50 years of tyranny


What Mugabe has done

Jan Raath

29 June 2016

Jan Raath reviews "The Struggle Continues: 50 years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe" by David Coltart


Review: The Struggle Continues: 50 years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe by David Coltart, Jacana Media, 2016

This book should be prescribed as essential reading for students at Fort Hare University who greeted President Robert Mugabe with wild acclamation when he visited there in May, as the man who gave the white man a good thrashing.

Then they may learn that Mugabe is known chiefly for what he has done, not so much to the country’s tiny population of whites, but to the black people of Zimbabwe.

For a start, he had an estimated 20,000 civilians butchered by a specialist brigade of murderers in less than three years after independence in 1980 – more than in some 15 years of guerrilla warfare between the Rhodesian government and black nationalist armies. Add to that 36 years of constant depredation, from deliberate starvation to wilful economic destruction. The principal victims? The poor black underclass that makes up the vast majority of the population of some 12 million.

The students should also find  from The Struggle Continues that some of the most negative personal ascriptions in the English language aptly fit Mugabe: tyrannical; murderous; mendacious; disingenuous; manipulative; vicious; conspiratorial; reptilian; greedy; psychopathic; cunning; dissembling; selfish; cowardly; destructive; shameful and shameless - and all of these to the superlative degree, in recognition of his considerable but warped intelligence.

Coltart is widely respected throughout Zimbabwe, Southern Africa and beyond as a human rights lawyer, educationist and liberal politician. He is known to be outspoken, courageous and honest in an environment where those qualities frequently lead to disappearance or murder.  There have been several serious attempts on his life.

The first quarter of this very long book is a review of the period that started with the early 1960s when the white ruling class of Rhodesia switched sharply from the liberal policies of prime minister Garfield Todd, and Ian Smith took the country into UDI and international isolation. This is required reading, but less engaging than the rest, as Coltart then was a happy sporty white boy in short pants in Bulawayo, and little interested in grown up politics.

He becomes an active participant from the start of the Rhodesian war. The rest of the book deals in large part with his own experiences over 36 years with Mugabe and ZANU(PF), the president’s own party which is made in his image and apes his nature. The book is an accurate and valuable account of the two that will be verified by the many people of conscience who have lived through the 36 years of rule under Mugabe, at 92, still going and with no intention of giving up.

Repeatedly, as I read, I found myself literally gasping in shock at the narrative of brutality and deceit. The Struggle Continues is depressing and often left me sick to the stomach. But it is compulsively absorbing, almost throughout.

Coltart has been near the centre of every major political event from the last years of the Rhodesian bush war, where as a volunteer in the Rhodesian police he had to fingerprint the bodies of guerillas, tip them down a mine shaft and then cover them with quicklime.

He doesn’t attempt to hide his 17-year-old gung ho support for the Rhodesian cause then that led him to volunteer for national service with the police, and then his brutal lesson from experience in the war of “seeing and believing the total depravity of man.”

He was a young lawyer in Bulawayo in 1983 when Mugabe set his homicidal 5 Brigade of the Zimbabwe army on to the Ndebele people of western Zimbabwe. When word of the terror campaign broke through a comprehensive news blackout, he founded the Legal Resources Foundation that, with the Catholic Commission  for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, researched  and published Breaking the Silence, the first detailed and irrefutable investigation into the mass executions by machine gun, bayonet and, their commonest tactic, burning whole families alive by setting their huts alight.

By 1999, Coltart was a leading civil liberties lawyer and he accepted an invitation to join the national executive of Morgan Tsvangirai ‘s Movement for Democratic Change, the only national political opposition to win mass support against Mugabe. Its campaign against a flawed draft constitution manufactured by ZANU(PF) (no limit on presidential terms, the right to seize white farms, etc.) was joyously embraced by Zimbabweans, and Mugabe  was defeated in a referendum on the draft in February 2000.

Mugabe was ready for an election four months later, and by the time it was held, thousands of MDC supporters had been battered, tortured and maimed, scores murdered or “disappeared,” including Patrick Nabanyana, Coltart’s close friend and chief aide at the LRF. No trace of Nabanyana has ever emerged. It set the model for every subsequent election, violence (200 confirmed murdered in 2008) or rigging, or both.

After the 2002 election, Coltart had brought 1,582 heads of argument to the high court to challenge the election result. It took Judge Ben Hlatshwayo seven months to hand down judgement - of one page. Guess what he ruled.

Coltart had at least three attempts on his life, once an attempted hijacking by ZANU(PF) thugs, another by tampering with the wheelnuts on a front wheel of his car, and a third by cutting brakelines. Frequently he found himself being followed by strange cars, or seeing them parked near their home.

The Coltarts changed their lives. He and his wife, Jenny, spoke in code over the telephone. Evacuation plans and provisions were made for their three children. They switched cars and stored ready foreign currency for cross-border escape, as well as “detention packs” of food and necessities for time in police cells. He acquired a bullet-proof vest. He has not mentioned these affairs in public before. By this time, he was well known in international circles and could easily have left the country.

After the barbarity of the 2008 election, Mugabe was forced by SADC leaders into a coalition government with Tsvangirai and his party. Coltart was made minister of education. On his first entry to the ministry building in Harare, he found two well-dressed young women waiting at the sole lift that was working, with buckets of water on their heads. He was simultaneously confronted by the stench of overrunning toilets, which explained the buckets of water.

The lift never came, and he had to walk up to his office on the 14th floor. Within a week he had the lifts working and a water supply installed.

At the time, 90,000 teachers were on strike and nearly every government school in the country was closed. There were no textbooks. He raised funding abroad for 13 million primary schoolbooks, to provide text books for every child in all four core subjects - the best rate in Africa. He also cut the price per book from US$5 to 70c. Secondary schools were similarly boosted.

One wonders what the previous minister was doing. A minister before that one was noted only for his wheeze to force all schools to wear a national school uniform. The current minister is devoting his energies to force children to recite a “patriotic pledge” and salute the flag before school every day.

Coltart’s elevation to minister gave him a seat on the cabinet, and put him in direct contact with Mugabe.  The president likes to boast about having been a teacher in his younger days, and pretends he is an ardent force for better education (though the education budget then for administration was US$14.8 million, against US$79 million for the office of the president and cabinet).

So Coltart usually received a sympathetic response from Mugabe for plans to expand and improve education, despite serious attempts by other ministers and senior civil servants to sabotage his work (while he was being harangued by a hostile minister in cabinet, others would secretly slip him notes under the cabinet table, telling him he was doing a good job).

Mugabe was always charming towards Coltart, who nevertheless maintained a wary mistrust.

He gives considerable detail on the proceedings of cabinet, although the Official Secrets Act outlaws publication of cabinet business. Tut tut.

Coltart concludes on a disturbing note, which is unexpected from someone who has always fought for positive, hopeful ends. Violence and war has become the principle manner for resolving problems, he writes. “The threat remains that Zimbabwe will plunge into violence to determine who succeeds Mugabe.”

There is a glorious story near the end, however, of how a large crowd rural Matabele woman angrily and noisily demanded police arrest them when they protested against the the occupation by two ZANU(PF) heavyweights in the district of an agricultural training centre that had been used for local young farmers. The police were deeply embarrassed by the clearly righteous demands of the woman, and the heavies were ordered off.

He could have concluded with this incident instead of the grim warnings. It would have cheered the readers up.

Coltart has provided very detailed endnotes and an index of names in the text. A timeline of the significant events would also have been handy. He writes cleanly and plainly, and is restrained and careful, even if he uses expressions like “magnificent” to describe the Bulawayo primary school he attended. I wonder also how his wife, Jenny, feels about being described as “a gorgeous brunette” when he first met her. 

The book is available at Exclusive Books, or an Amazon Kindle version can be purchased herehttp://ir-uk.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=politicsweb-21&l=ur2&o=2