News Brief

Crackdown in Zimbabwe as Mugabe Threatens War Veterans

Developments within Zimbabwe's ruling party as Robert Mugabe dismisses the war veterans' grievances and threatens to punish the so-called traitors.

History, more often than not, repeats itself.

This is how Zimbabwe’s politics may best be described after 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe declared on Wednesday that he would punish former liberation war fighters in his ruling party for their ‘Mugabe must resign’ communiqué last week.

As expected, Mugabe, known for his resentment when faced with opposition and criticism, repeated utterances he made several times in his 36-year grip of power in the country. Unfortunately, as history repeats itself, each time Mugabe makes such utterances, arrests, abductions and all sorts of human rights abuses are committed.

Whilst addressing hundreds of party supporters who had thronged to show solidarity with the alienated leader at ZANU-PF headquarters in Harare on Wednesday, Mugabe declared war on opponents within his party.

“We have identified some party leaders to investigate the origins of the July 21st War Veterans communiqué, that is the authors and those who published it, but let me warn you that once we know these people they shall be punished harshly by the party,” Mugabe said whilst reminding war veterans how brutally he dealt with traitors during the war of liberation.

Those perceived to be traitors then would be kept in solitary underground bunkers and remained there until independence in 1980, Mugabe said.

Whilst Mugabe made these remarks, Spokesperson of the War Veterans Association Douglas Mahiya was arrested for allegedly crafting a treasonous document against Mugabe. Seven armed men stormed his Chitungwiza home 25 kilometers southeast of the capital and held his family hostage, a Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition statement revealed.

“When the leopard wants to eat its young ones it accuses them of smelling like goats,” political experts in Harare said whilst describing Mugabe’s behavior.

On one hand Mugabe preached of Maoist tactics in China. The former Chinese leader is also known for having during his time brooked no opposition to his control. To consolidate his new regime in the early 50s he launched a campaign in which hundreds of thousands were executed ordering the Great Leap Forward, causing widespread food shortages and risked throwing the country into chaos.

Examples of when and how Mugabe is alleged to have brutally attacked his opponents and dissenting voices include when he unleashed some North Korean trained 5th Brigade into Midlands and Matabeleland, butchering more that 20 000 mostly Ndebele-speaking people in the early 80s. All this was done after severing relations with the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo, former ZIPRA leader.

More leaders such as Ndabaningi Sithole and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai suffered similar attacks when they were arrested for treason. However the country remains conscious of the 2008 abductions and murder of more than 400 opposition activists during a presidential run-off when Mugabe had embarrassingly lost to Tsvangirai. Only after SADC intervened did Mugabe accept defeat and agree to a power-sharing deal.

“The arrest of Douglas Mahiya war veterans leader is meant to send a signal to treasonous elements of the dire consequences that may befall them, so yes Mugabe has a track record of accusing his allies of treason before he deals with them,” Itai Jongwe, a South African-based political analyst said.

Although Mugabe could be harshly dealing with war veterans at the moment his main target is Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa, whose name was mentioned in the ‘communiqué’ as the best candidate to replace him.

As if setting the pace for Mnangagwa’s expulsion from the party, Mugabe allowed Mandi Chimene, leader of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) faction aligned to the Generation 40 (G40) led by Grace Mugabe, to openly attack Mnangagwa calling him a divisive leader who is behind the war veterans uprising and factionalism.

“President Mugabe it is worrisome now that we seem to have two presidents in the country, we hear Emerson Mnangagwa is leader of a faction called LACOSTE and vying for presidency, he must be dealt with as he is instilled fear in the grassroots,” Chimene demanded.

However political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya had this to say:

“For Mandi Chimene to attack her senior like Emerson Mnangagwa in such a fashion in the presence of Mugabe, it only shows one thing that the whole meeting was rehearsed and Mnangagwa could be in trouble,” said Ruhanya.

Ironically, Mnangagwa was appointed Vice President following similar attacks on his predecessor, Joyce Mujuru, who was accused of witchcraft and plotting to topple Mugabe. Mujuru was expelled in 2014 and has since formed an opposition party called Zimbabwe People First.

Surprisingly, when Mugabe addressed the party followers he did not reprimand Chimene, an indication these developments were pre-planned and had the President’s blessings.

On one hand Mugabe urged his deputy to come clean of all the allegations.

“We don’t want to be divided, I don’t like it, but it is our duty to denounce this together, out rightly and not hesitate so that people continue to have confidence in us,” Mugabe warned Mnangagwa.

In his concluding remarks Mugabe attacked diplomats and journalists for working against him.

“Journalists tell those you are representing that Robert Mugabe is still here well and strong, so this is me and my people shall have me for yet some time and a long time” said a boastful Mugabe.

It is not a coincidence though that a number of journalists were attacked on the day and a lot more were denied access to the ZANU PF headquarters.

Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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