Today’s NYTimes has an article discussing the new Zimbabwe agreement. Included in the article was one quote by an opposition supporter who had been stabbed, presumably by some of Mugabe’s goons, and mentioned that several people refused to be quoted out of fear.

But it is almost as if an editor read the original report and said: Don’t take sides.

So the article contains such value neutral observations such as:

The negotiations followed a season of contentious elections, scarred by bloodletting and intimidation, which the opposition blamed on the government. Mr. Tsvangirai claimed victory in the first round of elections in March. But he boycotted a presidential runoff in June, citing political violence, leaving Mr. Mugabe as the sole candidate.

Um, fellahs, these things were not “claimed”. They were observed: By the opposition, by a few reporters who talked to refugees fleeing the violence, and by NGO’s who had eyes on the ground.

And then later again they claim:

Despite the violence and bad feelings between the two sides…

Yes. There you have it. One side controlled the military, the police, and the teenaged thugs known as the “green bombers” who terrorized the rural areas, far from the eyes of the press, who were not allowed into Zimbabwe.

Even NGO’s were prevented from working, partly to stop their valuable observations of the violence, and partly so that the government could use threats of stopping food aid to force rural villages to vote “correctly”.

A July 24, 2008 report from Amnesty International reports:

Though some bases from which ‘war veterans’ and other ZANU-PF supporters launched attacks against opposition supporters have been dismantled, some in rural areas including in Mashonaland West, Central and East provinces, still remain. “The attacks that have killed as many as 150, injured thousands and displaced tens of thousands over the last several months

When most of the violence is on one side, why pretend it is perpetrated by both sides?

Perhaps the writers think that this is Kenya, where a recent agreement after a short outbreak of violence was stopped by a superficially similar agreement. But in Kenya, the disagreement was tribal: The two leaders disputing the single election were essentially tribal leaders (and the understanding was that if they ran the government, all those nice government jobs would go to people of their own tribe).

In Zimbabwe, both Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe are of the Mashona tribe. Heck, even the MDC breakaway faction, which represents the Ndebele tribe, now has a Mashona as their head, Mutambara.

Background: There are several tribes in Zimbabwe, but the great majority are Mashona, a tribe that shuns violence and anger. They revere education, both for men and women. In contrast, the largest minority tribe is the Ndebele, an offshoot of the warrior Zulu tribe. They are the ones most likely to rebel: a rebellion in the 1980’s was put down violently by Mugabe, with the help of North Korean troops, and some estimate thousands of civilians killed in the fighting.

Finally, the NYTimes and much of the press rightly points to South Africa’s president Mbeki. But other items that pressured Mbeki were his rival Zuma, who was just cleared of (?fake) criminal charges by a court, the South African trade unions (Tsvangirai got his political start by being chairman of the local mine union), and the nearby countries of Zambia and Botswana.

The recently deceased president of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa, helped pressure the South African countries to stop supporting Mugabe, and the country of Botswana, thanks to Ian Khama, went against their apolitical tradition to pressure Mbeki and Mugabe after the “election monitors” they sent  to Zimbabwe returned and reported coercion and violence against voters.

So ignore the “violence on both sides” meme and read between the lines. One side had the power and the guns.

The other side? They had people who risked their lives to smuggle out photos of the opposition who had been badly beaten by Mugabe’s thugs, that brought the problem to the world’s attention. For if a photo could summarize the situation in that country, it was the photos of Tsvangirai, with his face swollen and bloody, which resulted in pressure on Mugabe to order immediate elections…the clumsy coverup of Tsvangirai’s win and the violence since then has been watched and condemned by the world, which up until now had stood back and pretended everything was fine.

As to whether this agreement will survive, that depends on the military (who, it is rumored, took over the running of the government from Mugabe after he lost the first election in March). Amnesty international points out that without punishing those responsible for the atrocities will result in more political instability. But without either an amnesty or a covert agreement that they will not be punished, those with guns could take over.

Since culturally the Mashona revere peace over revenge, the western/international law idea of justice might just have to take second place to letting bygones be bygones…for now.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is MakaipaBlog.

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