Crammed into one of the smaller lecture theatres at the LSE this evening, a mix of old and young, black and white visitors sat silently. They listened intently to the narrator of an astonishing story.
Peter Godwin came across as a good journalist should – providing short, evidence based analysis, briskly pacing through the years since independence (as Zimbabwe), brushing aside what he called lazy pan-African themes wrongly applied to Zimbabwe. He dismissed the prevailing Western media’s narrative of Mugabe as crazy, insane, or simply as a frontman for a range of corrupt generals and officials.
His version was humane, rational and despite everything, maybe even optimistic.
Below are some quick notes on the stuff I found interesting, paraphrased, but you’d do better to read his excellent books. When a Crocodile Eats the Sun is superb.
Writing in the first person and in present tense allows you to acknowledge the real path of events…the path of history is only inevitable when you look back.
Mugabe has always been consistent. It was the world that changed around him. In the 1980 elections, Zanu were always likely to win free and fair elections, but the victory followed the threat of violence if the result went against Mugabe, setting a precedent that he would keep to again and again.
Mugabe used the dual smokescreens of the Cold War and the persistence of apartheid in South Africa. If you criticised Mugabe’s policies at home, he could spin it to claim you were a supporter of the Afrikaner government.
On South Africa:
There must have been a deal – SA would stop interfering in Zimbabwe, and in return Mugabe refused to allow the armed wing of the ANC to use Zimbabwe as a launch pad.
South Africa is key to the solution [of Zim]. It always has been. South Africa gave up support for Smith – his govt collapsed. It must withdraw its support for Mugabe.
What draws SA and Zim together is the bond of post-liberation governments: all of the Southern African liberation parties are still in power.
SA allows the international community to abrogate responsibility.
On the West:
When I worked for the Sunday Times, my editors put the Matabeleland killings on the front page for three weeks running. It was met with silence. Nothing changed…When the land invasions [of white-owned farms] started, suddenly this became international news.
People were massacred in Matabeleland in 1983/4: at the same time Mugabe received honorary degrees from several universities, including Edinburgh, and in 1987 was awarded a knighthood.
He claimed that there was considerable evidence worthy of a prosecution for crimes against humanity for the torture, rape and killings that followed the 2008 elections. It seems impossible that Zimbabwe, with its close ties to China, could be referred to the ICC by the Security Council.
The event was hosted by the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics and LSE Ideas.