Looking from the outside in - people, place and practice

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The faces of Mugabe's victims

Photographer Brent Stirton is an amazing visual activism, specialising specifically on African political hardships. In this reportage, called: Mugabe's Victims, he captures the horror and turmoil many suffered at the hands of their ruling party, Zanu PF and its lawless and feared dictator, Robert Mugabe. Below, the photographer speaks about his work in Zimbabwe: 

July 2009: Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe and leader of the ruling Zanu PF party, has been waging a war of the armed against the unarmed for the last 26 years. It’s a war his party wages against any Zimbabwean who does not go along with their brutally oppressive regime. Since 1983, when 30 000 Ndbele people were massacred by Zanu in Matabeleland to the present day, Mugabe’s rule is one of ruthless impunity and oppression. Today Zimbabwe is a failed state, 3 to 5 million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa and a further million have sought a better life abroad. 

There is 90% unemployment in Zimbabwe; HIV rates stand at a conservative 25% with zero state health system for all but the wealthy. Many thousands of innocent people find themselves victims of rape, torture, destruction and mayhem at the hands of Zanu PF thugs. All large scale commercial production farms, most white owned and employing over 1.8 million Zimbabweans, have been taken over and occupied and through ineptitude brought to a production standstill. Once the breadbasket of the region, Zimbabwe now finds itself in dire need of emergency food aid, which Zanu PF uses to further control a devastated population.I met blind and physically disabled people who made epic journeys crossing illegally into South Africa because it is no longer possible to beg sufficient funds or food for their own survival in Zimbabwe’s failed economy. I met traumatized senior leadership of the MDC who had to flee Zimbabwe for fear of their lives. I met Xenophobia victims who lost everything in Zimbabwe then lost it again in South Africa.

I encountered hundreds of people in Zimbabwe living with full blown Aids who can never afford the $20 it requires for testing to get into the one ARV program that exists in Zimbabwe. I met a man who spoke of torture as bad as anything I have heard in ten years of reporting on African conflict. He held his gang-raped wife and daughter in his arms as horror stories spilled out of him in the small one roomed shack in which he was hiding. He tells me he knows of many others with similar stories. I met a man who showed me where his leg used to be and told how a Zanu PF gang hacked it off with an axe and left him to die in the bush behind their camp. Everywhere I went I met frightened, traumatized people, victims of Mugabe and his Zanu PF thugs. 

Zimbabweans are literally dieing for change. The regional destabilization Mugabe has brought about is likely to get worse. Xenophobia is a bitter reality in South Africa with its own unemployment rate estimated at 35%. Civil strife is a genuine continuous possibility, with impoverished, disappointed South Africans taking out their frustrations on a refugee Zimbabwean population with nowhere else to go. The 2010 Soccer World Cup is supposed to be a shining beacon of African success embodied in the shining new stadiums of South Africa. They barely mask the tensions right under the surface, tensions which must boil to the surface sooner rather than later. Until Mugabe and his henchmen are removed from power this will continue to be the situation. Mugabe has exhausted the wellspring of goodwill which flowed from being one of Africa’s longest ruling post-colonial rulers. In the words of the common Zimbabwean, “It is time for the Old Man to go.” 

Published by UK Sunday Times Magazine and Newsweek International. More @ Brent Stirton

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