By José Abeto Zaide
FOREIGN AFFAIRS. I received the following fable for our times. It is a survivor’s account as an exemplary warning about “The strong obey when the strongman leads the way” gone the wrong way when good men do nothing. My deep source skips the part how he escaped (in the event that he may have to use the trick again), and sends dispatches under pseudonyms of either George or Thomas or Clark:
Soldiers storm our village, firing big rifles into the air before shooting a few men, and then run into every hut and drag out those hiding. The commander shouts, “Everyone line up behind the huts.”
Men, women, and children run to do so. Some mothers carry babies.
“All men, step forward,” says the commander.
At least 15 fellow and I follow the order. The commander nods, and several soldiers give most of us shovels.
“Those without shovels, get a stick,” the commander says. “Dig your holes about like this.”
He uses his rifle to indicate dimensions. I suppose I’m lucky to have a shovel and dig fast though I’m not sure why. I want time to pass slowly but soon, it seems, I have a hole long, narrow, and deep.
“Give him your shovel and stand by your hole,” says a soldier, pointing at the man to my right.
When there’s a hole for every man, the commander nods, simply that, and the soldiers shoot all the men and push us into graves quickly filled with dirt. It’s much easier to fill holes than dig them.
FAST FORWARD TO TODAY: It’s been 30 years, but I still know this happened because we opposed President Robert Mugabe.
It’s the same today. Everything in Zimbabwe’s about an egomaniac of 93 who once stood as a heroic leader after ousting white oppressors. But now he’s responsible for 80 percent unemployment, 80 percent of kids not being in school, and a national life expectancy of about 35 years.
I’m encouraged to hear the army has just removed Mugabe from office, after 37 years, and thereby promised the old man’s luxury-seeking loudmouth wife, Grace, won’t be his successor. It looks like that’ll be Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president and Mugabe’s longtime henchman whom the president just tried to fire.
But it’s difficult to get rid of a man most call Crocodile. I know Mnangagwa is pronouncing: “Bury not your neighbors but your differences and build a prosperous nation that respects diverse opinions and ends its international isolation.” That sounds good; but my neighbors and I know the Crocodile, as much as Mugabe, put us where we are.
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