Page 13, 31st August 2007

31st August 2007
Page 13
Page 13, 31st August 2007 — Sea of white tears

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Organisations: Fifth Brigade
Locations: Harare, London, Rome


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Sea of white tears

When A Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin, Picador £16.99 ne day we might wake up and find ourselves drowning in a sea of tears created by Rhodesian whites who can no longer live in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. If that happens, it will be the fault of Mugabe himself.

He's the one who created a climate of media fear inside his own country and sadly the story is now in the hands of journalists who don't live there.

To Mugabe's fury, most journalists and writers outside his bankrupt country report ad nauseum on stomach-turning tales about the worsening violence without providing readers with much background or historical perspective.

The starting point for most is the 2000 invasion of white-owned farms by a socalled war veteran with the chilling name of Hitler Hunzvi. We're left with a feeling that Mugabe was always a bit of a loon.

Few recall that, when the Union Jack fluttered to the ground at Rufaro Stadium in Salisbury (Harare) on April 18, 1980, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the Marist educated intellectual who almost became a Catholic priest instead of a Marxist guerrilla leader, was hailed as a secular saint, the next best kid on the African block to Nelson Mandela, who was still languishing in prison. "I once described him, to my eternal shame, as a man of immense moral stature," the distinguished foreign correspondent Ann Leslie said on BBC Radio 4 recently.

In London in 1980 Lord Soames, Lord Carrington and Margaret Thatcher hoped that a bright, clear light would shine in southern Africa and that a man a bit like Julius Nyerere (but more practical) would show whites in South Africa how wrong they were in their mistaken belief that Africa under black rule would become an unproductive wasteland.

Since the 1940s, the struggle to control Africa has been given a sort of Manichean setting good blacks, bad whites; imperial darkness, nationalist light.

So thank goodness for Peter Godwin shedding light as well as heat on the subject. Godwin's first important book, Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa, was a brave attempt to put Mugabe into an African context.

It also told the story of a Rhodesian "liberal" family all too keen to see Ian Smith replaced by an intelligent. non-racial black. Trained as a lawyer and new to the game of journalism in 1982, Peter Godwin put a lot of us to shame by publicising the massacre of 20,000 to 30,000 black civilians in Matabeleland decent, ordinary people butchered by Mugabe's North Korean trained Fifth Brigade.

After reporting what was going on for the Sunday Times Godwin left Zimbabwe but managed to return quite often thanks to friends in high places and personal courage.

His latest book is the follow-up to Mukiwa and it is a moving portrait of a country and family in a state of disintegration.

Before his death at the age of 80, George Godwin (a strangely heroic man whose origins in Poland as a Nazi-hunted Jew will probably preoccupy the author for the rest of his writing life) told his son: "I consider that we are now like Greek slaves in Rome. Some of the culture may come through us but all the power lies with the Roman soldiers."

Whether a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe will have a place for a "Greek slave" like Godwin is something that remains to be seen.

Trevor Grundy

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