Out of Africa, a cry for help
"We need outside assistance" … the Zimbabwean opposition politician Brian James.
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December 23, 2008
Brian James took up Robert Mugabe's call. Now he's been run off his farm, writes Russell Skelton, smh.
BRIAN JAMES resents the suggestion that the people of Zimbabwe should do more to rid themselves of the disaster that is the Mugabe regime.
"What more can people do?" he says. "People voted for change and then had the election stolen.
People lost their lives and political abductions are still going on. We have 40 members of the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] unaccounted for. There is a systemic culture of fear."
The popularly elected mayor of Mutare, Zimbabwe's third-largest city with a population of nearly 300,000, Mr James is a prominent member of Opposition Leader Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC.
He is also one of a handful of popularly elected white politicians that have survived the era of liberation politics that began with President Robert Mugabe.
Mr James is a second generation Zimbabwean who took up farming after hearing Mr Mugabe's independence speech in 1980 calling for the nation to pull together. Twenty years later he was run off his farm. He is in Melbourne to visit his daughter before travelling to New Zealand.
The mayor said he welcomed the United States's decision to call the power sharing agreement between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai "dead" on the grounds that "Mugabe had lost touch with reality".
The US Assistant Secretary of State, Jendayi Frazer, announced yesterday that the Bush Administration would continue to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe because Mr Mugabe had "reneged on the principle of power sharing".
"We need this outside pressure, it all helps. Our treason laws are such that it is impossible to call for anything … We need outside assistance," Mr James said.
He said Mr Mugabe's response - a threat to call a snap election - was full of bravado because he knew he would lose. "I would welcome an election especially if it was held under international supervision, there could be no escaping the verdict."
Mr James said he was initially discouraged from entering politics by members of the country's diminished white community who thought it best for business to avoid being identified with the MDC. "Some white business interests are working with the Government, they are helping to prop it up. When this is all over, there will be a need for a truth and reconciliation commission."
Cholera has spread to Mutare and the crisis is far from over despite claims by Mr Mugabe that it is. "We are worried that a nest of cholera could develop in the city, because the whole infrastructure including the sewerage system is in decay."
The disease has already claimed 1123 lives and aid agencies have warned that another 60,000 are likely to be infected unless decisive action is taken.
Elsewhere the situation continues to deteriorate with reports of corruption and extravagance among the military and the ruling political elite intensifying. Members of the elite send their children abroad to be educated while teachers go without basic pay. Local markets are bereft of food, but supermarkets for the wealthy remain well stocked.
Mr James remains optimistic. He said that even in Mutare, where Zanu-PF party members sit on the council, there was an increasing consensus. "There is a growing moderate group in the Zanu-PF that knows this cannot continue, that wants change."
Mr Mugabe's statements at the weekend that Zimbabwe was his and that he would "never surrender" would have been counterproductive. "We work on three pillars of principle: democracy, transparency and accountability. We explain to the people of Mutare what the hurdles are and I believe we have their backing, especially when it comes to transparency.
"The people are enthusiastic for change and we are feeding on that. These are poor people but the enthusiasm they have has opened my eyes to what was being felt across the entire country. It has kept me going."