Dailies ignoring Zimbabwe crisis

by David Kopel

Rocky Mountain News. Sept. 1, 2002

The southern African nation of Zimbabwe is on the verge of genocide, according to the human-rights group Genocide Watch. Using a model created by former U.S. State Department official Gregory Stanton, Genocide Watch (on the Internet at www.genocidewatch.org ) has identified six stages that precede genocide. Earlier this year, Genocide Watch explains, Zimbabwe entered the final stage, Preparation, which immediately precedes genocide. Now, mass deaths and government-sponsored rapes have begun. And the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post - like most of the American press - are missing the story.

Both Denver papers cover Zimbabwe the same way they do the other nations of sub-Saharan Africa: mainly with short items in world news round-up columns. These are supplemented, sometimes, by stories from The Associated Press or, occasionally, The New York Times. Yet these sources have proven quite inadequate for conveying the horror that is taking place in Zimbabwe.

Since 1980, Zimbabwe has been ruled by President Robert Mugabe. The News/Post sources did an adequate job of covering the March elections in Zimbabwe, which, it is generally agreed, were stolen by the increasingly unpopular Mugabe.

Over the last several weeks, Mugabe has been confiscating land belonging to white farmers; this story, too, has attracted some coverage from the News and the Post. Not all of this coverage is accurate, though. For example, the Aug. 20 "World Briefing" in the News reported that 176 white farmers had refused "to leave their farms so the property could be given to landless blacks."

Well, not really. Mugabe has been confiscating the farms and giving them to his political cronies. For example, the London Daily Telegraph (on the Web at  news.telegraph.co.uk  reported that Mugabe's wife, Grace Mugabe, had evicted an elderly couple from a large farm which she has picked to be a weekend getaway for herself.

Nowhere have the News or Post reported that the confiscations are being used to pay Mugabe's very large debts to Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi. According to the Zimbabwe Independent ( www.theindependent.co.zw ), Mrs. Mugabe needed to take over the new farm because her old estate had been sold to pay the Libyans.

Although some articles, such as a New York Times piece which ran in the Aug. 13 Post, have briefly adverted to Mugabe's "cronyism," the only article in the Denver dailies to describe the problem more than superficially was an Aug. 13 editorial in the News. The News editorial, for example, pointed out a fact that has escaped the writers of all the articles in the regular news pages: the famine in Zimbabwe has little to do with the current drought there; during a 1992 drought, Zimbabwe still produced so much food that there was enough left over for export.

Yet the Denver papers have completely missed the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe which are far worse than farmland theft. As detailed by the Telegraph and by Genocide Watch, so-called "militia" (actually, terrorist gangs) of young men from Mugabe's political party are gang-raping women and girls in villages that support the pro-freedom Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Party. Literally thousands of women have been kidnapped by the gangs and are being held as sex slaves in government camps.

Stung by popular rejection in the (stolen) elections, Zimbabwe's rulers are, according to the Telegraph, talking about "taking the system back to zero" - that is, killing most of the people of Zimbabwe. In the harassed but still-independent newspapers of Zimbabwe, writers are worrying that Zimbabwe is embarking on a path to genocide similar to that of Uganda under Idi Amin in the 1970s. Zimbabwe's government-controlled press, meanwhile, is full of tributes to Mugabe's recently-deceased No. 2 man, the leader of the terrorist youth gangs, Chenjerai Hunzvi, who gave himself the nickname "Hitler."

Two weeks ago, the organization secretary for Mugabe's political party (Zanu-PF) announced, "We would be better off with only 6 million people, with our own land to support the liberation struggle." Conveniently for the genocide planners in Zimbabwe's government, about 5 or 6 million people in Zimbabwe are at risk of famine, starting in October, when food stocks run out, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Six million, of course, is how many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

It's true that the Denver papers haven't been given much Zimbabwe material to use; a look at the New York Times stories on Zimbabwe in the last month hardly reveals a supply of excellent articles which the Denver papers have failed to run. Yet, when a government promotes the gang rapes of 12-year-olds and when that same government announces and begins to carry out, in essence, the murder by starvation of hundreds of thousands or millions of people, then it's time for major regional papers - like the News and the Post - to fill the void created by the failure of their usual sources.

For more on Zimbabwe:

Kopel,Ripe for Genocide. Disarmament endangers Zimbabwe. National Review Online. Feb. 13, 2001. With Paul Gallant & Joanne Eisen.

The best daily news source on Zimbabwe is Zimbabwe News.

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