Monday, June 23, 2008

Robert Mugabe: My Big Mistake

I will never forget my encounter with Robert Mugabe. I was part of a delegation of African American journalist sent to study the truth about Zimbabwe. It was, for all intents and purposes, a propaganda trip. Mugabe was bent on assuring that his spin on his controversial policies would be printed back in America.

The delegation spoke to White farmers about Mugabe’s move to take possession of farms owned by whites and transferring ownership to blacks. The justification was simple. The land was taken from them, and it was time to repay for all those years of oppression. It was difficult to dispute Mugabe’s argument. Studying the conflict in the former Rhodesia left me and other members of the delegations overcome with emotions.

It didn’t take much to convince most members of the group. We were told that the white controlled media was fueling the flame of decent by casting Mugabe and his government as a hate crazed band that was destroying the countries economy. We visited farmers, went to a hospital and orphanage. We left contemplating ways to support the people in Zimbabwe. We wanted to make a difference. We saw black men, women and children who were suffering with AIDS. We saw hospitals ill equipped to provide the level of care the people needed. We saw children left with no parents because of AIDS.

We left crying for the people. We left blaming a history of oppression for the plight of Zimbabwe. For this, I must repent. I repent of being blinded by the rhetoric we were being sold. I repent of writing columns that failed to dig deep enough to read past the garbage we were being sold.

I remember the empty cabinet at the hospital. “This is where we place the medication to treat the patients,” a nurse told us. There was nothing there. The ward was filled with babies infected with AIDS. Outside the hospital were mothers and other relatives mourning the death of a child. Across from the hospital was a coffin maker. A simple walk across the street was all it took to prepare for the end of life.

From the hospital to the orphanage. We were greeted by a hoard of children. I held in my arms a little girl less than a year old. I cried as I held her. I wanted to take her away from that dreadful place to provide a home where meals and nurture would not depend on the donations received to promote the work. I didn’t want to let her go. I didn’t hide my tears.

My tears clouded my perspective. My aching heart denied me the advantages of years of training. I saw it there, but my heart wouldn’t allow me to write the truth. What is that truth? Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe. The economy is in ruin, to a large extent, due to his poor leadership.

Back to that meeting with Mugabe. We were told he would meet us at noon. Our day was free to do what time had not allowed, to expand our horizon and talk to people. I had taken advantage of interviewing some of the natives, but the schedule minimized our contact with the real people of Harare. During breakfast we were told the President was ready to meet us. We loaded the bus parked in front of the hotel and took a long trip.

We drove for close to two hours. All around the city. No word as to where we were headed. My frustration mounted as the bus headed back in the direction we had started. We ended up back at the hotel. There we were told to remain on the bus. We stayed there for close to 30 minutes. Then we were told to get off the bus. We walked across the lot to a building. It was the government headquarters. We had driven across the city only to find ourselves back were we had started to enter into a building that was within walking distance of our hotel.

I knew then that Mugabe had orchestrated this move to prevent us from talking to people in the city. Nothing was on the agenda, so we had to be occupied with meaningless activity. I repent for not reporting this sad affair. I repent being so livid over the history of Zimbabwe that I didn’t write about Mugabe’s madness.

That was back in 2001. Now Zimbabwe is locked in a bitter election that has abruptly ended after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the violence filled runoff. He declared the election is no longer credible and the loss of life among his supporters was simply too high.

Sadly, his announcement cleared the way for Robert Mugabe to continue his 28-year rule, despite condemnation from across the globe .Human rights groups say 85 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, most of them opposition supporters.

Yes, I repent for failing to write more; for refusing to see past my skin long enough to see the real enemy robbing the people of their promise. I repent of celebrating the work of Mugabe during the freedom movement, and measuring the man based on past victories rather than condemning him for the hypocrisy of his rule.

I learned an important lesson. We speak of being impartial as reporters. The truth is standing outside of certain stories is complicated when the story tugs at your heart strings. In reporting on Zimbabwe, I wanted to believe in Mugabe. I wanted to celebrate the work of this black man. Deep down, I contended that an attack on Mugabe was an attack of black leadership. How sad a claim!

This experience had tremendous bearing on the way I engage as a journalist. We should always dig deeper. We should never assume a position based on some familiar ground. It’s a lesson I took with me in reporting on the Duke Lacrosse rape case. My position there was not to look only at the specifics of the case. My concern was not to assume the guilt or innocence of the players on the team, but my reporting had more to do with the issues that made that story such a big one.

It was the story beneath the story that I wanted to explore. It is a story about race and class. It is about NCCU/Duke relations and town/gown matters. It dealt with mistakes made, and how we view those blunders. It is not about standing with a person due to race, for race, as a variable, can deceive. It can trip you up when you align yourself with a person because they share the common bond of race.

That’s the lesson of Robert Mugabe. I pray that I never make that mistake again. It takes work, but I’m working on the work.


  1. This must have been a difficult piece to write, Carl. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I am reminded of Forest Whitaker's role as dicatator, Idi Amin, in "The Last King of Scotland." A powerful account, Carl. Thanks!

  3. Carl,

    I was there and although I hate to admit it, your words are do very true......


  4. Carl, I meant to say so very true.....


  5. Race solidarity does nothing but divide the races further. Just as political solidarity does nothing but divide the country further.

    Why cannot it be about what is right and wrong? As a once registered democrat the Duke LAX incident and Durham race politics caused me to change my registration to independent. Not that one vote matters but it mentally gives me relief not to be associated with bigots and haters like I saw in the Duke fiasco.

    I witnessed people tossing out basic common sense to hold onto their delusional world view, both black and white, in the Duke fiasco.

    Also, black race solidarity has made me questioned blacks in general on many issues. As someone that never cared what a persons skin color was as long as they were just good people, I am at the point at times that I feel maybe it would be better to move to an area that everyone looked the same. I truly would miss my minority friends but sometimes the dealing with the race crap just gets tiring.

    I feel that this "stick together mentality" is doing nothing but causing more fair minded people to want to run away from "diversity."
    I know of no one that is being raised to hate any group of people but I definitely hear a lot of normal people wondering why blacks stick up for each other even though the black person in a given situation is in the wrong. And no this is not all blacks but it is most often the majority. See OJ and Duke LAX for two examples.

    Call me racist or a bigot but I am just trying to give you a perspective of someone that sees the white side of black solidarity. Nothing good will ever become of it and it will definitely set back race relations.

    Carl that took a lot of character to write what you did and that is the Carl I remember from the HS articles of years past. Bravo.

  6. powerful post--lots of implications for durham politics

  7. You will never be able to help Africa.

    They breed too fast. Just like insects. It's inhuman.

    Will there ever be a day when these people wake up and help themselves?

    Will the rest of the world ever get sick and just puke from listening to all the endless excuses?

    Just like Durham, others are expected to pay for the squalor, year after year, decade after decade.

  8. Mugabe will have his comeuppance soon enough. And when he does, I'll shave the fur in his philtrum. Then I'll skin that nigger alive while having a sex-starved bear rape him.

  9. a typical story from a typical western reporter. Perhaps live in the country first before condemning with saccharine emotions from a tour prepared by his opposition. prey on others sensitivity its only natural to hear a one sided story.
    you want us all to believe the people who he fought for independence are the ones trying to preach peace and freedom now. Because they know more about equality than than the "savages" who needed to learn religion yet lived for long in harmony.
    "truth shall set you free" otherwise live as a slave of mind at the mercy of controlled reportes and politicians. goodluck sheaples