Cry Zimbabwe
Independence: Twenty years on

Author: Peter Stiff

496pp; 242 X 168-mm; 16 b/w and colour illustrations
Hardback; ISBN 1-919854-03-7 ; non fiction.

Cry Zimbabwe tells how Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF came to political power in Zimbabwe after British and Commonwealth supervised elections in 1980. Acclaimed by the British Government and others as ‘free and fair’, in reality the process was a sham. It had been seriously flawed by a murderous campaign of intimidation conducted against the black population by the political commissars of ZANLA — ZANU-PF’s military wing. Having got away with it in 1980, Mugabe repeated these brutal tactics in the 1985, 1990 and 1995 election campaigns. The result was a Parliament packed with ZANU-PF MPs, with virtually no political opposition. The constitution was changed at will to suit Mugabe and his ruling elite.

Stiff tells how in the 1980s ex-Rhodesians were recruited by the SADF to gather intelligence and destabilise Zimbabwe. How the strike jets at Thornhill Air Base were destroyed in a raid by Special Forces. How its armour came within a whisper of total destruction and how its major armoury at Inkomo Barracks was destroyed and much more.

He details for the first time the bitter fighting between ZANU-PF and ZAPU elements of the National Army that occurred in Bulawayo in 1981 and how it was put down by elements of the former Rhodesian Security Forces. How Mugabe suppressed the report of the Commission of Enquiry looking into it.

Stiff describes how in the early 1980s the North Koreans formed ex-ZANLA guerrillas into a new 5-Brigade and trained it as a murder machine. It was launched into Matabeleland in 1983. Its targets were unarmed and helpless men, women, children, the aged, the infirm — anyone as long as they were Ndebele. The world stood by, paying lip service to caring, while they systematically murdered some 15 000 people and beat, raped, starved, maimed and tortured countless thousands more.

Stiff tells how the SADF armed, equipped and trained Joshua Nkomo’s ZIPRA rebels. How this was done, who did it and why, is explained.

Coming right up to date he explains that by the millennium — 20 years on — times had changed. Zimbabweans were dissatisfied with the ruling party’s waste and rampant corruption. They were disillusioned with Zimbabwe’s military involvement in the Congo — where the ruling elite and senior army officers were raking in cash from rich diamond and other mining concessions. The economy was in tatters. The Zimbabwe dollar had slipped to an all-time low. Unemployment was at record levels and there were widespread shortages of diesel, petrol and commodities.

Mugabe’s attempt to introduce a new constitution, which would have allowed him to continue in office as President for virtually the rest of his life, was the last straw. Opposition was mobilised by civic groups and a new political party, the Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai. The electorate rejected the draft constitution in a referendum. Mugabe blamed his defeat on the country’s 60 000 whites (out of a population of 13 million), particularly the farmers, whom he accused of supporting the MDC and influencing their workers to vote against the draft.

The book tells how Mugabe vengefully launched invasions of squatters led by ex-ZANLA ‘War Veterans’ on to white-owned farms. They embarked on a campaign of murder, rape, beatings, torture and intimidation, combined with a forced political ‘re-education’ programme. It did not work and for the first time since 1980 the MDC became the only opposition party to win sufficient seats to provide a substantial parliamentary opposition. On Mugabe’s orders, despite the election being over and in defiance of his own High Court, the farm invasions have intensified.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Cry Zimbabwe. It was at the elbows of all the US legislators responsible for the passing of the Zimbabwe Democracy Act that legislated selective sanctions against Robert Mugabe and his top henchman. Copies were bought by every foreign embassy in South Africa and copies were in the personal possession of the British Foreign Secretary and the Conservative Party's shadow Foreign Secretary. Peter Stiff was interviewed by Tim Sebastian on BBChardtalk and more than held his own. It generated enormous international interest. The chapters dealing with the Gukurahundi atrocities and massacres in Matabeleland recently formed the foundation for an incisive BBC World programme that called for the arrest and prosecution by the International Court of Justice of both Robert Mugabe and Perence Shiri for war crimes and crimes against humanity. More such moves are bound follow.
Robert Mugabe might have won his re-election as president in March 2002 by foul means and a crooked election process, but it is not the end of the story.
Sadly, Cry Zimbabwe was an early wake up call as to what was happening in Zimbabwe but the world dithered. That initially it kept on sleeping was a tragedy.
That the world has eventually woken up, and that Zimbabwe has been suspended from the Commonwealth, bodes well for the future. One can be certain that it will eventually spell the end of the brutal dictatorship of Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF regime.

Cry Zimbabwe is right up to date — it is an important story out of Africa — it is happening now.


Media reviews:

The story of Rhodesia , its Unilaterial Declaration of Independence in 1965 and the subsequent war that lasted througb 1979 is a fascinating story.  For 7 year war launched by ZANLA/ZANU and ZIPRA/ZAPU in or around 1972 culminated in the election of an interim government in 1979 led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa and finally ‘independence’ in 1980 with the election of Robert Mugabe, the leader of ZANU (PF).  In April of 1980 Mugabe assumed office and the white community, which had prepared to leave the country en masse, decided to stay, partly at the behest of the former Prime Minister who had led the country from UDI, Ian Douglas Smith.

The story of Zimabwe’s subsequent decline, fall and collapse at the hands of Mugabe’s dictatorship has been touched upon in Ian Smith’s own Bitter Harvest (2001) and principally in Martin Meredith’s Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the tragedy of Zimbabwe (2002).  Meredith’s account focuses mostly on the late 1990s.  In contrast Peter Stiff, who lived in Rhodesia for 28 years and worked in an elite police unit, has privded readers with a true portrait of the entire experience of Zimbabwe from 1980 through 2000.  He is strongest discussing the period 1980-1983, which included the the falling out between Joshua Nkomo and Mugabe and the subsequent ZIPRA resistance to the government, fears of a Matabeleland UDI by the Ndebele people who made the majority of the area and formed the ethnic group (tribe) from which Nkomo was from.  Eventually the Zimbabwean government formed the 5 Brigade of North Korean trained soldiers drawn from Mugabe’s supporters and unleashed them in Matabeleland in an operation that would come to be known as Gukurahundi, a genocide of Ndebele people.

With an expert’s knowledge of the land and its people Stiff brings his typical writing style to this excellent history.  There is no flowerly language here, just a strait presentation of the facts with numerous discussions of daring military actions and descriptions of events down to minute details.  In many places Stiff leaves the reader with the only existing historical account of events.  No other book can provide the level of detail, based on interviews with participants, about secret operations in a country such as Zimbabwe .  But Stiff is even better and giving the reader an actual view of how things really are in Africa .  For instance he provides a very interesting explanation of why Nkomo left Botswana in 1983.  It wasn’t because he could get better digs in England or because he had already resolved to return home.  It was because there exists in Botswana an ethnic group of Kalanga who are part of the Ndebele tribe.  Stiff notes that “the popular view of Botswana is that it is a single-culture country [of Tswana],” barring the few whites and Asians who reside in the capital.  When on visits Botswana they don’t realize that this cleavage exists and is most pronounced in the area of Francistown are a majority. So much of the writing on Africa, whether in Africa or in the West, simply does not understand the reality of Africa .  In Africa this is party because people choose propoganda over reality, and in the West it is due to ignorance and the need to romantisize the continent through the creation of false classifications and categories that do not mirror reality.

As usual, as with all the Galago volumes published by Stiff, there is the usual inclusion of maps, documents and color photographs, something that no book should be without.  In the end the last hundred pages chronicle the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the creation of ‘war veterans’ groups, farm invasions and the attempts to disenfranchise the remaining 86,000 white Zimbabweans.  The book chronicles the country’s descent into hell as both blacks and whites become victims of the regime. The book also deals with the rise of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.  In the end this book will be one of the few first rate chronicles of what befell Zimbabwe in its 20 years after independence and perhaps serves as a reminder of how not to run a country and the danger that ‘revolutionary’ movements pose when they come to power if they do not act responsibly to ensure free elections and refuse the temptation to demagougery.

Seth J. Frantzman - Nahlaot, Jerusalem, Israel

(Peter Stiff) brings an intimate knowledge of the geographical and historical details of Zimbabwe to this work. Further, he is as objective in writing of his former adopted country as one could be, after watching its devastation by the current government. Cry Zimbabwe indeed! He has meticulously end-noted his facts and provides a list of his sources, material
that the government in Harare would no doubt like to see destroyed . . . the material included is so great that a general description does it injustice.
Cry Zimbabwe
is recommended as one man's perception of current events in southern Africa and for any current history collection dealing with that area.
Dalvin M Coger - University of Memphis
African Book Publishing Record

Stiff catalogues the tactics of Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF at every general election since (and prior to) independence. This of course includes the notorious 2000 referendum and election campaigns. Violence and intimidation appear to have been routine campaign procedures.
Anyone who, after reading Peter Stiff's well-written account of the past 20 years of Zimbabwe history, still believes that correcting the land issue (as defined by Mugabe), will solve all that unfortunate country's problems must surely be looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses.
African Defence Journal

Stiff has done extraordinarily well to get firsthand stories . . . a workmanlike record in broad brush strokes as the early promise of democracy withered in the face of Mugabe’s manic pursuit of power . . . incredibly good resource material . . .
Sunday Independent - Johannesburg

The cover picture tells it all: a terrified farmer’s wife scooping up her children while the dogs bay at the takeover posse at the gate...
Eastern Province Herald - Port Elizabeth

Book reveals that specialist (ex-Rhodesian) bush soldiers were trained in secret camps in the northern Transvaal for the specific purpose of destabilising Zimbabwe and other Frontline States . . . The South African military also supported and armed dissidents from Joshua Nkomo’s party who were responsible for more deaths of white farmers in the Matabeleland area than ever occurred in the liberation war . . .
Saturday Star - Johannesburg

From the attack on Thornhill Air Base, which gutted the country’s air power, to the failed attempt on the armour park in Harare, most were initiated by Pretoria. None of this excuses the manner in which the new regime sought — blatantly using torture — to pin the blame on loyal members of the Zimbabwean armed forces who happened to be white . . . It [the book) serves a valuable purpose in detailing Mugabe’s long campaign of land intimidation . . . Whoever takes on the task [of writing more] will rely heavily on Stiff’s mountain of reportage . . .
The Star - Johannesburg

[Cry Zimbabwe] details untold stories that have (un)shaped Zimbabwean politics; like the inside story, here for the first time, of the bitter infighting between ZANU(P/F) and ZAPU elements in the Army in Bulawayo in 1981 and how Mugabe, and the country, were saved from a virtual ZIPRA takeover by former Rhodesian Security Forces . . . It contains harrowing descriptions of how 15 000 Ndebele were beaten, maimed, starved, raped and tortured by the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade . . .
The Citizen - Johannesburg

The obvious access Stiff enjoys with those whose roles in the southern African conflicts remain shrouded in secrecy, make him an important resource in putting together some of the jigsaw pieces of the region’s recent history . . . a fascinating account of military intrigue . . .
Sunday Tribune - Durban

This is a very well researched and informative book. Never before have the atrocious deeds of Robert Mugabe’s government, especially in Matabeleland in the 1980s, been delineated in such detail. It is a ‘must’ for everyone interested in the history of southern Africa . . .
Mercury - Durban

Readers' comments:

Thank you for your book Cry Zimbabwe: Independence Twenty Years On. It is excellently put together and gives a chronological and readable account of events in that country. This book gives the true history in all its stark reality of the cataclysmic fate Zimbabwe has suffered since the demise of colonialism.
Peter Bertram
– Caledon, RSA

I have just read your book Cry Zimbabwe. I must say that it is the best non fiction book I have ever read. I have many friends still in Zimbabwe and like many others I fear for their well being. The part that dealt with the murder of Martin Old brought me to tears.
Bob Arkright, Cape Town

People have asked me why I read about a country that has nothing to do with us. My answer is that what has happened and what is still happening in Zimbabwe IS happening in South Africa. We just keep our eyes closed to it. Your book opened my eyes. The people who do not read your book are those who believe that by keeping their eyes closed and by not saying anything, the problems facing our country will disappear like a bad dream...For anybody interested in our history, your books are a must.
Stephen Opperman



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