Secret Lives

Tracy McVeigh The Observer, Sundar July 8th 2007

Intimidation, beatings,




... For ordinary

Zimbabweans, whether dissenting voices, opposition supporters, lawyers, white farmers, journalists, motherless waifs living rough on the streets or those who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, the threat from their nation's leaders and the uniformed thugs who work for them is a permanent and paralysing fixture. The remarkable photographs by Guardian photographer Robin Hammons reveal a Zimbabwe rarely seen by outsiders. All the people who agreed to be photographed here knew that they risked their own safety. The Observer 's photographer Robin Hammond was threatened with arrest and violence and, only by twice paying hefty bribes to uniformed police officers, did he escape a beating and hefty prison sentence. But the vivid scenes he captures tell the story of President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe - a once flourishing country brought to its knees by a despotic regime. Zimbabwe's affliction is not that its rampant inflation rate, food, fuel and power shortages are caused by natural disaster or lack of resources but, in the greater part, by a once-heroic figure who has treated his own people with criminal contempt. The 83-year-old Mugabe and his ministers hang on - to the dollars they stash through foreign-currency dealing, to the decent foreign schools they can send their children to, to the food they snatch from the starving, to the farms they grab and ruin, to the fistfuls of diamonds they purloin from the dwindling numbers of companies still interested in investing in this failing state, to power. It's said in whispered tones that Mugabe keeps files on his friends as well as his enemies, and, whatever the truth, it keeps levels of paranoia and fear high among his citizens. Police officers remain loyal despite the fact that they rarely see their wage packets these days thanks to a lack of cash in the public coffers, many are forced to hitchhike or walk everywhere and the temptation to demand bribes for imagined criminal offences is high. Rallies or gatherings are always brutally put down and Harare's wide open grid-style streets do not lend

Secret Lives
themselves easily to any form of mass uprising that could not easily be controlled by Mugabe's military. The clampdown on the media is part of that repression. For journalists and photographers trying to throw a bit of light on the situation and give a voice to the impoverished people here, there is the kind of state hostility normally reserved for war zones. In the past four years, some 100 reporters and photographers have been arrested. From the detention and deportation of The Observer 's Andrew Meldrum in 2003, just a month before Philimon Bulawayo, a photographer with the independent Daily News , was battered and detained, to the 2007 attack on Gift Phiri, a contributor to the London-based Zimbabwean, hospitalised after being beaten in police custody, and the murder of photographer Edward Chikomba, there has been little let up. Zimbabwe currently tops the list of countries that have forced the largest number of journalists into exile - 48 since 2001, according to a recent report. Zimbabwe's independent newspapers are regularly shut down. Journalists, local or foreign, caught practising without a licence can be jailed for two years - or 20 years if they are found to have published anything disparaging about Mugabe. Boldwill Hungwe, a photographer with The Standard, remains in hiding. Two months ago the paper published pictures of a badly bruised lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, tortured by police. The security forces had broken up a gathering of lawyers in Harare the previous week. After the photo was published the police called Hungwe and told him to turn himself in at the police station. He has been in hiding ever since. His fear is hardly unfounded. In April, Edward Chikomba's body was found, a few days after he was abducted from his home by armed men. Chikomba was suspected of having leaked the footage that flooded the world's media - the 11 March police beatings of Morgan Tsvangirai and other opposition-party members after they tried to hold a peaceful rally in Highfields, on the outskirts of Harare. Three other journalists who reported on the story were also arrested and beaten. And such violence is meted out without discrimination in Zimbabwe. From the women and children picking their way through the city dumps to the

Secret Lives
doctors trying to run hospitals with no medicines or electricity, to the thousands of people who try to flee their impoverished lives by flooding over the border into an unwelcoming South Africa, every Zimbabwean is now a victim.

Secret Lives

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been taken to hospital after appearing in court with injuries following two days in police detention.