Demonising Mugabe only aids his cause

For blacks, even those who oppose Mugabe, this cricket conflict and the way it is played out reeks of racism
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The Independent Online

Sick, sick, sick of this British obsession with the wicked Mugabe and his malign power over Zimbabwe. I want to stamp viciously on the toes of that smug Peter Hain when he denounces the "murderous" regime in Zimbabwe. He may have been a respected anti-apartheid warrior and a champion of justice and democracy, but that reputation is now like an old suit which no longer fits the person he has become. His voice sounded overwrought this week as he toured the broadcast outlets to damn the England Cricket Board for sending the national team to play in Harare, for their unethical foreign policies in effect.

How ethical his own government is by comparison, the honourable New Labour democrats who ruthlessly censor to stop us knowing just how many innocents we are slaughtering and torturing in Iraq. Whose brazen lies to the nation about WMDs must make Mugabe envious. Who happily do business with Uzbekistan, where the ruler and his coterie like to boil or fillet their opponents. Who do nothing, nothing to stop Western arms dealers swarming around Congo, equipping warring tribes so they can more efficiently massacre and rape and terrify women and children. Over four million are estimated to have died so far while we watch cricket.

Ten years ago, John Major's government misled the British people about what was happening in Rwanda until it was too late. Today, silence is the tool used by Blair to stop Congo bothering our consciences. New Labour allegedly also knew and kept quiet about an illegal, planned coup led by white mercenaries in the oil rich Equatorial Guinea. Jack Straw and Chris Mullin, once a highly principled MP, now the minister for Africa (yes really, we have a minister for Africa), were told this January about the planned insurrection, as was Donald Rumsfeld.

This is why so many of us are repulsed by this "outrage" over Mugabe. For centuries now, the old imperial powers have shown themselves to be self-serving and hypocritical, destroying their own best principles and beliefs if it suits their purposes. Nothing has changed here. We may be living in an interconnected planet, with nascent universalist values (a very important development for the world), but progress is fragile and easily kicked to the ground by the acts and plots of the powers who have set themselves up as the new saviours of the universe.

If you can endure the shame and rage, just read Unpeople, the new book by the historian Mark Curtis (Vintage). Meticulously researched, it reveals how perfidious Albion has been since the end of the empire, and how at least 10 million people worldwide have lost their lives as a result of our realpolitik, our direct and indirect interventions on the international stage.

Our leaders have a history of disregarding the basic tenets of democracy abroad when they should be credible representatives of a system which may be flawed but is still the best we have to hold the powerful to account. It does sometimes happen. We can be proud that key people within the British establishment played a role in enabling the ANC to challenge the ruling whites of South Africa (these freedom fighters were, of course, described as "terrorists" by the right in Britain). Our support for the velvet revolution in Prague and the military action to end the fighting in Bosnia were also, on the whole, ventures which produced positive outcomes. But the list is short.

This country's elected governments over the years have supported apartheid, Pinochet, Idi Amin, the cruellest of Indonesian rulers, dirty wars in Yemen, South East Asia, Kenya, coups in Iran, and so on and on. And now we are in the middle of an even more awesomely corrupt period when, says Curtis, "Britain is deepening its support for state terrorism in a number of countries, unprecedented plans are being developed to increase Britain's ability to intervene militarily across the world, ... [it] is increasing its state propaganda operations directed towards the British public ... and Whitehall planners have, in effect, announced that they are no longer bound by international law."

The chaos in Iraq gets worse, and the Government has just made it known that the BBC charter will force that corporation to become a tamer beast, more understanding of Government actions whatever they are, duly humble and compliant, under the pseudo-notion of "impartiality".

Of course, it is great for Mr Blair that so much attention is now being diverted away from Iraq to Zimbabwe. With some exceptions, the media positively revels in hatred for the leader of that country - in part, because among his many victims are white farmers, kith and kin of indigenous Britons. Now that they have forced the President to back off from banning British sports writers, we can expect even more relentless coverage.

It is good for these journalists and British politicians with similar loyalties that in Mugabe we have an absolute villain - a brute, like Idi Amin, who is so plainly evil. Who would want to understand such men or to make allowances? The brutes awaken old white fears of black barbarism which, in turn, feed the supremacist gene. I don't see Peter Tatchell turning up to howl at, or snap handcuffs on to, George Bush whose support for homophobic policies is as heinous as that of Mugabe. He would probably not live to tell the tale if he tried.

Our immigration laws reinforce these unsavoury undercurrents. White exiles from Zimbabwe - some of whom are unreconstructed, bigoted Rhodesians - are flooding into Britain, welcomed in by our politicians and right-wing press. Under the law, they have an absolute right of entry unlike black Zimbabweans who have to prove their cases and go through the long, iniquitous immigration system. If we really cared about what Mugabe is doing to his own people, why are we not offering immediate asylum for the thousands of black victims who have no other escape?

For people of colour, even those who vehemently oppose Mugabe's regime, this conflict and the way it is played out reeks of racism. And this racism then disables the brave and genuine democrats, white and black Zimbabweans, who dream of the day that that beautiful country will become a proud, just, free, modern African state. These determined citizens - doctors, journalists, lawyers, teachers, writers, politicians, mothers, fathers, grandparents, teenagers - have to survive and not surrender to vicious state power, threats and imprisonments, disappearances, murders, dispossession, forced unemployment, and the starvation which now awaits the children of Zimbabwe.

I have just had an e-mail from a Zimbabwean political exile who lives in the United States, a black activist who had both his legs crushed by his torturers in a Harare prison and now walks with crutches. "I am so confused about what to say about this stupid cricket business. Of course, that Mugabe and his ministers are all criminals and I am living for the day they are thrown out and I can go home", he writes.

"But when I read the arrogant views of so many of your cricket players and others, I feel I am going crazy - this is like the bad old days, they still think they are playing cricket for their empire. You know this is only going to make Africans support their tyrants. We don't need such interference. Tell your Mr Blair to keep his nose out." Enough said.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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