Thursday, November 6, 2008
Dona Nobis Pacem
Grace lives in Johannesburg and, like hundreds of Zimbabweans tortured by Robert Mugabe’s “war veterans” and youth militia since the March 2008 elections she is struggling to survive. But Grace is not one of the recently tortured. Instead, her story reflects the reality for millions of Zimbabweans and speaks to eight years of political repression and economic destruction next door.
Three years ago, Mugabe’s government ordered Grace’s cottage in Harare to be bulldozed, together with the homes of 700,000 other people, and banned all informal street and market trading. Grace, her daughter and her mother lost everything: home, work, income, education and healthcare.
Grace has barely survived. “After they destroyed my cottage we slept in the open. I tried to feed us by trading in the street but the police always stole my goods and then arrested, fined and beat me with a rubber whip and then with an iron bar,” she told me in February. “It was impossible to get a trading license because I did not have a ZANU-PF card. After they beat me with the iron bar I knew could not continue and had to leave to survive. So I came to South Africa.”
Grace and 700,000 others were victims of “Operation Murambatsvina” or “Operation Clear the Filth,” a name that reflects the ruling ZANU-PF party’s low regard for the humanity of these Zimbabwean citizens. Carried out shortly after the March 2005 elections in which the opposition party made significant gains in Zimbabwe’s cities, ZANU-PF viewed Grace and others living in high-density suburbs as a political threat that had to be removed. Like those abused by Mugabe’s thugs in 2008, Grace, and hundreds of thousands like her, were all targeted for the same political reason: they apparently threatened ZANU-PF’s hold on power.
Many Zimbabweans fleeing to South Africa since 2005 – possibly numbering tens of thousands – have escaped the same persecution, and the same destructive economic effects, described by Grace. They are refugees, although South Africa’s dysfunctional asylum system has yet to recognize them as such.