SADC too soft on security risk
Thomas Mapfumo has been living in a self-imposed exile in the United States since 2004.
The Zimbabwean musician often implies to the media that he cannot practice his art freely in the country because of political persecution.
The story from Zimbabwe is rather different, with indications being that Mapfumo fled Zimbabwe because he was dealing in stolen cars and the police were closing in on him.
One account has it that he bought his plane ticket in cash a couple of hours after the police raided his car dealership. But that cannot be verified.
Mapfumo, for those who have never heard his music, is a man who inspires extreme reactions from fans and dissenters alike.
I, myself, am somewhere in between. He has some good songs and he has some lousy ones: I wouldn’t care less what does as long as he does not try to earn a few extra bucks by making baseless claims about his country of birth.
Mapfumo was not always the kind of guy who divided opinion in Zimbabwe.
For many years, he was an inspiration for a people who were fighting colonialism. His brand of music was rebellious, his delivery raw and in your face.
Songs like “Vana Kuhondo” openly recruited young Zimbabweans to join the liberation struggle, and this earned him the ire of the colonial government.
Briefly, he was a darling of Bishop Abel Muzorewa, who equally briefly led the country in what was called Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and was an illusory attempt by colonial authorities and their native acolytes to infer some sort of black rule.
Perhaps that flirtation with Muzorewa and Smith should have warned Zimbabweans that this was a man who ultimately placed money over all else, and that one day he would flee the country a fugitive and claim political persecution.
But it did not matter at that time, because Zimbabwe was soon to win true independence and in those halcyon days of turning swords into ploughshares, many things were easily forgiven.
And besides, after the end of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, Mapfumo was to emerge stronger and more inspirational.
As Zimbabwe assisted Frelimo to battle Renamo – which was backed by apartheid South Africa, the United States and West Germany – in Mozambique, Mapfumo was to lend his voice to that struggle.
His 1985 “Singles Collection Album” carries the song “Tongosienda”.
In it he sings: “Wekutanga ndiBotha gandanga guru/ Anotaura seakasike munhu… “WechipiriDhlakama pondai/ Dhlakama ngaapondwe …. VeZimbabwe taramba kutyisidzirwa/ Nokuti Zimbabwe ndeyeropa…”
Roughly translated that comes to: “The first is (PW) Botha that big terrorist/ He talks like he created mankind… The second is (Afonso) Dhlakama/ Dhlakama should be killed… Because we the children of Zimbabwe refuse intimidation/ Because Zimbabwe is blood-bought…”
That was Mapfumo for you: crude, point blank and so en vogue!
Singing such a song today would draw sharp rebukes from a more “politically correct” world.
But we must understand the times in which Mapfumo called for the killing of Dhlakama.
Dhlakama had taken over from André Matsangaissa (killed by government forces in 1979) as leader of Renamo after a fierce succession struggle that saw his rival, Orlando Cristina, also killed.
Under Dhlakama, Renamo morphed into a truly terrorist organisation, carrying out mass killings and mutilations of civilians, and kidnapping the young to use them as child soldiers (one estimate has it that a third of Renamo fighters were below the age of 18 around 1990).
There was also a practice that was called “gandira”. In this, civilians were forced to produce food, act as couriers, and make themselves available as sex slaves for Renamo.
Through it all, the US and its buddies were silent, and only began to distance themselves from Renamo after publication of details of the 1987 Massacre of Homoine when Renamo fighters killed 424 civilians – including hospital patients – using guns and machetes.
Schools and hospitals were easy targets for Renamo. A US State Department report on the Homoine Massacre said, “This type of attack causes several types of civilian casualties. As is normal in guerrilla warfare, some civilians are killed in crossfire between the two opposing forces, although this tends in the view of the refugees to account for only a minority of the deaths.
“A larger number of civilians in these attacks and other contexts were reported to be victims of purposeful shooting deaths and executions, of axing, knifing, bayoneting, burning to death, forced drowning and asphyxiation, and other forms of murder where no meaningful resistance or defense is present.”
In all, some one million people died because of Renamo’s insurgency. Countries neighbouring Mozambique were affected.
But Dhlakama continues to walk scot-free. And now he is back in the bush, threatening all manner of hellfire and brimstone.
Granted, Renamo does not appear to be the force it used to be, and Mapfumo following Mapfumo’s advice on how best to deal with Dhlakama could be considered overboard.
What I find baffling is the lethargic response to the threat.
Anywhere else in the world – Europe, America, Asia – swift action is taken against fledgling rebel movements, nipping them in the bud before they can gain any real traction.
Security matters in Africa, it seems, are not taken as seriously as they should be.
For that primary reason, insecurity will continue to stalk us and blood will continue to be needlessly shed. •This article was first published in The Southern Times issue of November 2-8, 2012.