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Examining the Political Climate in Zimbabwe

ED GORDON, host:

President Mugabe's cleanup campaign has increased domestic and international criticism of his government. Our own Farai Chideya spoke with two people close to the ongoing controversy in Zimbabwe.


FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Ed, that's right. I spoke with two people. Girley Tegama(ph) is someone who left Zimbabwe five years ago. Her husband was tortured by the government. And we also talked to Duncan Campbell. He's a reporter with The Guardian who actually got into Harare. It's a very difficult place to get into. He said life on the streets was hard and getting harder.

Mr. DUNCAN CAMPBELL (The Guardian): People were queuing for maize. They keep queuing for sugar and queuing just to get money out of the bank. So it was a country, really, in economic crisis and people very dejected and depressed and feeling very hopeless.

CHIDEYA: So, Duncan, let me follow up here. Let's go back to Operation Clear Out the Trash. Why did President Mugabe initiate this? And is it doing what you think he expected it to? Is he receiving the kind of response that he expected?

Mr. CAMPBELL: Well, the official government explanation as to why he had to clear out all the houses was that the people were there illegally, that it was putting a strain on the infrastructure of the big cities, and that there was a lot of illegal activity, particularly black-market activity in terms of dealing with illicit currency. The unofficial explanation is that a lot of the people in those townships were supporters of the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change. A lot of them had voted against him in the last election. He feared that if there was an uprising against him it might come from those areas.

CHIDEYA: Girley, let me turn to you. Your family still lives in Zimbabwe, and your brother was recently injured in an accident that resulted directly from Operation Clear Out the Trash. Can you tell us exactly what happened?

Ms. GIRLEY TEGAMA (Left Zimbabwe in 2000): This program--it was like `Destroy now and talk later.' So that's when the police officers moved in and they were coming frequently to the house to make sure that we demolished the house. So when my brother actually--because he was doing most of the work by himself, and I would think he was using a rammer--he woke up one Monday to go and finish the work before the police officers come again. That's when this wall came and toppled him down. And lucky enough, my mother was coming outside the house, then she saw a flow of blood. But she--the wall was totally covering him.

CHIDEYA: It must be hard for you to look at what's going on in Zimbabwe from where you are and know that you can't be there with your family. What do you wish would happen there right now?

Ms. TEGAMA: Mugabe's message to the international world is he's cleaning up crime. And the first thing we have to know--that the program was in line with international standards. People have to follow building codes, they need to get permission to build houses. But as I see this program, it is the manner that it is being applied. It's evil, it's cruel, and it's degrading to the people. And it's making people who were poor, poorer.

CHIDEYA: Duncan, what did you see on your trips to Harare? Is it a situation where people not only have been displaced but also their lives have ended?

Mr. CAMPBELL: Well, the impression I got from talking to people in Harare is that some people wouldn't talk because they said, `We're sure you're being followed and we don't want to get into trouble.' But other people who did talk, they were in despair, really, because they said Mr. Mugabe's going to be in power until 2008 and they couldn't see any change, any betterment of their situation until he kind of got out of the way. The opposition isn't completely organized to take over. There was talk when I was there of what they call a third force that--which would be dissident members of Mr. Mugabe's party, Zanu PF, joining up with some of the current opposition, the MDC. But as David Coltart, who's the shadow minister of justice, said to me, that--Zimbabwe, compared to a lot of African countries, has a long way down still to go. It's not as poor as countries like Somalia or Rwanda or so on, and it may be some time before it hits the complete bottom.

And the sad thing is that a lot of the most talented people are leaving. Quite a few are in Britain; a lot are in South Africa. And there is inevitably going to be a further drain of people who feel that Mr. Mugabe's just not addressing their problems and, in fact, is doing the reverse and becoming more and more authoritarian. Just before I arrived, he increased the penalty for writing stories in the papers prejudicial to the state, from a maximum penalty of two years to a maximum of 20 years. So it's not a hopeful picture.

CHIDEYA: What lies ahead for Zimbabwe? You say it has not reached the bottom. Who is trying to stop Zimbabwe from reaching the bottom? Are there international aid workers? Is the UN going to get involved? Is South Africa going to get involved?

Mr. CAMPBELL: Well, I think what lies ahead depends partly on whether South Africa does decide to get properly involved. Again, when I was there, there were attempts being made to get Nelson Mandela, who's now very elderly, who's the one figure on the world stage who commands such enormous support that he might be able to influence Mr. Mugabe, who's an old friend. I don't think there's going to be any intervention from elsewhere. I think it could be a long and, for Zimbabweans, hard struggle before there is change.

CHIDEYA: And finally, Girley, who would you like to see intervene in this?

Ms. TEGAMA: I would say first is the people of Zimbabwe. We have some townships that have risen against the police, that are fighting, they are running battles with the police, and I think that soon we are going to have an uprising in Zimbabwe. There is hope like what Duncan said that Zimbabwe is not in the state like other African countries. But I think the torture, the beatings that are happening in Zimbabwe--it's sort of a new form of dictatorship that Mugabe's putting in place, and that has to be ended.

CHIDEYA: That was Girley Tegama. She left Zimbabwe five years ago after her husband, a journalist, was tortured. She still has family in the country. We were also speaking with Duncan Campbell, who writes for the British newspaper The Guardian.

And, Ed, I think we're going to be hearing a lot more about this in the news.

GORDON: I'm sure we will, Farai. Let me ask you a question. Given the gravity of the situation, does Mugabe have any friends in terms of the international community?

CHIDEYA: Well, South Africa has been lukewarm, but what's really interesting is that China is actually investing in Zimbabwe. It is moving to a point where it feels that these African nations, certainly a lot of the post-Communist nations, are places that it can expand. So look to China to invest in Zimbabwe and even places like Cuba.

GORDON: All right. We'll continue to watch. Farai Chideya--thanks a lot, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Thank you.

GORDON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Farai Chideya
Farai Chideya is a multimedia journalist who has worked in print, television, online, and radio. Prior to joining NPR's News & Notes, Chideya hosted Your Call, a daily news and cultural call-in show on San Francisco's KALW 91.7 FM. Chideya has also been a correspondent for ABC News, anchored the prime time program Pure Oxygen on the Oxygen women's channel, and contributed commentaries to CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and BET. She got her start as a researcher and reporter at Newsweek magazine. In 1997 Newsweek named her to its "Century Club" of 100 people to watch.
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