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“Anthem for Uncle Bob”

March 10, 2011

Some of us find comfort and ways to express ourselves to family, friends and society through conversation, writing, dance or any other one of the innumerable means of communication whether subtle or direct. For me, I find the best way to express what happens to be on my mind at any given moment is through music.

So, once again, I’ll include song lyrics to best explain to you what I have learned over the past two weeks of my internship. By way of prelude, I’ll mention that the past fortnight of my internship has been consumed with tasks and activities dealing with issues of human rights in Zimbabwe. The first activity in which I’ve been involved is a Children’s Rights Exhibition at local government-aided junior secondary schools. The second activity concerns interviewing Zimbabwean refugees and high-level stakeholders (Red Cross, UNHCR) on refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants’ access to socio-economic rights in Botswana.

Because of this, the song for this week is called “The Revolution Will Eat Its Children (Anthem for Uncle Bob).” It was written by a South African musician and former anti-Apartheid activist by the name of Johnny Clegg.  The title, however, comes from a line spoken by Jacobin leader tried during the French Revolution beginning in 1789, who viewed that the revolutionaries had subverted their aims. “La Révolution est comme Saturne: elle dévore ses propres enfants,” he said (The revolution is like Saturn: it eats its children) – meaning that Power had corrupted the French revolutionaries or perhaps that the revolution had become bigger than the revolutionaries themselves, taking on a Power all of its own … or at least, that’s what I got out of that particular lecture of Modern Political Thought I.

Now usually, any mention of the French Revolution sends me back to eleventh grade English class and lively (I kid) discussions of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  But, Johnny Clegg has rescued this poignant lesson from the history books and created a song about Robert Mugabe’s abhorrent abuse of Power in Zimbabwe.

“The Revolution Will Eat Its Children (Anthem for Uncle Bob).”

He’s a leader, talks of freedom
He knows the power of the Big Idea
He’s a dealer, he’s a seeker
Of the power that comes from fear
He gave his life to the party machine
Holding on a secret dream
He knows better than anyone
´Power comes from the barrel of a gun
And he’s rising up against them now
And he’s rising up in country and town
Rising up against them now, rising up

The revolution has eaten its children
I see the river of dreams run dry
I’m so thankful I got to love you
You are the reason I survive

The promise of a better life for all
The promise of freedom from hunger and war
So many rose up to answer the call
And so many are no longer here at all
The hopes of yesterday drowning in shifting sands
‘cause something strange is going on across the land
Preaching water but drinking wine
Power gets us every time
The more things change
The more they stay the same
And they’re rising up against him now
And they’re rising up from country to town
And they’re rising up, rising up

The revolution has eaten its children
I see the river of dreams run dry
I’m so thankful I got to love you
You are the reason I survive

Free them from this hunger,
Free!

The first part of the song speaks of Mugabe’s ascent to Power in 1980 after being a freedom fighter and political prisoner in the former colony of Rhodesia’s fight for independence. At first, Mugabe was brought new levels of social development and economic growth to Zimbabwe. Health care and education were some of the most developed in Africa and Zimbabwe was known as “The Breadbasket of Africa.” The hopes of African independence had begun to be realized.

But eventually, Mugabe came under pressure from international financial institutions to undertake economic reforms. The IMF got its cold and austere hands on the pens that wrote the country’s policy and (guided by the perverse technocracy of their Washington Consensus) cut public budgets, literally killing the population with the impact which this had on the health of Zimbabwe’s people. In illustration, consider that at 1990, life expectancy was at 64 years old and in 2009, life expectancy was 49 in 2009.

After the predictably catastrophic experience with IMF-led fiscal reform, it was evident that Zimbabwe’s people suffered. In 2000, Mugabe’s land reform campaign to dispossess the white farmer minority of its land in order to redistribute it more equally among the poor black majority caused massive controversy. Aside from the politics of agrarian reform – which are precarious, riddled with dissent and confrontation between socio-economic classes at best – the policy caused some more practical dilemmas. Black Zimbabwean farmers had not been adequately trained and agricultural produce fell, sending the current accounts balance into the red and bringing poverty upon the people. In response, the government began printing money, causing levels of hyper-inflation not seen since the Great Depression. People could not afford to buy food and other bare necessities of life. The situation was so dire that the bartering system was reintroduced in across the country. Eventually, the Zimbabwean dollar became utterly worthless. With notes being issues for trillions of dollars, the currency was eventually scrapped altogether in exchange for more stable foreign currencies. This brought a measure of stability back to the Zimbabwean economy.

But the IMF cannot take all the blame for Zimbabwe’s woes. It certainly cannot be blames for the affront to human rights and democracy Mugabe has wilfully carried out.

Mugabe’s party the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) came to power extolling the ideology of Maoist-style Marxism. A split amongst the former freedom fighters arose soon after independence. At the conclusion of the violence between the two factions, Mugabe’s ZANU merged with its Marxist rival to become the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). The ZANU-PF has been in power ever since, but has shared Power with the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) since 2008. Throughout these political upheavals, Mugabe has retained power and has been implicated in systematic human rights violations.

For instance, in 2005’s Operation Restore Order, the homes and businesses of 700, 000 people were demolished in urban slum areas. Many people saw their shelter and livelihoods crumble with the foundations of their houses. The operation was ostensibly carried out under the rationalization of urban renewal and unsafe housing. However, political speculation has it that Mugabe intended to relocate these 700,000 poverty-stricken urban dwellers (largely MDC supporters) to areas where the ZANU-PF was most popular. This strategic form of intimidation would put MDC supporters in areas where they might be frightened into stifling their support for Mugabe’s fiercest rival, Morgan Tsvangrai (leader of the MDC).

In 2008, for the first time just over 30 years, Mugabe lost the parliamentary and presidential election to Tsvangrai, sparking a run-off election. In the period between the first elections and the scheduled run-off, Mugabe embarked on a campaign of violence and intimidation against his own people – MDC politicians and supporters, human rights activists and journalists. People were arrested and detained on trumped up charges, kidnapping was rampant and there were even accounts of political assassinations. Tsvangrai eventually dropped out of the running. While the South African Development Community eventually brokered a power-sharing deal, the magnitude of the affronts to international human rights law which the Mugabe regime is responsible for cannot be made light of. The brave actions of the MDC supporters and Zimbabwean activists are inspiring and remind me of the second part of Clegg’s song – Zimbabweans rising up to dislodge Mugabe from the position of power that has corrupted him to the detriment of their people.