Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ugly Bobby: A Message from the Front

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Ugly Bobby: A Message from the Front

It's a powerful piece of writing from the splendid South African newspaper, the Mail and Guardian. In a savage attack on Robert Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, it makes these disturbing, yet brutally true observations:

This is the lesson of Zimbabwe: if you are the incumbent and it looks like you are on your way out, for God's sake do not panic, just hang in there; beat the living daylights out of some of your people, just because you can, and the poorer they are the better; imprison those who would dare to oppose you, torture them, and if they are women, throw in a little spot of rape; kill them in horrible ways and burn their bodies and dump them in shallow graves, or no graves, as you please; in a word, intimidate your way back to power and, bingo, the African Union will very nicely ask you to accommodate your opponents in a government of national unity.

The last statement is a reference not only to the AU, but also to the European Union whose contradictory position on Zimbabwe is remarkable for its cowardice. At the same time as announcing sanctions against Mugabe’s regime, the temporary head of the EU, France's flighty President Sarkozy, blithely praised the shameful Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, for his "bold and courageous" intervention. Say what?

This is the same Mbeki considered Africa’s senior (he’s 66) statesman. Only one part of that description is correct and it's not "statesman." This is the same Mbeki who has done nothing but drape his fawning arms around the genocidal maniac who has dealt with the opposing and apparently victorious MDC, the Movement for Democratic Change, in typical Mugabe fashion. The MDC says at least 120 of its supporters have been killed, about 5,000 abducted and 200,000 forced from their homes since the first round of the elections, in a campaign of violence by pro-Mugabe militias and the army.

The Mail and Guardian rails against Mugabe and the reluctance of anyone, including Western powers to intervene. It quotes the mantra "the people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough" to propel the on-again-off-again talks between Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangarai, mediated by the stunningly inept Mbeki. It goes on:

And indeed, the suffering is beyond levels that anyone with compassion can accept. Everyone knows the figures; the hyperinflation, the unemployment rate and now, yet again, the spectre of creeping starvation -- the United Nations reports that up to five million people face starvation. But how far should this mantra be carried? Have the people suffered so much that non-bread and butter issues to do with the dismantling of oppressive institutions, accountability, justice and reparations must be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency?

It's a dreadful question we must all ponder with shame. "Never again!" Sure. But only if you’re not African.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Scully

John Scully has been a journalist for almost fifty years and has covered stories in seventy countries for major international news and current affairs organizations. His book, Am I Dead Yet? A Journalist's Perspective on Terrorism, was published in spring 2008 by Fitzhenry and Whiteside.

Go to John Scully’s Author Page