectify.

Fortunately, it just so happened that the following week was European Week Against Racism. To mark the week, I participated in some Doras Luimni initiatives whereby volunteers from different cultures and backgrounds, visited schools, colleges, community centres and the city council to speak about cultural differences, race relations and the asylum system in Limerick. The experience gave me an opportunity to evaluate my personal experiences since arriving in Ireland a year ago and in Limerick, 10 months ago.

It was also a great opportunity to work with some of the good people of Limerick and I thankfully spent a few days working with them, trying to change some of the negative perceptions which the radio show had predictably pounced on. Anything goes when it comes to ratings, they say! I must say though, surprising as it may seem, I have actually come across more acute bigotry in my native Zimbabwe, and South Africa, than I have here in Limerick or Ireland as a whole.

In Southern Africa, racism is mainly descends from the colonial subjugation of the natives and hence it is ensconced in the idea that one race is superior to the other. Here, the racism or xenophobia I have come across is mainly the result of a certain fear of the unknown.

People tend to react negatively to something they know nothing about and have some unfounded fear of. I do understand that immigration from Africa, in whatever form, is relatively recent in comparison to other Western European countries. Ignorance about a particular group of people does give birth to dangerous stereotypes which can turn myths into fact unless there are concerted efforts dispel these myths.

Thankfully the majority of people in Limerick are good, honest people who once they get to know you, welcome you without reservations and warmly. Well, at least those I have met and got to know. I must say I was very apprehensive when I first came to Limerick. An Irish friend, a Dubliner, gave me a stark warning that since I was heading westwards to Limerick, I should be prepared for ‘a bit of bigotry’. I was more likely to face more racism in Limerick than here in Dublin, he stressed, prior to my departure.

And it did not help either that three days after my arrival, some youths, who looked like punk rockers from the 80s, decided it was appropriate to ‘welcome’ a group of us ‘darkies’ with very marked and unmistakable Nazi salutes. For me, personally, that has been one of my worst experiences in Limerick.

Of course, there are the usual vestiges of racism, however minor but still meaningful, which I usually ignore. Like the hostile and unsettling glares when I enter a room or I am walking in certain areas. Or when it is assumed that since I am black I cannot speak English and am therefore presumed uneducated; that every black face on the street must be from Nigeria; that I am up to no good with your daughters. Or when someone clutches at their handbag as I approach them and when in ‘being kind’ you end up patronising me. The list is endless.

There are cases where you find a silver lining in the thunderclouds. A few weeks ago, I came across some youths and as I was walking past them, one of them whispered the hateful term nigger, amid sniggers. But then in their midst, a couple of them felt this was wrong and admonished the culprit in no uncertain terms. I felt very placated by this.

In fact during Anti-Racism week, the high school students I met, seemed so open minded about race issues that it was highly encouraging for the future of a multi cultural Ireland. In fact such was their enthusiasm and awareness on the issue of race, that I wished everyone could be like them. The world would be a far better place.

Thankfully, the Limerick I have experienced is quite contrary to that my Dublin friend had prepared me for. One of the reasons why it has been slightly easier for me to integrate is through the support from the good people I have come to consider as good friends, who work tirelessly to welcome other races into their lovely city.

In saying all this, I am however, well aware that there are others in my position who have come across the worst kind of bigotry, be it in trying to get a job or securing accommodation and would not share my sentiments. To those who perpetrate the bigotry, I say to them, please try to know us first before you label us, you might just be pleasantly surprised.