Zimbabwe - Bolt Cutters
And An Orange Boat
From Cathy Buckle

Dear Family and Friends,
Events in Zimbabwe this week have left us all open mouthed and shaking our heads in disbelief, surprise and shock. Every day and every hour the talk has been of mercenaries, conspiracies, terrorists and coup plots. No one seems to be able to explain why an aeroplane landed in Harare with people, described by local television as "burly, heavily built men" of assorted nationalities. At first the talk was of 64 mercenaries, later in the week it became 67. Reports as to what these men were doing here varied from collecting mining equipment to guard mines in the DRC, to buying guns and planning to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea. None of the facts were clear and nothing became clearer as the week wore on.
On one day the Zimbabwe government talked of the UK, US and Spain being involved in a plot to overthrow an African government, and on another day the Minister of Foreign Affairs talked of capital punishment for the 67 men. Night after night our television screens have shown the same footage again and again of the cargo on board the aeroplane. There were radios and cellphones, loud hailers and bolt cutters, one very large sledge hammer and one very small pepper spray, sleeping bags, trousers, white shirts and something which the newsreader called a bright orange dinge. This turned out to be an inflatable dinghy and when it was all put together, it made for a most peculiar cargo for men who at first were called mercenaries and terrorists by the State media but these terms were soon preceeded by the words alleged and suspected.
On Friday, speaking to BBC radio, the lawyer appointed to represent the 67 men said that he had still not spoken to most of his sixty odd clients because the police had not been given clearance by "higher authorities" to allow interviews to be conducted. Also on Friday, on the front page of what is now Zimbabwe's only daily newspaper, the State owned Herald, the plot thickened. The Herald reported that an 8 man team had arrived in the country from Equatorial Guinea to "exchange notes" about the 67 men. The Herald chose a strange assortment of words to explain the total confusion and said that the police and Attorney General's office were "continuing with investigations and the framing of charges." By the end of the week, when Spain was reeling after the horrific bombs in trains in Madrid, our propaganda mill had turned the mercenary story and the weird cargo around. The crawl line on the bottom of the TV screen read: "Zimbabwe is against terrorism," and still we watched film footage of bolt cutters, one pepper spray and a sledge hammer.
While the conspiracy theories abounded and Zimbabwe was featured on most international news channels it was a tragedy that the story that really should have been making world news was lost. A report was issued by The Zimbabwe Institute in Cape Town which revealed utterly horrific facts and figures about opposition politicians in Zimbabwe. 50 opposition MP's and 28 parliamentary candidates were interviewed and between them 616 incidents were documented. More than 90% of the MP's had experienced jail, violence and threats; 25% had survived murder attempts; 42% reported having been physically assaulted and 16% reported that they had been tortured whilst in police custody - with electric shocks to the genitals and beatings on the soles of their feet. The Zimbabwe Institute report stated that of the 616 incidents, half had been blamed on police, army and the CIO and the other half on men calling themselves war veterans and members of Zimbabwe's youth militia. Most shocking of all was the statement that not one single perpetrator had been arrested, charged or tried for any of the 616 incidents.
So, while the mercenary plot thickens, life on the ground for Zimbabwe's opposition politicians continues to be a time of personal terror.
Until next week,
with love, cathy.
Copyright cathy buckle 13th March 2003.
My books on the Zimbabwean crisis, "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears" are available outside Africa from: ; ; ; in Australia and New Zealand: ; Africa:



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