- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004


Geoff Hill

Zebra Press, $21.95, 304 pages

For those who know little of Zimbabwe’s history — particularly the last four years, a period which has seen the country’s descent into what President George W. Bush has called “an outpost of oppression” — Geoff Hill’s “The Battle for Zimbabwe: The Final Countdown” is a well-researched and recommended reference book.

Its author is a journalist who grew up in Zimbabwe and learned Shona, the language of President Robert Mugabe and his dominant northern-based tribe of the same name. Mr. Hill’s fluency in the language resulted in him gaining unique access to Zimbabweans from all walks of life, including ruling party officials. The result is evenhanded and absorbing.

Parts of “The Battle for Zimbabwe” recount Mr. Hill’s personal experience with the lawlessness and fear pervading the country today, both as a journalist and as an ordinary Zimbabwean citizen. When he was commissioned to write and publish this book in the middle of 2002, he left Zimbabwe for his own safety. He currently lives in South Africa.

Mr. Hill draws our attention to how one man, Robert Mugabe, and his fawning coterie have carelessly induced the demise of Zimbabwe through greed and paranoia, destroying the economy and the country’s many respected institutions in the process. How, in pursuit of absolute power, his regime has viciously turned against its people and stolen all their basic freedoms.

The author does this by placing the current crisis into historical context, illustrating how the Ndebele nation, the British and finally the white Rhodesians handed Mr. Mugabe a how-to instruction book on subjugating his people.

What Mr. Hill does not illustrate is how Mr. Mugabe adapted these strategies to suit his own ideologies. As a committed Marxist-Leninist, and a strident critic of the free world, Comrade Mugabe (as he is called) has long looked east for advice — to the teachings of Mao Tse-Tung, Kim Il Sung, Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin.

Torturetacticsand human rights abuses perpetratedbytheMugabe regime today were taught to state security agents by the North Koreans soon after independence in 1980.

When, in February 2000, Mr. Mugabe called a national referendum to extend his presidential powers and his people returned an overwhelming “no” vote, he responded by desecrating property rights and violently neutralizing all opposition to his rule. Today, like Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot before him, Mr. Mugabe is — to name just one of his adopted policies — starving his people into submission.

As a journalist who was working in Zimbabwe when the crackdown against the independent media began, Mr. Hill covers the death of press freedom extensively. Among other issues, he gives a detailed account of the violence meted out against opposition party officials and their supporters during the run-up to the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2000 and 2002 respectively.

He highlights the blatant election-rigging by the ruling party and dedicates a chapter to its vast and corrupt money trail. He discusses the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the violence and collapsing economy back home.

Crucially, Mr. Hill asks why South Africa’s leaders won’t be more proactive in finding a solution to Zimbabwe’s problems when the fallout is so obviously affecting their own country.

A conspicuous omission in the book is a detailed description on the death of Zimbabwe’s independent judiciary, once one of Africa’s most respected legal systems.

The insidious erosion of Zimbabwe’s rule of law in the past four years is, in my opinion, the largest contributing factor to the country’s collapse. The abuses and disregard of the judicial system and constitution by the Mugabe regime — be it ignoring a judge’s rulings or using extraordinary executive powers to bypass a constitutional law — is unprecedented in Zimbabwe’s history.

Today, after independent judges of all ethnic backgrounds were intimidated and forced to stand down, the country’s courts are filled with Mr. Mugabe’s lackeys.

Despite this oversight, “The Battle for Zimbabwe” shines a light on a country that is being systematically destroyed by a dictatorial regime at a crucial moment in world history: when Western leaders are fighting a war against terror and building democracy movements in other troubled countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sadly, in contrast, international and regional intervention in Zimbabwe’s crisis has been peripheral. As an illustration of sheer terror, for those decision-makers who can affect Zimbabwe’s eventual outcome it is worth reading the personal testimonies of torture at the end of this book. They are gut-wrenching.

Annabel Hughes, a Zimbabwean, is the executive director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust.

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