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No regrets’ for Mugabe opponents

As Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe fights to maintain his grip on power, there are fears of a new wave of violence against his opponents. Orla Guerin reports from Zimbabwe, despite a ban on the BBC.

Injured opposition supporter
Mugabe’s opponents fear renewed violence against them

It was the shoes that caught my eye.

The man wearing them had served me lunch. He was friendly and polite. His shirt and trousers were spotlessly clean and freshly pressed.

But when he brought my bill, his footwear gave him away. I could see his toes poking out through a large hole between the sole and the top of the shoe.

The bill came to $20 (£10) – in Zimbabwe dollars that is more than four billion.

The Zimbabwean currency has become so worthless, that you can find it littering the streets

For the waiter, that probably would have been about three months’ take-home pay.

Wondering how many billions it would take to buy new shoes, I left a large tip.

When he saw the amount, he raised his hand to his heart in thanks.

The Zimbabwean currency has become so worthless, that you can find it littering the streets.

Five-hundred-thousand-dollar notes lie in the dirt. Nobody bothers to pick them up.

A friend in Zimbabwe went shopping for a few gifts this week. When she selected them, in the morning, the bill came to Z$17bn.

Three hours later, when she came back to pick them up, the price had risen to Z$21bn.

Dying regime?

During my stay I met a tour guide, who had worked abroad for years. He came home in 2005, when the economy was already in freefall.

“Why come back then?” I asked.

“To help bring about change,” he said.

He told me, as did many Zimbabweans, that the Mugabe era was coming to an end, though he was not sure how.

“Our old man is on the way out,” he said. “It’s the last kick of a dying horse.”

Zimbabwe graphic

He spoke firmly but quietly, with a quick glance over his shoulder to see who was about.

We talked over dinner, a three-course meal – soup, chicken and dessert. He ate slowly and carefully.

“An ordinary man could spend a year without eating a meal like this,” he said.

The same man told me the churches are a lot fuller these days, not because a suffering nation is finding consolation in religion, but because church groups can sometimes help people find food, or arrange decent burial.

Many in Zimbabwe cannot afford the cost of dying.

At a small cemetery, where the grasses grew higher than the tombstones, we met a group of young men digging a grave.

They were not gravediggers, this was a do-it-yourself funeral.

“We are burying our sister,” one told me.

“She had been sick for a while.”

The deceased was 37 years old.

Dying in your 30s is typical these days. Life expectancy in Zimbabwe is among the lowest in the world.

Police checkpoints

Travelling through the country can be an eerie experience. We had the open road all to ourselves for hours.

The only distraction along the way was the occasional roadblock, usually manned by relaxed police.

Zimbabwe election posters
Some voters may be too scared to vote in a new election

With BBC News banned in Zimbabwe, we were running the risk of arrest.

But we managed to pass unnoticed, and many ordinary Zimbabweans ran the much greater risk of agreeing to speak to us and tell us their stories.

They could expect harsh treatment from the authorities if they were caught.

At a remote rural homestead, we were welcomed by a village elder who was no stranger to President Mugabe’s wrath.

In the past, supporting the opposition MDC had cost him dearly.

His home was burned down and his wife was beaten.

The fields around the homestead were full of withered corn and the grain stores were empty, but our host wanted to kill a chicken and prepare a meal for us.

We thanked him, but said we could not accept. Later that night we found the dead chicken in the back of our truck.

Some of those we met were putting their hope in the international community.

“They won’t let this continue,” one man said.

“They’ll send in the UN.”

Poll fears

But Robert Mugabe knows there will be no-one coming to stop the beatings and the killings by his henchmen.

If a second round of voting comes, many may be too afraid to go back to the polls.

We are ready to sacrifice our lives to make things better for our children
Opposition supporter in hiding

“Sadly it won’t be possible to vote again,” one opposition supporter told me, sounding weary.

Others may be unable to risk coming out of hiding.

I met an MDC activist who was on the run, following a brutal beating.

We spoke for just a few minutes. He was too afraid to stay longer.

He had had no contact with family or friends for more than six weeks.

“If they hear my voice on the radio,” he said, “they’ll know I’m alive.”

I asked what he thought would happen, if he was caught again.

“It won’t be torture then,” he said. “It will definitely be death.

“But if needs be, we are ready to sacrifice our lives to make things better for our children. I have no regrets.”

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 10 May, 2008 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

From Our Own Correspondent

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When my son was in 2nd or 3rd grade he was given a school fair project to do.  The project was to take  the African Nation of Zimbabwe and give the basic geographical  information on it and then historical information, the natural resources the country is known for, and the population etc., and then put that into an report.

  I,  being his mother,  having learned from college to go to the source of the information called the Consolit of the nation of Zimbabwe.  I heard the voice of very soft spoken female answer the telephone in the Zimbabwe consulit and  she told me that she would leave me some large posters and current information about Zimbabwe at the door at 5:00 pm. 

 I rushed to the Manhattan location and found them rolled up and propped up  against the metal door.  I was so excited I could not wait to open them.  The pictures and travel information, and historical information were more current than anything my son could have received in the library in Queens.

  So my son had gigantic glossy posters of Zimbabwe’s natural resources!  There were pictures of smiling dark skinned and brown skinned people in colorful clothes; there were pictures of forests;  there was even a series of  fabulous water falls that rivaled our famed Niagra falls.

  I had spoken to a Nigerian Teacher friend who told me to stop being so ignorant about the continent of Africa and stop believing all of the sterotypes about black people running around in the jungle! He told me that the cities of Africa were more beautiful than their American Counterparts.  He told me that African’s were very educated people,  that they loved education more than anything else.

   My African Nigerian friend made me feel very stupid and uninformed about the real world around me.  So when I got the glossy pictures about Zimbabwe,  I thought I was on the road to self awareness, and true understanding of my SO-CALLED  mother land…of which I am named after….aka –AFRCIAN AMERICAN– 

 How could I be called African American and all I know about the continent is the sterotypes, and historical data on Egypt,  and all other countries.  I have had this romantic view of Egypt…and who I was supposed to be in correalation to this place or that in Africa. 

 Now, though,  I am saddened by the sickness that seems to overtake most 3rd world countries…..rich with natural resources, yet devastated by political confusion and greed from other outside influences and rift with politicians or military people who want ALL OF THE MONEY FOR THEMSELVES and let their countries dry up and die..

.Obviously, they cannot see that they are setting the stage for more ruthless individuals and counties to over run and eventually take over where the politicians left off and then take a foot hold like hideous ticks and suck the country dry. 

 The children and innocent people of these African Countries do not even have a chance of survival.  But the powers that be,  the ones seeking the gold,  oil, diamonds in those rich, yet poor regions will stop at nothing to gain their control…it would seem. 

 Yet, even with what I am writing,  I am still very ignorant on the truth of who the real predators,  and prey are in the African Continents and its countries…of which I am being told that I “come from.”   I cannot even afford a plane ticket to visit Africa….I will probably never have the finances to go there….but if I do visit….what would I find there?  

 A group of brown, or black skinned people welcoming me home?   In the movie,  BLOOD DIAMOND,  a military or gorilla soldier was attacking some innocent towns people and using politics as a reason and he told one man, “What do you want?   LOng  Sleeve or Short Sleeve? 

 He said this to the man as they hacked off his left arm.  This was done to send a message!  Oh, but what a message they sent to me!

   Where is the Africa that I am supposed to wish to return back to after 200 or more years of oppression from slavery?  It is rift with politics more severe in some cases than has been allowed over here…if you understand my meaning.

So that is why I placed this article here in my Mom’s blog on Mother’s day.