A review of The Fear, by Peter Godwin – part one

This book is about a country where I lived for almost four years. And even though I am now working from an entirely different corner of the continent almost 20 years later, it is easy to revive the image of my former home. Neat houses sat behind hedges that somehow managed to grow from the sandy soil, there was a shop run by my namesake, a man as generous as he was grumpy. ‘Yes, come and bring your bloody money tomorrow…’. The mill for grinding mealies would growl into action a couple of times per day and then fall silent again. And, of course, there was the inevitable drinking den known as “the bottle store”. Perched on top of a hill close to the river, it was run by a woman who managed to be friendly and imperious at the same time. She lived with her son in a modest compound. When she felt like it, the bottle store was open. When she decided she couldn’t be bothered today, it was closed. No amount of pleading or cajoling or begging could sway her. You just had to find another drinking spot.

There was no other drinking spot.

A dirt road ran right through the middle of this quiet place. Twice every day, this deep, mostly sun-drenched rural silence would be shattered by the arrival of The Bus From Town. Its habitual stop was under a tree almost in front of the bottle store. There it is, engines revving. Passengers pour out of the ageing vehicle and they start pointing at the roof. That one? No! That one, yes, over there! Young guys have climbed on top of the bus and are tearing the sacks and cardboard boxes and huge multicoloured plastic bags loose from the roof rack that runs the entire length of the bus. All done, the driver impatiently revs the engine and then begins the slope down to the river, spanned by one of those small concrete bridges just wide enough for a bus or a truck to pass. He’s gone. Silence reigns again.

Nyautare, Zimbabwe. Incredibly, I found this digital picture of my old house at St. Monica's Secondary School. The picture came from this website: http://zimbabwepicturestory.iblog.co.za/page/2/

The vehicles almost always made it across those brigdes. But sometimes, it went horribly wrong. Once, while negotiating the many twists and turns of the road in this mountain-strewn part of the country in a rented car, I came across something unusual. A crowd, looking at a troop transport vehicle known as a  “Hippo”. It was lying on its side, had missed the bridge. Having taken lifts in these vehicles I knew that there had almost certainly been drinking and dope smoking going on inside. It appeared that there had only been two soldiers on board. Were they dead? No, but badly injured certainly. They were on their way to the nearest hospital, 50 kilometres down the road.

Having read The Fear, Peter Godwin’s harrowing book on president Robert Mugabe’s ultra violent 2008 re-election campaign, I was left wondering if the soldiers, torturers, murderers, arsonists, thugs and rapists were taking mind-altering substances when doing the head of state’s political bidding. It certainly was the case in Charles Taylor’s Liberia. The boys who did the killing and raping during the West African wars told me they remember nothing and that this was due to a cocktail of alcohol, amphetamines and hashish they were fed before being sent on their murderous ways. What did Mugabe’s goons have to ingest, for them to commit their crimes?

There are a few characters in Godwin’s book who can reliably be described as bona fide psychopaths, the ones that can always be relied upon to surface in the service of a totalitarian dictatorship. Godwin describes the actions of one Joseph Mwale, who smashes the car windows of two opposition activists, douses the insides with petrol and watches a young man and a young woman get out and stagger to their flaming deaths. Mwale resurfaces a few more times, overseeing torture. In his final appearance, Godwin spots him on television, licking his “homicidal fingers” at one of Mugabe’s lavish birthday dinner parties…

part two will follow shortly.

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2 Responses to “A review of The Fear, by Peter Godwin – part one”

  1. Fred Says:

    Books like this are hugely valuable. We really need to understand the depths nature of evil and how it will never go away. Ther was a really great interview with Peter Godwin on The Book report Radio show. You can listen to the archived shows on http://bookreportradio.com

  2. Robert Mugabe: compassionate, violent, retired | Bram Posthumus - Yoff Tales Says:

    […] There was certainly trouble in Matabeleland but the government’s response was of a cruelty that scarred the province forever and strained relations with Harare. The name given to the mass murders was “Gukurahundi”, which translates as “the first rains that wash away the dust and the dirt”. It would not be the last time that Mugabe’s government would refer to people as garbage to be removed. “Operation Cleanup” was supposed to rid Harare’s streets of prostitutes. “Murambatsvina” was an electoral operation that physically removed hundreds of thousands of people from their (often makeshift) dwellings, preventing them from voting in their constituencies and thus handing the party and its leader another victory. In rural Zimbabwe, self-appointed war veterans terrorised the people into what was termed “voting … […]

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