People who make dictators tremble

March 15, 2011

The regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is intent on putting six socialists on trial for their lives--on charges of treason that carry a death sentence.

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 (age 36), one of the six Zimbabwean activists facing charges of treason, 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 a decade ago, 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 involved 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 doesn't matter--today, we will beat you until your period comes."

Munyaradzi Gwisai (age 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 and law lecturer, and he was a member of parliament who ran on the 2000 ticket of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

What you can do

Organizations around the world are endorsing the call for an international day of action to demand the release of the six Zimbabwe socialists. Find out more information, including how you can take action, at the Solidarity with Zimbabwean Political Prisoners Web site.

Send an urgent e-mail to Zimbabwean officials calling for the immediate release of the remaining six activists--Antonater Choto, Welcome Zimuto, Eddson Chakuma, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Munyaradzi Gwisai and Hopewell Gumbo.

Include these e-mail addresses in the "To" line: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected].

Forward your message separately to these supporters of democracy, so they have a record of who has appealed to the regime: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected].

Join the Facebook group "Calling for the Release of Zimbabwean Activists" for updates on the case and solidarity actions. Sign and circulate a petition calling for the release of all the activists.

Donate to the "Free the Zimbabwe 45" fund to contribute to the legal defense of the activists, as well as support for their families.

Sportswriter Dave Zirin sent me this note about the former president of the Zimbabwe National Student Union, Hopewell Gumbo (age 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 U.S. Social Forum in Detroit last summer, we spoke again at length about his efforts to see NGOs in Zimbabwe effectively work to get the debts accrued by Robert Mugabe dropped from the International Monetary Fund 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 (age 25) of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, Tatenda Mombeyara (age 29) of the Zimbabwe Labor Center, and Edson Chakuma (age 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 by 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 six Zimbabwean political prisoners. That day, a hearing is scheduled for the six 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.

First published at Sherry Talks Back.

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