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Crumbling away – Zimbabwe Vigil Diary: 3rd November 2012 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 04 November 2012 16:46

A UK daily newspaper The Independent has asked the Vigil to write a blog explaining what has kept us going for the past decade. Here is what we are sending them:

 

The Zimbabwe Vigil recently marked – not celebrated – our tenth anniversary protesting outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London against human rights abuses and in support of free and fair elections. Since 12th October 2002 Zimbabwean exiles and supporters have gathered every Saturday, come what may, overlooked by Jacob Epstein’s sculptures slowly crumbling away on the Embassy’s neo-classical façade.

 

When the Vigil started we were hopeful that the then newly-formed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would soon sweep away President Mugabe’s sclerotic Zanu PF party which had ruled since independence in 1980. Robert Mugabe had taken over what had been described by President Nyerere of Tanzania as ‘the jewel of Africa’ but, despite achievements in expanding education, had steered the economy onto the rocks and increasingly resorted  to violence to deal with opposition.

 

The invasion of white-owned farms, aimed at undermining support for the MDC, had destroyed commercial agriculture and prompted the exodus of millions of people. More and more Zimbabweans began turning up in the UK – not primarily the dispossessed white farmers, who could use their skills elsewhere, but impoverished black Zimbabweans, many of them professionals from towns which collapsed as large swathes of formerly productive land were looted.

 

As Mugabe increasingly subverted the judicial system and police force, the rule of law in Zimbabwe became the rule of force, backed by an increasingly politicized army and a subservient media parroting the Zanu PF mantra that the mounting economic woes were caused by ‘illegal’ Western sanctions imposed on a number of Mugabe’s cronies. The fact that trade with the West continued to increase – along with Western aid – was conveniently ignored.

 

Developments at home were watched with growing dismay by Zimbabweans in London who formed a branch of the MDC. Encouraged by visiting speakers from Zimbabwe, including the MDC MP Roy Bennett, it was agreed to launch a regular Vigil outside Zimbabwe House, independent of the MDC, along the lines of the anti-apartheid protest which had been held outside the South African Embassy.

 

At our first Vigils we had a few posters and a petition to the UN Human Rights Commission and not much else. A report appeared in the UK newsletter of the MDC on 8th November 2002. The first two Vigils, it said, had been well-attended but on the third it rained steadily. ‘But that Vigil was the best ever. If it rains, you have to sing and dance to keep your spirits up . . .’ The report went on to say of the Vigil ‘It’s only going on for a limited period . . . all signs are that Mugabe is finished . . .’ Such optimism! But we prepared for the future and bought a tarpaulin which we strung from the four maple trees outside Zimbabwe House and gradually became, in the words of the Observer newspaper, the largest regular demonstration in London.

 

In the early years a good proportion of Vigil supporters were white Zimbabweans – perhaps 40%. But, as hope died, this dwindled until the Vigil became a 90%+ black protest, now averaging about 60 people a week. In the intervening years we have carried out many demonstrations apart from the weekly Vigil. One of the first was to hire an open-top double decker bus, adorn it with our banners “No to Mugabe No to Starvation’ and ‘End murder, rape and torture in Zimbabwe’, and tour London delivering petitions to Parliament, the Commonwealth and the UN. On another occasion, a group of about 25 went to Lisbon to protest at the presence of Mugabe at a meeting there.

 

As the Vigil enters its second decade, we remember friends who have supported us: Remus Makuwasa, the gaunt, dying MDC shadow minister who sat huddled silently in blankets for the whole of a bitterly cold Vigil, Archbishop Pius Ncube who came and comforted people at the Vigil kneeling at his feet, the silent benefactor who would from time to time stuff a wad of £20 notes into our startled hands, the Oxford music professor who joined us in a local pub to tutor us on singing, the film stars such as Tim Robbins and Emma Thompson who signed our petitions, not to mention Simon Callow who stopped his taxi to get out and give us some money.

 

Zimbabwe is now a gangster state, its democracy a travesty, with  impunity for the rich and powerful and poverty and disease for the majority. On one level there is a vibrant economy fed by money made serving Mugabe’s corrupt mafia, on another there is mass unemployment, power cuts and water shortages. The Vigil has no doubt that there will be violence as Zanu PF seeks to steal the upcoming elections. We expect the same outcome as in 2008 with another ‘government of national unity’ denying true democracy.

 

But as Epstein’s statues continue to crumble like Zimbabwe’s towns, environment and wild life, we are determined to continue alerting the world to what is going on in the former jewel of Africa -- reduced to one of the poorest countries in the world. A recent South African report (http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/Zimbabwe-a-lesson-in-how-not-to-do-things-20121029 Zimbabwe, a lesson in how not to do things) says that from being one of the most advanced economies in Africa, Zimbabwe’s GDP per person is now the second lowest of 185 listed. (It is ironic that the country listed last, the DRC, is even richer in natural resources than Zimbabwe.)

 

Other points

·        Some Vigil management team members are going to a meeting ‘Triumph over Tyranny’ in Parliament on Tuesday chaired by Kate Hoey MP at which Ben Freeth, John Sentamu  (the Archbishop of York) and Sir Jeffrey Jowell will speak. Ben, together with his father-in-law Mike Campbell, took Mugabe to the SADC International Court over the eviction from their farm and won. During the course of the case they were abducted, beaten and tortured by Mugabe supporters. Ben is coming to the Vigil next Saturday and will be speaking to us at our Zimbabwe Action Forum afterwards. For details see ‘Events and Notices’ below.

·        Thanks to Cynthia Mutede (the new ROHR Central London branch Secretary) who, in the absence of regular supporters, looked after the register and merchandise on our back table today.

 

For latest Vigil pictures check: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zimbabwevigil/. Please note: Vigil photos can only be downloaded from our Flickr website – they cannot be downloaded from the slideshow on the front page of the Zimvigil website.

 

FOR THE RECORD: 54 signed the register.

 

EVENTS AND NOTICES:

·        Special Zimbabwe Action Forum (ZAF). Saturday 10th November from 6.30 – 9.30 pm. OUR SPECIAL GUEST WILL BE BEN FREETH. Venue: Strand Continental Hotel (first floor lounge), 143 Strand, London WC2R 1JA. Directions: The Strand is the same road as the Vigil. From the Vigil it’s about a 10 minute walk, in the direction away from Trafalgar Square. The Strand Continental is situated on the south side of the Strand between Somerset House and the turn off onto Waterloo Bridge. The entrance is marked by a big sign high above and a sign for its famous Indian restaurant at street level. It's next to a newsagent. Nearest underground: Temple (District and Circle lines) and Holborn.

·        Next Swaziland Vigil. Saturday 17th November from 10 am – 1 pm. Venue: Swazi High Commission, 20 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6LB.  Please support our Swazi friends. Nearest stations: St James’s Park and Victoria. www.swazilandvigil.co.uk.

·        Election of Substantive ROHR UK Executive. Saturday 8th December. Further details as they become available.

·        Zimbabwe Vigil Highlights 2011 can be viewed on this link: http://www.zimvigil.co.uk/the-vigil-diary/363-vigil-highlights-2011.  Links to previous years’ highlights are listed on 2011 Highlights page.

·        The Restoration of Human Rights in Zimbabwe (ROHR) is the Vigil’s partner organisation based in Zimbabwe. ROHR grew out of the need for the Vigil to have an organisation on the ground in Zimbabwe which reflected the Vigil’s mission statement in a practical way. ROHR in the UK actively fundraises through membership subscriptions, events, sales etc to support the activities of ROHR in Zimbabwe. Please note that the official website of ROHR Zimbabwe is http://www.rohrzimbabwe.org/. Any other website claiming to be the official website of ROHR in no way represents the views and opinions of ROHR.

·        ZBN News. The Vigil management team wishes to make it clear that the Zimbabwe Vigil is not responsible for Zimbabwe Broadcasting Network News (ZBN News). We are happy that they attend our activities and provide television coverage but we have no control over them. All enquiries about ZBN News should be addressed to ZBN News.

·        The Zim Vigil band (Farai Marema and Dumi Tutani) has launched its theme song ‘Vigil Yedu (our Vigil)’ to raise awareness through music. To download this single, visit: www.imusicafrica.com and to watch the video check: http://ourvigil.notlong.com. To watch other Zim Vigil band protest songs, check: http://Shungurudza.notlong.com and http://blooddiamonds.notlong.com.

·        Vigil Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=8157345519&ref=ts.

·        Vigil Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/zimbabwevigil.

·        To sponsor the Mike Campbell Foundation expedition ‘Sailing across the Makgadikgadi Pans’ which will raise money for the work of the Foundation, go to www.justgiving.com/Mike-Campbell-Foundation.

·        Useful websites: www.zanupfcrime.com which reports on Zanu PF abuses and www.ipaidabribe.org.zw where people can report corruption in Zimbabwe.

 

How can you help?

The Zimbabwe Vigil exists entirely on donations from the public and well wishers. You can help us by donating via a deposit into our account Thank you.