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Posts tagged ‘Diamond Land of Zimbabwe’

‘This man lives forever’: Zimbabwe’s Mugabe is buried

September 28, 2019

ZVIMBA, Zimbabwe (AP) — A priest asked God to take pity on Robert Mugabe as the family of the longtime Zimbabwean leader buried him Saturday at his rural home. They chose a private farewell for one of Africa’s most divisive figures after a weeks-long dispute with the administration that forced him from power.

“This man lives forever,” declared the priest, to cries of approval. Mugabe died this month in Singapore at age 95 after leading the country for nearly four decades and being pushed into a shocking resignation as thousands danced in the streets. “I was ridiculed,” a relative said Mugabe told them.

His coffin, draped in the country’s flag, was carried by military pallbearers as his black-veiled wife, Grace, looked on. On display was a photo of Mugabe holding up his fist in a classic gesture of defiance, and a floral arrangement spelled out “Dad.” Many mourners wore T-shirts saying “Liberator” and “Torch bearer.”

Grace later stood motionless as the coffin was lowered into the grave and a choir sang “Remember me.” Mugabe, who led the bitter guerrilla war to end white-minority rule in the country then known as Rhodesia, was Zimbabwe’s first leader and ruled from 1980, overseeing a years-long slide from prosperity to economic ruin and repression. He was forced by the military and ruling party to retire in late 2017 after bitter political feuding centered in part on his wife’s political ambitions.

Some of Mugabe’s political rivals, including opposition figures who were routinely arrested or harassed during his 37-year rule, attended the service while longtime colleagues did not. Notably absent were senior officials from the ruling party that he led for more than four decades, including during the fight for liberation.

Just a handful of people in the gathering of some 200 wore party regalia, a sign of how the bookish, combative former leader died isolated from the people he called comrades for much of his adult life.

Mugabe’s family earlier had agreed to a government request to bury him at the National Heroes Acre shrine in the capital, but only after a hilltop mausoleum was built to set him apart from the rest. Then the government on Thursday abruptly announced the family had changed its mind, leaving it with scaffolding around the partially completed memorial.

While some might blame his widow for the move, it was Mugabe himself who wanted the private ceremony instead of one presided over by the people who removed him from power, Grace’s sister Junior Shuvai Gumbochuma said in a speech on Saturday.

“Some may be surprised by this small crowd given this man’s greatness,” she said. “I remember he presided over many burials of heroes that were attended by busloads of people. I thought one day such crowds would attend his own burial. What we did today was his wish.”

She added: “I asked him why he didn’t want to be buried at Heroes Acre and he responded: ‘I was ridiculed.'” A spokesman for the ruling ZANU-PF party, Simon Khaya Moyo, called the choice of a private burial “most unfortunate.”

In a statement, Moyo added that “we indeed respect the wishes of families of deceased heroes, hence we are saddened when maneuvers that border on political gimmicks begin to unfold on an issue concerning an illustrious liberation icon.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a once-trusted deputy who helped oust Mugabe from power, was not attending the burial. State-run media reported that the government would be represented by the home affairs minister.

Only approved guests and funeral parlor vans were allowed, a decision out of sync with the local tradition that funerals are free for all to attend. One elderly neighbor threw a tantrum after being blocked at the gate.

“This gathering is a paradox,” the priest told the gathering. “We are mourning at the same time we are celebrating because this man lived his life in a manner that many of us would want to emulate.” Later, standing by the coffin, he prayed: “God, take pity on him. Don’t judge him harshly.”

Zimbabwe’s Mugabe honored at state funeral, burial delayed

September 14, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — African heads of state joined thousands of Zimbabweans at a state funeral Saturday for Zimbabwe’s founding president, Robert Mugabe, whose burial has been delayed for at least a month until a special mausoleum can be built for his remains.

More than 10 African leaders and several former presidents attended the service and viewing of the body of Mugabe, who died last week in Singapore at age 95, at the National Sports Stadium in the capital, Harare. The crowd filling about 30% of the 60,000 capacity of the Chinese-built stadium. Most of those attending were supporters of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa drew boos from the crowd, as a result of the recent attacks in Johannesburg on foreigners, including Zimbabweans. An official pleaded with the stadium crowd to let him speak. Ramaphosa apologized for the attacks.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta described Mugabe as “a great icon of African liberation” and “a visionary leader and relentless champion of African dignity.” The announcement Friday evening that that burial will be postponed until the building of a new resting place at the national Heroes’ Acre Monument is the latest turn in a dramatic wrangle between Mugabe’s family and President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a once-trusted deputy who helped oust Mugabe from power.

Mnangagwa presided over Saturday’s ceremony, attended by Mugabe’s widow Grace, who wore a black veil. “A giant tree of Africa has fallen,” said Mnangagwa, who hailed Mugabe as “a bold, steadfast revolutionary.”

He praised Mugabe for seizing land from white farmers. “To him, this was the grievance of all grievances of our people,” Mnangagwa said. “The land has now been reunited with the people and the people have been reunited with the land.” He also called on Western countries to remove sanctions imposed during Mugabe’s era.

“Go Well Our Revolutionary Icon” and “Farewell Gallant Son of the Soil” were among the banners praising Mugabe, who led the bitter guerrilla war to end white-minority rule in the country then known as Rhodesia. Mugabe was Zimbabwe’s first leader and ruled the country from 1980 for 37 years, from years of prosperity to economic ruin and repression.

He was deposed in 2017 by the military and Mnangagwa in a bloodless coup that was marked by more than 100,000 people demonstrating in Harare’s streets to demand that he step down. Following Mugabe’s resignation, Mnangagwa took power and won elections the next year on campaign promises he would improve the collapsed economy and create jobs. But Zimbabwe’s economy has lurched from crunch to crisis and some in the crowd expressed the view that life was better under Mugabe’s rule.

“Bread was less than a dollar when we marched against him (Mugabe). It is now $9,” said Munashe Gudyanga, 18. “I am just here to say ‘Sorry, President Mugabe, we didn’t know things will be worse.'” Some in the stadium sang an impromptu farewell to Mugabe, “When you left bread was a dollar,” lyrics that implicitly criticized Mnangagwa, whose nearly two-year rule has been marked by rising prices, with inflation currently more than 175%.

The visiting leaders viewed Mugabe’s the partially open casket, followed by a 21-gun salute, a flypast by Zimbabwean air force jets and the release of 95 doves, to mark Mugabe’s 95 years. Mugabe’s body is to be viewed in his birthplace, Zvimba, on Sunday and then will be held in preservation until the new mausoleum is ready.

In downtown Harare, many Zimbabweans were busy with their weekend errands, and expressed little interest in the funeral, which was open to the public. “What will I get if I go there? What will Mugabe do for me now that he failed to do when he was alive?” said Amelia Tukande, who was selling cellphone chargers along Harare’s Samora Machel Avenue that leads to the stadium. “It is a waste of time. I have to work for my family.”

Others said they would have wanted to attend the funeral but cannot afford transport fares. “I didn’t like him, but I still wanted to attend just to see for myself that he is gone … but kombis (minivan taxis) want $3.50 just to get to the stadium,” said Amos Siduna, waiting in line at a bank to get cash, which is in short supply. “That’s too much money for me just to go and say ‘bye bye’ to a corpse. Mugabe’s corpse. No.”

The mourning period for Mugabe’s death has been marked by the ongoing drama over where, when and how the ex-strongman will be buried. The new resting place will be built near the stadium at Heroes’ Acre, a national burial site for top officials of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party who contributed to ending white colonial rule

The mausoleum will be at an elevated site above the other graves, according to Mnangagwa and a Mugabe family spokesman. Grace had previously insisting on a private burial rather than the state funeral and burial in a simple plot alongside other national heroes planned by the government.

“We are building a mausoleum for our founding father at the top of the hill at Heroes’ Acre,” Mnangagwa said on state television Friday night, consenting to the Mugabe family’s wishes.

Mugabe’s body heading home to Zimbabwe for mourning, burial

September 11, 2019

SINGAPORE (AP) — The body of Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe was being returned to his homeland Wednesday to lie in state before his burial in the African nation he ruled for decades. Mugabe died Friday in a Singapore hospital at age 95.

The ex-guerrilla leader took power when Zimbabwe shook off white minority rule in 1980. He enjoyed strong public backing in the initial years, but that support waned following repression, economic mismanagement and alleged election-rigging and he was forced out of power in 2017.

Many still regard him as a national hero, with some Zimbabweans even saying they missed him after his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, failed to revive the economy and used the army to crush dissent. Zimbabwe’s Vice President Kembo Mohadi was seen at the Singapore Casket funeral parlor Tuesday afternoon, and police escorted a hearse from the building Wednesday morning to go to the airport.

A Zimbabwe state newspaper said his body would return to the country on Wednesday. The Sunday Mail quoted presidential spokesman George Charamba in reporting Mnangagwa and family members will receive the body at the airport named after the former president in the capital, Harare. The body will be taken to Mugabe’s rural home before being placed in a stadium for public viewing.

Mnangagwa declared Mugabe a national hero and said official mourning will only end after the burial at the National Heroes Acre, a hilltop shrine reserved exclusively for Zimbabweans who made huge sacrifices during the war against white-minority rule.

Zimbabwe’s information minister said Mugabe’s body will lie in state at two stadiums in Harare for three days. His burial is scheduled on Sunday.

It’s complicated: Zimbabweans see Mugabe’s legacy as mixed

September 06, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A Zimbabwean politician summed up her reaction to Robert Mugabe’s death with one word: Complicated. Mugabe, 95, stood tall on the world stage for decades, first as a celebrated liberator and then as a combative enforcer, loathed by many of the Zimbabweans who once loved him.

The mark — a raw wound, some would say —that he left on long-suffering Zimbabwe will be felt long after Mugabe, who could be as charming as he was remorseless, died in a hospital far from home. In November 2017, euphoria swept Harare when Mugabe resigned after nearly four decades in power that saw one of Africa’s most promising nations become one of its most dysfunctional.

Nearly two years later, much of the local response to his death Friday has been muted, indifferent or sullen, reflecting the fatigue and distraction of the daily hardship that is Mugabe’s most enduring legacy.

“He died in luxury in Singapore. What about us, who can’t even get medicines at hospitals here?” a woman shouted among commuters as she and dozens of others prepared to shove their way onto crowded, government-subsidized buses in Harare.

“Zimbabweans, you are an ungrateful lot,” a man shouted back. “He gave you independence, and then returned the land from the whites.” At one time, Mugabe was an electric figure, a champion of Africa’s struggle to shake off the last vestiges of white minority rule on a continent that had been colonized over centuries. In 1980, he presided over the end of what was called Rhodesia and the creation of independent Zimbabwe, promising racial reconciliation and economic growth.

Then, things turned ominous. Thousands of Ndebele people were killed in the 1980s by a North Korea-trained military unit loyal to Mugabe, a member of the rival Shona ethnic group. In 2000, violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms began, causing agricultural production to plunge. A land reform program favored Mugabe loyalists.

As the years went by, Mugabe was widely accused of hanging onto power through violence and vote fraud, notably in a 2008 election that led to a troubled coalition government after regional mediators intervened.

Under Mugabe, shortages of basic goods, collapsing infrastructure and economic hardship were the norm for Zimbabweans. They still are under his successor and former loyalist, Emmerson Mnangagwa. “Mugabe invokes two emotions: a hero of the liberation struggle and a villain toward the end of his administration,” Morgan Tsvangirai, then the main opposition leader, said in an interview with The Associated Press after Mugabe quit. Tsvangirai died of cancer in February 2018.

“I ain’t an expert on critical race theory; but there must be an explanation why predominantly white countries focus on his legacy as dictator whilst the predominantly black ones acknowledge his role as a liberator,” tweeted David Tinashe Hofisi, a human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe.

Fadzayi Mahere, a Zimbabwean opposition politician, also alluded to Mugabe’s mixed record. “Rest In Peace, Robert Mugabe,” Mahere wrote on Twitter. “My response to your passing is complicated. I’m going to write a long piece. However, for now, deepest condolences to his family.”

In ruthlessly hanging onto power, Mugabe seemed the antithesis of Nelson Mandela, the global statesman who led South Africa out of white minority rule and served one term as president. Yet Mugabe’s criticism that Mandela was too soft on the country’s white minority is shared by some black South Africans struggling for economic opportunities. Social problems in South Africa, Zimbabwe’s wealthier, more powerful neighbor, have boiled into violence against African immigrants in past days.

A target of Western sanctions, Mugabe nevertheless enjoyed appreciation on the continent, serving as the rotating chair of the African Union in 2015-2016. His often frenetic travel schedule well into his 90s, and false alarms about his health, had many Zimbabweans musing sardonically about whether, indeed, the old man would ever die.

He showed his old gusto as late as March 2016 when an interviewer from state television asked him about retirement plans. “Do you want me to punch you to the floor to realize I am still there?” Mugabe told the interviewer.

Zimbabwean ruling party officials say they assured Mugabe ahead of his resignation that he would not be prosecuted for alleged crimes. Some people wonder whether his wife Grace, who at one time was positioning herself to succeed her husband and faces an arrest warrant in South Africa for alleged assault, might now be vulnerable.

For many Zimbabweans, Mugabe’s rule was a deeply personal, often anguished experience. He embodied the country for the bulk of their lives, an immovable object whose longevity drove some to despair. Millions who couldn’t bear conditions in Zimbabwe left the country.

Months before he was forced from power, even Mugabe seemed to see the end of the road. During a meandering speech at his birthday party in February 2017, he raised his fist in salute, but he also rested his drooping head on one hand. His hands gripped the podium. He talked slowly about his mission as Zimbabwe’s leader, said he felt alone and described his life as a “long, long journey.”

For Zimbabwe, it’s been a long, long journey too.

Torchia reported from Rio de Janeiro. He covered events in Zimbabwe while based in Johannesburg between 2013 and 2019.

Zimbabwe comedian is latest in torture of government critics

August 23, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A wave of abductions, torture and arrests in Zimbabwe are targeting opposition activists and other government critics, the latest being a popular comedian dragged from her home by armed and masked men.

Barely two years after euphoric scenes engulfed Zimbabwe following the forced resignation of former repressive ruler Robert Mugabe, frustration and fear have returned. Comedian Samantha Kureya was this week dragged from her bed, stripped naked and tortured by masked men with assault rifles for skits perceived as anti-government. She spoke to The Associated Press from her hospital bed.

“I am living in fear,” she said, complaining of “severe pain” in her legs and on her back. Kureya said the men claiming to be police officers dragged her from bed half naked and bundled her into a waiting car on Wednesday night. They beat her using short whips, forced her to roll in a stream of sewage and drink from it, she said.

“I was wearing my underwear and a T-shirt when they took me, they didn’t even give me a chance to dress properly,” she said. Her abductors forced her to strip naked during the torture and warned her against mocking the government before abandoning her to seek clothing and help from strangers, said Kureya.

She had received threats on social media before the abduction, she said. Her latest skit mocked security agents for beating up demonstrators that included elderly women. Political tensions are rising in Zimbabwe as the economy deteriorates with inflation at over 175% and growing dissatisfaction with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from Mugabe less than two years ago with promises of a “new dawn” and a “flowering of democracy.”

Human rights groups say at least six activists were abducted and tortured by suspected security agents ahead of an opposition demonstration last week. Police later used violence to disperse demonstrators in Harare on August 16.

One of the activists abducted and tortured ahead of last week’s demonstration, Tatenda Mombeyarara had visible wounds on his legs, hands, buttocks and back. His kidneys were damaged and doctors put metal plates and pins on his fractured left leg and hand, he said, showing AP a scan while lying on a hospital bed. He said he was beaten with sjamboks (short whips), gun butts and a wheel spanner and also submerged in a pool of dirty water at a quarry dumpsite.

“They told me ‘you think you are a hero, all that will end today. You are going to die and your American sponsors will not save you’,” said Mombeyarara, who has been in hospital for the past nine days. “I am still traumatized. The pain was unbearable. I thought I was going to die.”

An opposition member of parliament said unknown people fired shots at his house Wednesday night, while a top official was arrested Thursday and accused of failing to stop supporters from demonstrating against the government. Since January, more than 20 activists have been charged with plotting to unseat Mnangagwa.

Police spokesman Paul Nyathi said the recent abductions and attacks “are being investigated” but denied that security agents were involved. “We cannot blame security agents (for the abduction) because investigations are still underway,” he said.

Government spokesman Nick Mangwana blamed the attacks on “a force” he associated with Mugabe “to impair President Mnangagwa’s image as a sincere reformer.” The U.S embassy in Zimbabwe and the European Union Delegation to Zimbabwe said in a joint statement earlier this week that reports of worsening human rights abuses were of “great concern.”

Kureya, the comedian, said she would continue poking fun at the government despite her abductors threatening to “put a bullet” in her mother’s head if she continues with her work. “That is how I survive,” she said. “I don’t have any other job, plus we all can’t just keep quiet when things are as bad as they are in this country.”

Zimbabwe’s president returns amid economic crisis, crackdown

January 22, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa arrived in Harare late Monday after cutting short his fund-raising trip in order to address the country’s economic crisis and crackdown.

Mnangagwa was welcomed at Harare International Airport by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, former army commander who was in charge during the president’s week-long absence and when the government launched a widespread clampdown in which 12 people were killed, more shot by troops and others dragged from their homes and beaten, according to human rights groups.

Mnangagwa hugged Chiwenga and chatted with him on the runway for 15 minutes. The president then told state broadcasting that his trip to Russia and Kazakhstan was fruitful and will benefit Zimbabwe in the long run. During his trip Mnangagwa met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and asked him for a loan.

Earlier Monday the government intensified its crackdown on dissent by charging the leader of the country’s largest labor organization with subversion, as the courts ruled that the shutdown of the internet was illegal.

Zimbabwe police arrested Japhet Moyo, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and charged him with subversion for his role in organizing last week’s national strike. The arrest and Mnangagwa’s return come after a week of turmoil. During the strike, some people went onto the streets to protest the government’s drastic increase in fuel prices. The government said the demonstrations degenerated into riots, prompting it to launch a sweeping wave of repression. Security forces opened fire on crowds, wounding many bystanders, and went house to house in some neighborhoods, beating up many men, according to witnesses.

The government also imposed an internet blackout across the country. On Monday Zimbabwe’s High Court ordered the government to restore full internet to the country. The shutdown of the internet was illegal because the Minister of State for Security, who ordered the internet closure, does not have powers to issue such a directive, said the court ruling. Only President Emmerson Mnangagwa has the authority to make such an order, said the court. Over the weekend the government restored partial internet access, but kept a blackout on social media apps like Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter. The government alleges the internet has been used to organize violent demonstrations.

Zimbabwe’s capital gingerly recovered from the week of tumult Monday. Most shops and businesses reopened, although many people are stocking up on food items in case of further unrest. Indicating the severity of Zimbabwe’s economic problems, South Africa confirmed that it turned down Mnangagwa’s request for a loan of $1.2 billion recently. “We just don’t have that kind of money,” South African treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane told the broadcaster, eNCA.

Activist and pastor Evan Mawarire has been jailed since Wednesday and has been charged with subversion against the government for which he faces 20 years in jail if convicted. Mawarire had used social media to support peaceful protests against the fuel price increases. The case against Mawarire is a “travesty of justice” said his lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. His application to be released on bail will be heard on Jan. 23.

In the widespread crackdown, about two-thirds of the more than 600 people who were arrested have been denied bail, said Mtetwa. When Mnangagwa tweeted Sunday that he would cut short his European trip and to come back to Zimbabwe, he didn’t mention the violence, saying only that he is returning “in light of the economic situation.” He said his first priority “is to get Zimbabwe calm, stable and working again.”

At Davos, he planned to appeal for foreign investment and loans, but the visit had been expected to be a challenge. His Davos visit a year ago came shortly after he took over from longtime, repressive leader Robert Mugabe, a move cheered by Zimbabweans and the international community.

But Mnangagwa has faced a year of troubles in which his administration failed to improve the collapsed economy, narrowly won a disputed election and violently put down anti-government protests. The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference last week lamented the government’s “intolerant handling of dissent” and its failure to halt economic collapse, concluding that “our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history.”

Zimbabwe again forces ‘total internet shutdown’ amid unrest

January 18, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s government has again forced a “total internet shutdown,” a media group says, after a days-long violent crackdown on people protesting dramatic fuel price increases. MISA-Zimbabwe shared a text message from the country’s largest telecom company, Econet, calling the government order “beyond our reasonable control.” The shutdown faces a court challenge from the group and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

On Friday, a prominent pastor and activist who faces a possible 20 years in prison on a subversion charge arrived at court, one of more than 600 people arrested this week. Evan Mawarire calls it “heartbreaking” to see the new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa acting like that of former leader Robert Mugabe.

Mawarire is accused of inciting civil disobedience online. “It’s a shame what’s happening,” the handcuffed pastor said Friday. “Our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history,” the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a sweeping statement lamenting the government’s “intolerant handling of dissent” and its failure to halt economic collapse.

International calls for restraint by Zimbabwe’s security forces are growing, while Mnangagwa prepares to plead for more investment at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He announced the fuel price increase on the eve of his overseas trip, leaving hardline former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga as acting president.

Gasoline in the economically shattered country is now the world’s most expensive. Zimbabweans heeded a nationwide stay-at-home call earlier this week in protest. Rights groups and others have accused security forces of targeting activists and labor leaders in response, with the United States expressing alarm.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights has said it had treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and 100-plus other cases of “assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks” and more. Hungry residents of the capital, Harare, who ventured out seeking food reported being tear-gassed by police.

Soldiers were still controlling long fuel lines in Harare on Friday. Death tolls this week have varied. Eight people were killed when police and military fired on crowds, Amnesty International said. Zimbabwe’s government said three people were killed, including a policeman stoned to death by an angry crowd.

The demonstrations amount to “terrorism,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, blaming the opposition. State Security Minister Owen Ncube thanked security forces for “standing firm.” Zimbabweans had briefly rejoiced when Mnangagwa succeeded Mugabe, who was forced out in late 2017, thinking the new president would deliver on his refrain that the country “is open for business.” But frustration has risen over the lack of improvement in the collapsed economy, which doesn’t even have a currency of its own.

The UK’s minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, has summoned Zimbabwe’s ambassador to discuss “disturbing reports of use of live ammunition, intimidation and excessive force” against protesters. The European Union in a statement late Thursday noted the “disproportionate use of force by security personnel” and urged that internet service be restored.

Associated Press photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi in Harare contributed.

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