Andrew Meldrum. Where We Have Hope: A Memoir of Zimbabwe. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005. 290 pp. $24.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-87113-896-5.
Reviewed by Elaine Windrich (Stanford University)
Published on H-SAfrica (August, 2005)
Against All Odds
Unlike most journalists writing about Africa, this author, The Guardian correspondent in Zimbabwe for more than two decades, has not been influenced by the prevailing mood of Afro-pessimism. Instead, he still retains some "hope" for the future of his adopted country, despite having been a victim of the vendetta against foreign journalists pursued by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government since 2000. And in his case, the ordeal included intimidation and harassment by the security police, detention, a court trial, kidnapping, and forcible deportation.
Like most of the "expats" who arrived in the newly independent Zimbabwe in the 1980s--the journalists, the technical experts, the aid donors, the teachers, the research scholars, and the advisers (including this reviewer)--Andrew Meldrum was caught up in the euphoria following the victorious conclusion of a long and bitter war and the prospect of building a new society that would be a model for other countries in Africa. As he described the atmosphere at that time, "Many people shared my hopes for the country ... a country that was working to establish a democracy, a multi-racial society and an economy that would provide a decent standard of living for the black majority" (p. 27). However, within a few years things began to go badly wrong, and the so-called "honeymoon" came to an end, leaving many of the "expats" to depart for home, or perhaps a safer destination.
The violence that descended upon Matabeleland was not new or unexpected, as the author relates, since it went back to the ZAPU/ZANU rivalry of the 1960s, when ZANU split away from the Zimbabwe African People's Union led by Joshua Nkomo. But this time the mistrust erupted into widespread killing because each side had its demobilized fighters ready to take up arms against its political rival. Although the Mugabe government denied that the newly integrated national army was targeting Ndebele civilians as well as the so-called ZAPU "dissidents" allegedly supported by South Africa, reports of indiscriminate killing began to appear in the overseas press, whose correspondents (including Meldrum) had managed to visit the affected areas and interview some of the survivors. In accounting for this prolonged violence, which claimed up to 20,000 lives during the 1980s, the author "firmly" believes that "Mugabe carried out the Matabeleland massacres in order to crush any opposition to his ambitions to establish a one-party state by Joshua Nkomo, ZAPU and the Ndebele people in general" (p. 78).
After peace was restored in 1987 as a result of a "Unity Accord" under which ZANU co-opted ZAPU and some ZAPU officials became ministers in a ZANU-PF government, the author turned to reporting on other issues confronting Zimbabwe. Among these was the corruption that was gradually permeating every level of public service, from small-scale bribery by petty officials to the misappropriation of millions of dollars of state funds by government ministers. After relating how he was forced to pay a bribe to get a telephone and how others were forced to pay a bribe to get a driving license, Meldrum quotes a popular song by superstar Thomas Mapfumo which captured the public mood (and was banned from state radio by the ZBC): "Nothing for nothing is nothing but something for something is something--corruption" (p. 91).
Also a major problem was the widespread intolerance of dissent, whatever form it might take. To illustrate this trend, the author cites the violation of minority rights by Mugabe's anti-homosexual crusade, the detention and torture of the journalists who revealed Zimbabwe's war for plunder and profit in the Congo, and the repression of all political opposition. This resort to violence to ensure continued ZANU-PF rule was applied against ZAPU until 1987, the Zimbabwe Unity Movement in 1990, and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) since 2000.
A third issue of concern was the state of the economy, which was facing collapse in the late 1990s as a result of rampant inflation and mass poverty and unemployment. While the government attributed this economic meltdown to the structural adjustment program allegedly imposed by the IMF in 1991, the immediate cause was Mugabe's decision to award a multi-million dollar package of benefits to the war veterans association, which had threatened a coup if he did not comply. Although this excessive and unbudgeted expenditure caused the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar, it also ensured the loyalty of the "war vets," who were to lead the occupation of white-owned farmland as well as the offensive against the new political opposition.
The second half of this book reflects the "resurgence of hope" which arose with the formation of the MDC in 1999, a coalition of trade unions and civic groups headed by trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai. Since this was the first political party to present a credible challenge to ZANU-PF's monopoly of power, it was inevitable that it would be the victim of state-sponsored violence and repression. It was also inevitable that the journalists who exposed these violations of human rights would also be targets for retribution. Much of this violence occurred during the parliamentary and presidential elections held between 2000 and 2002, which the author covers in great detail, including the massive fraud to keep ZANU-PF in power and the subjection of MDC supporters to measures ranging from harassment and intimidation to beating, torture, and killing. But even after the elections had secured their purpose for the ruling party, the violence continued, now directed against the largely urban population which had voted so overwhelmingly for the MDC.
In the campaign against the media, the author became the first of the hundred or so journalists detained under new draconian law to silence the press known as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). Under this legislation, as well as the new Public Order and Security Act (POSA), journalists could be sent to prison for criticizing the president of Zimbabwe or for publishing "false information." In Meldrum's case, he was detained for reporting on a post-election incident concerning the alleged beheading of a woman by ZANU-PF supporters which had appeared in the independent Daily News. However, the whole episode appeared to be a contrived one, probably to entrap journalists under AIPPA, since the purveyor of the story (whose wife had died of AIDS, not beheading) was suddenly nowhere to be found. In addition, both The Guardian and the Daily News had published apologies for the story, which the police had refused to confirm or deny.
Although the author had been exonerated and judged a "responsible journalist" by the magistrate hearing his case, there was still the threat of deportation by a government determined to rid the country of all foreign journalists. Consequently, his last year as a legal "permanent resident" was marked by intimidation and harassment by the immigration authorities. And it was during a hearing at the immigration department, where he was accompanied by his own lawyer, that he was whisked away in an unmarked car, driven on a roundabout route to the airport and bundled on an Air Zimbabwe flight to London.
Thus ended Meldrum's twenty-three years of reporting on a country which he still regards as "home" and which he still hopes will fulfill the promise with which it began when he arrived all those years ago. His vivid portrayal of those years, which is accurate and balanced as well, merits the attention of all readers with an interest in Africa.
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Elaine Windrich. Review of Meldrum, Andrew, Where We Have Hope: A Memoir of Zimbabwe.
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