Arresting Robert Mugabe


Tinashe Mushakavanhu interviews Peter Tatchell in The Boston Review:

I was born and grew up in Zimbabwe, and I voted first in the 2002 election. The people of my generation were all excited and thought that things were going to change. But Robert Mugabe was re-elected amidst claims of fraud and has been continuously re-elected. Nothing has changed. This Wednesday was election day in Zimbabwe, and Mugabe—despite claims of voter fraud from the opposition once again—appears to have secured another term in office.

Peter Tatchell, a prominent LGBT activist, has put himself in harm’s way to fight a number of controversial causes, among them stopping Mugabe from committing crimes against the Zimbabwean people. The lanky Australian-born, British-based activist has tried to arrest Mugabe not once, but twice—in London in 1999 and in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Brussels in 2001—for crimes against humanity. On the second occasion, Mugabe’s Central Intelligence Operatives beat him badly and left him with permanent brain damage.

Tatchell has been beaten on more than 300 occasions, arrested more than 100 times, participated in over 3,000 protests and received more than 500 death threats. A live bullet has been sent through his letterbox, and his small south London flat—where I spoke with Tatchell—is frequently targeted by vandals.

. . .

Tinashe Mushakavanhu: In the 1980s were you one of the people who celebrated Robert Mugabe or whatever he supposedly represented?

Peter Tatchell: My association with Zimbabwe began way back in the early 1970s during the war of liberation when I was a young student. Like most Zimbabweans, I was opposed to the white minority regime of Ian Smith; the denial of votes to black people was unconscionable. Every attempt by a Zimbabwean nationalist leader to secure a peaceful negotiation of the transference of power to attain black majority rule was rebuffed. All the leaders ended up in prison or under detention or under house arrest, in fact, all kinds of restrictions were placed upon them infringing on their ability to campaign peacefully and non-violently for change. The end result was that many people concluded that the armed struggle was the only way forward. Although instinctively I am a pacifist and loathe violence, I felt that an armed struggle was the only option available to black Zimbabweans and somewhat reluctantly supported that struggle. As a young student I helped to fundraise to buy medical kits for guerrillas in the bush and for the civilian population in areas controlled by the liberation movement. At the time, Robert Mugabe seemed like a good guy. If you read the original program of ZANU-PF [The Mugabe-led Zimbabwean African National Union—Patriotic Front], it was a program for democracy, human rights, and social justice.