People Who Make Dictators Quake

The slight, soft-spoken woman now enduring beatings and medical abuse in Zimbabwe’s Chikurubi Maximum Security prison arrived at my doorstep more than a decade ago with a severe limp.

Tafadzwa Antonater Choto (36) one of the six Zimbabwean activists facing charges of treason, punishable by death, is being tortured and facing a potential death sentence for the “crime” of organizing a viewing and discussion of video footage of the Egyptian Revolution in Harare on February 19, 2011. When she came to visit, Tafadzwa explained that her limp was caused by a recent beating from President Robert Mugabe’s police thugs who smashed their way into a meeting and clubbed all of the participants in a discussion of women’s rights.

Tafadzwa, a longtime fighter for human rights and socialism in Zimbabwe, recently had an operation requiring complex postoperative care that she is being denied in prison, though she’s never been convicted of any crime. Tafadzwa was told by guards, “It does not matter—today we will beat you until your period comes.”

Munyaradzi  Gwisai (46) was a student when I met him in New York during the early 1990s. He was already a fierce politico, but not yet an organized socialist, when young reds in the International Socialist Organization (ISO)-U.S. debated theoretical and political questions with him.

Munyaradzi’s arguments led us to hold a series of study groups at Columbia University on the theory of state capitalism in Russia in order to understand how a revolution with mass participation devolved into a repressive state that used the language of socialism to justify gulag prison camps and all manner of oppression.

Living in a country of mass poverty wracked by AIDS, where President Mugabe has claimed the mantle of socialism since victorious liberation struggles toppled the white-minority rule of Rhodesia in 1980, Munyaradzi has no doubt put those historical lessons to good use in building the ISO-Zimbabwe, a group he helps lead. Munyaradzi has spent years as a defender of workers’ rights, a law lecturer and he was a member of parliament who ran on the 2000 ticket of the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Sportswriter Dave Zirin sent me this note about the former president of the Zimbabwe National Student Union, Hopewell Gumbo (32):

When I was in South Africa to report on the pre-World Cup preparations, I was joined by an anti-debt campaigner named Hopewell Gumbo. Hopewell was as sharp and generous a person as I have ever come across. I saw him at the US Social Forum in Detroit last summer, we spoke again at length about his efforts to see NGO’s in Zimbabwe effectively work to get the debts accrued by Robert Mugabe dropped from the IMF books.

When it was revealed that Hopewell’s name was among the six being imprisoned, tortured, and facing death in Zimbabwe, I became dizzy with anger and fear. Only a regime as decayed and frightened as Robert Mugabe’s would want to execute a person like Hopewell Gumbo. And only a presidential administration like Barack Obama’s, that would continue the gulag in Guantánamo, would lack the moral authority or courage to say or do a damn thing. We are all Hopewell Gumbo.

These are just three of the people Zimbabwe’s government is threatening with treason and possible death. Others we know of right now are: Welcome Zimuto (25) of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, Tatenda Mombeyara (29) of the Zimbabwe Labor Center and Edson Chakuma (32) of the United Food and Allied Workers Union. All of them are now subject to horrific brutality and held as political prisoners facing trumped up charges of treason from a regime spooked by events in North Africa that have overthrown dictatorships not unlike Mugabe’s.

Mugabe’s “free market” policies and corruption have led to hyperinflation in excess of 100,000 percent (yes, that’s not a typo) and exacerbated the poverty of a nation already laid waste by colonialism and HIV/AIDS. Out of a population of 12.5 million, 1.6 million are living with HIV/AIDS, and because unemployment is a shocking 94 percent of the population, women and girls are sometimes forced to trade sex for food.

Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe has become a social, political and medical nightmare. The courage it took for these six to hold a meeting to simply discuss world politics is humbling and warrants every bit of solidarity we can muster internationally.

Activists from Europe, South Africa and North America are calling for an international day of action on Monday, March 21, 2011, in solidarity with these 6 Zimbabwean political prisoners. That day, a hearing is scheduled for the 6 in Harare, it is also the 41st anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre when apartheid police opened fire on Black protesters and killed 69 innocent civilians.

In this moment of political upheaval from Africa to the American Midwest, when bankers, politicians and dictators aim to roll over us all, we have one weapon that must be deployed if we have any hope of justice and democracy in our lifetimes—solidarity.

For updates about where and when March 21 actions will be in your city, please go to the Facebook page, Calling for the Release of Zimbabwean Activists and check out the Web site under construction, Free Them Now. Please, sign the statement here, Free the Zimbabwean Activists Now! For excellent background and analysis, go to socialistworker.org.

If no action is called on your campus or in your city, don’t be shy, go ahead and call one yourself, and get as many people as possible to sign the statement above.

I’ll be off the grid from March 13–20, see you back here on the International Day of Action, March 21, 2011.

3 responses to “People Who Make Dictators Quake

  1. Set them free, let freedom of speech reign let the peoples voices be heard. May all be put right and may Justice prevail on the 21st March 2011. I will pray for all of you and all of Zimbabwe. God Bless

  2. Pingback: Zimbabwe ISO’ers out on bail « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

  3. ‘We are all Hopewell Gumbo.’

    Absolutely!
    I met and got to know Hopewell for a little while some years ago. I was shocked and worried when I saw his name included in the list. I would still have been outraged even if his name wasn’t there.
    This is not what we fought for when we campaigned against the apartheid regime of Ian Smith and his racist bigots in Rhodesia.
    The struggle will carry on, and just like we got rid of Apartheid, we WILL free Hopewell and the other comrades.
    Mugabe, when you take one of us on, you take all of us on!

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