National Geographic : 2013 May
78 national geographic • May 2013 Gabriel Mugabe exuded an air of conciliatory magnanimity. My mother wasn’t buying it. My parents moved north to Malawi. Working along fault lines well established by the white minority government before him— which is to say, ethnic, racial, and political— Mugabe went about further dividing his nation and securing absolute power for himself. There are two main ethnic groups in Zim- babwe: the majority Shona and the minority Ndebele. Mugabe is Shona. In 1983 Mugabe deployed his North Korean-trained Five Brigade into the west of the country to preempt any Nde- bele political opposition. Over the following five years, an estimated 20,000 Ndebele were mas- sacred. “He understood and manipulated our weaknesses very well,” Wilfred Mhanda, a for- mer ZANU-PF liberation commander who fought along with Mugabe, told me. “ There is nothing more deadly than someone so profoundly inse- cure mimicking the aggression of his oppressors and becoming an oppressor in turn.” Mugabe tolerated corruption in his cabinet, as long as it came with loyalty to him. The country’s economy was collapsing, and by the mid-1990s there were fuel shortages, civil servants were striking, and liberation war veterans began to demand the compensation they had been prom- ised at independence. Then, in 1998, Mugabe sent troops into the Democratic Republic of the Congo to prop up the teetering regime of Lau- rent Kabila, at an eventual cost equivalent to a million U.S. dollars a day. Zimbabwe’s economic fate was sealed. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was launched in 1999, headed by a former la- bor union leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe countered the new political outspokenness this came with and the increasing dissatisfaction among his own supporters by allowing them to appropriate white-owned commercial farms without compensation. In 2000, with Mugabe’s explicit blessing, unemployed ZANU-PF sup- porters led by war veterans armed with axes and machetes invaded the farms, shouting, “Hondo! War!” Domestic food supplies plummeted. In 2005, after the MDC won several parliamentary seats, Mugabe retaliated with Operation Muram- batsvina (Operation Clear the Filth). Across the country market stalls and homes belonging to the urban poor, who constituted much of ZANU-PF’s opposition, were razed. An estimated 700,000 people lost their homes or livelihoods, and more than 2 million were driven further into poverty. Then, in a first round of elections held in 2008, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF finally lost to Tsvangirai’s MDC. Calling for a runoff election, supporters and officials of ZANU-PF went on a vicious state- sponsored rampage. Hundreds of MDC support- ers were killed and thousands injured, hundreds of women and girls were raped, and tens of thou- sands of people became internal refugees. “If you wanted to commit suicide in 2008, you just wore an MDC T-shirt,” I was told. By November of that year, Steve Hanke, an economics professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, had cal- culated Zimbabwe’s monthly inflation rate at 79.6 billion percent, second only to Hungary’s in 1946. To avoid worse bloodletting and even more unimaginable economic collapse, Tsvangirai Working along fault lines well established by the minority govern ment before him—ethnic, racial, and political— Mugabe went about fur ther dividing his nation and securing absolute power for himself. Alexandra Fuller’s family memoir, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, appeared in 2011. That year Robin Hammond received the Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award, which enabled him to spend five months in Zimbabwe last year.