Christian human rights activist documents Mugabe's tyranny

By Ecumenical News International
December 22, 2009

A Catholic human rights activist who denounced the atrocities of white minority rule in the country then called Rhodesia, has charted what he describes as the "descent to tyranny" of Zimbabwe's post-independence ruler Robert Mugabe - writes Trevor Grundy.

For more than 20 years until 1999, Mike Auret worked for Zimbabwe's Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, set up by the country's Catholic bishops.

In his new book, "From Liberator to Dictator: An Insider's Account of Robert Mugabe's Descent into Tyranny", Auret records how he met Mugabe several times and was captivated by the man's intelligence and apparent sincerity.

"My admiration for him grew with each contact and in the months ahead I found myself putting him on a pedestal - a position from which I found it most difficult to displace him in the years that followed, despite everything that happened," said Auret.

But Auret was shattered when he discovered what happened in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions of Zimbabwe between 1983 and 1987. More than 20,000 men, women and children accused of being "dissidents" were killed to wipe out the power base of Mugabe's main rival in the liberation struggle, Joshua Nkomo. Almost all of those killed were Ndebeles, members of Nkomo's ethnic group.

They were killed by a North Korean trained branch of the military called the Fifth Brigade. Its members were Shona, who belonged to Mugabe's ethnic group.

Zimbabwe's 11.4 million population is divided roughly into two main tribal groups, the Shonas (80 per cent) and the Ndebeles (nearly 18 per cent).

"Part of the reason for writing this book was for me to try to gain some understanding of how so many of us so gravely misconstrued the situation in Zimbabwe once independence had been achieved," writes Auret. "How was it possible that so serious an error of judgement could have been made by so many people, in the world, not only in Zimbabwe?"

The son of white settlers, Auret had a career in Africa that spanned the heyday of white rule in the 1950s to Zimbabwe's political and economic chaos at the beginning of the 21st century. He joined the army in 1956 but resigned after Ian Smith declared Southern Rhodesia's illegal Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain in November 1965.

Auret joined the CCJP in the 1970s and was active in investigating atrocities committed by the Rhodesian army, an offshoot of the force in which he was once an officer. He left the country in 1979 to avoid being conscripted, and went to Britain with his wife Diana only to return home after independence in 1980, when Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe.

In his book, Auret recalls how he was among those who were moved by Mugabe's statements of the need for "reconciliation" after seven years of war from 1972 to 1979 which had led to 30,000 deaths.

"Everything he said impressed me tremendously. As he spoke I experienced a growing respect for him, for his intellect and his humanity … I was impressed by his sincerity and by what he seemed to be an obvious respect for the Church," Auret writes.

However, "In the second decade, disillusionment began and the drive for development became a drive for democracy and the protection of human rights … I remembered the reasonable man and wondered if he had changed or if indeed he had always been so evil, but simply more adept at hiding it."

Auret resigned as the justice group's director in 1999, when the Catholic Church refused to publish a report drawn up by the commission and the Legal Resources Foundation, a human rights group, into the atrocities committed by the Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland.

He was then elected as a member of parliament from Harare for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, but left Zimbabwe after he resigned his seat in 2003.

Auret presently lives in Ireland but maintains close contact with Zimbabwean exiles.

See: Michael Auret: From Liberator to Dictator: An Insider's Account of Robert Mugabe's Descent into Tyranny, David Philip, Publishers, ISBN-13: 978-0864867315

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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