Zimbabwe’s politics satirised: Glory, by NoViolet Bulawayo, reviewed

NoViolet Bulawayo’s first novel We Need New Names, shortlisted for the Booker in 2013, was a charming, tender gem, suffused with the guileless hilarity of children and the shock of tragedy in Zimbabwe, the author’s birthplace. Her follow-up, Glory, features animals as characters. I was initially mystified. Who would try to match Orwell’s allegorical masterpiece Animal Farm? Art Spiegelman succeeded in Maus, his graphic novel about the Holocaust, but each species represented one race, so the symbolism packed a punch – German cats hunting Jewish mice. Here the species are often random, apart from the savage dog police. But the use of animals at least lends humour to a heavy

Will Boris Johnson stand up for the white farmers in Zimbabwe?

Laikipia   After a year of peace and plentiful rain, my farm in Kenya is fantastic. Peace, rain — leave a farmer alone and he can just get on with growing food for Africa. So my thoughts are with my fellow farmers Gary and Jo Hensman, both in their seventies, who last month were chased off their property by thugs in Zimbabwe. Two decades after Mugabe began his disastrous farm invasions this story has gone entirely unnoticed by the world — but November was a busy month for Zim. Police attacked civilians in Harare. Colonial streets were rechristened after heroes such as Leonid Brezhnev, Mao Zedong, Castro — and President

The Spectator Podcast: the New Narcissism

Are young men becoming too self-conscious of their body image? We discuss the trend to diet and use food replacement powders in a bid to become superhuman. We also talk about the Crocodile’s election victory in Zimbabwe – is British foreign policy in Africa too negligent? And last, how are pale rosés driving dark rosés into extinction? Huel – short for ‘human fuel’ – is taking the world by storm. This powdered food claims to have all the nutrients a human needs to survive, while being vegan, environmentally friendly, and cheap. But Lara Prendergast isn’t convinced, and in this week’s cover piece, she argues that Huel is a symptom of

Feeding the Crocodile

It is a tragedy that the party that has ruined Zimbabwe, led by a man who was one of the chief perpetrators of its misery, has managed by hook or by crook to win a fresh mandate. The narrow margin of 0.8 per cent by which Emmerson Mnangagwa secured his victory in last week’s presidential contest will inevitably raise suspicions of foul play. But he will almost certainly be given the benefit of the doubt, not least by the British government. Mnangagwa, known as the Crocodile for his habit of biding his time and crunching his enemies as Robert Mugabe’s chief enforcer and election-rigger, has said some sensible things since overthrowing

How the attack on Emmerson Mnangagwa backfired

Emmerson Mnangagwa’s path to the presidency has earned him no shortage of enemies. His succession alienated many within his Zanu PF party, not least the Mugabe stalwarts who had stood by their man for 37 years. As if that was not enough, Zimbabwe’s president is also facing competition from his former colleagues and subordinates in the junta, in particular from General Chiwenga, his vice president. In this complex tussle for power, Mnangagwa is doing his best to hold things together while addressing his country’s growing economic and social problems and rebuilding international and regional relations that were left in tatters by his predecessor. What’s more, Mnangagwa also has to fight an election later this month

Flitting from flower to flower

‘I am interested only in stretching myself, in living as fully as I can.’ Lara Feigel begins her thoughtful book with this assertion by Anna Wulf, the protagonist of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, and it rather sums up the whole endeavour of the volume. Feigel weaves close readings of Lessing’s prose, both fiction and non-fiction, with accounts of her own self-stretching. Feigel, an academic, had read Lessing as an undergraduate, but, returning to her in her thirties, she discovered in the books a stimulating discussion about ‘how as a woman to reconcile your need to be desired by men with your wish for sexual equality’. She is particularly interested

Don’t go breaking my heart

It’s been heart week on Radio 4, celebrating the anniversary of the first ‘successful’ heart transplant in 1967, which was performed, controversially, by Dr Christiaan Barnard in South Africa on a patient called Louis Washkansky (who survived the operation and lived for 18 days). The heart, that mysterious, almost mystical organ, is freighted with such cultural significance that back then there were some who thought such feats of medical skill were tampering dangerously with our humanity. Change the heart, and the person within would never be the same. Now, though, as Giles Fraser discovered in his series This Old Heart of Mine (produced by Victoria Shepherd), the official definition of

Hope in Zimbabwe

With Robert Mugabe’s departure goes one of the caricatures of late 20th-century Africa: the tinpot dictator who brutalises his opponents, impoverishes his people yet manages to extract enough wealth from a decaying economy for a fleet of Rolls-Royces and a private jet to speed him off to private medical appointments in Singapore. But his long-overdue resignation should not be allowed to detract from what is going on elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Zimbabwe, which did not stand out for its rottenness in the early years of Mugabe’s rule, now finds itself surrounded by either functioning democracies or fairly benign regimes with some element of democracy. Aside from Zimbabwe, African economies have

When armies take over

While the military is running Zimbabwe, there is no hope of anything resembling a functioning democracy replacing the tyrant Robert Mugabe after 37 years. But at least there is one small mercy — the army in Zimbabwe appears to be united. The end for the Roman republic was in sight when wealthy individuals with powerful backing raised private armies to impose their will upon the state. Sulla was the first person to attack Rome in this way in 87 bc and then make himself dictator in 83 bc. Once that precedent was set, it was open house for others to try. It is an irony of history that one of

Diary – 23 November 2017

At the top of Machu Picchu last week, I saw two wide-winged condors swoop over Sacred Valley through a rainbow that curved between two holy mountains. Weary after many books and travels, I felt restored and inspired by this magic. There was hardly anyone in Machu Picchu; its cliffs vertiginous, its cloud jungle lushly impenetrable, it was discovered by outsiders only a century ago. Built as a royal estate and shrine by Inca conqueror Pachacutec around 1450, during our Wars of the Roses, no one knows when or why it was abandoned — because of Spanish conquest, or decades earlier due to civil war? Earlier I set out from Cusco,

Mugabe’s successor faces an uphill struggle

Even for a veteran of the struggle for freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe, the events of the past week continue to shock. When Robert Mugabe refused to step down in his rambling TV address on Sunday, it seemed impeachment would be the only way to remove him from office. Proceedings to do just that started in parliament yesterday. We didn’t get far. The debate had been going for 40 minutes when the speaker interrupted proceedings to announce that he had received a letter from the president. When it came to the part about Mugabe ‘tendering his resignation with immediate effect’, the place exploded. It took several minutes to restore order

Robert Mugabe’s desperate denial continues

Robert Mugabe nearly gave the entire country a heart attack last night. In the late afternoon, a ZTV broadcasting unit was driven into State House, where Mugabe and the military commanders were negotiating his departure from office. After Saturday, when millions of Zimbabweans took to the streets to call for his retirement – and then the Sunday meeting of the Zanu PF Central Committee at which he was summarily dismissed from the leadership of the Party and replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa – we all expected a humble and contrite Mugabe to announce he was stepping down. We waited from 7pm to 9pm for him to come on television live; when

Portrait of the week | 16 November 2017

Home As the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill faced 470 amendments in its examination by a committee of the whole House, David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, promised that Parliament would be able to have a final take-it-or-leave-it say on the Brexit agreement, which would become law by an Act of Parliament. He said: ‘It’s a meaningful vote, but not meaningful in the sense that some believe meaningful [to be], which is that you can reverse the whole thing.’ A government amendment announced by Theresa May would incorporate in law the moment at which Britain would leave the EU: 11pm GMT on 29 March 2019. EU citizens who become British do not

Zimbabwe on the brink

History will curse Robert Mugabe. When he took over as prime minister in the wake of the Lancaster House agreement in early 1980, Zimbabwe was one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. Mugabe inherited excellent infrastructure, a strong economy, stable institutions, an independent judiciary, an excellent school system and the goodwill of the world. In the course of nearly 38 years, he wrecked all of this. He corrupted his country’s democratic institutions, destroyed the economy and debauched the currency while making himself and a tiny circle of cronies and relatives spectacularly rich. The complacent British view is that Mugabe started out well but went wrong. Sir Nicholas Soames, son

Zimbabwe’s coup has been seamless, ruthless and virtually bloodless. What now?

Last week, I predicted that the Mugabe era was at its end and that all that remained was how, when and who? Well we now know: it was Emmerson Mnangagwa, it took just 48 hours and it was in the form of a disguised coup. The leadership of the G40 faction in the ruling Party has been detained, many are in hiding or on the run; some resisted and last night there was some gun fire and explosions. This morning there was a clear statement by the army that they have taken charge. How did this happen? Mnangagwa has been in the Cabinet for 37 years, vice president for 3

The African bush took me back to my boyhood

Entering the Bulawayo Club, you step out of the blinding African sunshine on that safe and friendly city’s wide streets, and into the cool of a generous, mahogany-lined reception hall, its glorious art-deco doorways and fittings taking you back to another age: the early 1930s when the Club, already about 40 years old, rebuilt the clubhouse in the grand style of a confident colonial southern Rhodesia. Facing you are two large portraits. One is of Cecil John Rhodes in tunic and wing collar. This you would expect, though the finest representation of that capable, restless, vainglorious, morally ambiguous and sometimes duplicitous achiever hangs in the Lobengula room: a light and

The rule of law is disappearing in Africa

Harare, Zimbabwe At a meeting in Harare in early August, Mr. Mugabe stated quite clearly, that the persons responsible for the murder of white Zimbabwean farmers during the land invasions would ‘never be prosecuted’. Tens of thousands of people who were members of Zapu and lived in the south west of the country were murdered, beaten, raped, tortured and harassed between 1983 and 1987 during a campaign that Mr. Mugabe named ‘Gukurahundi’ or the storm that ‘washes clean’. Over a million-people fled the genocide and moved to South Africa and Botswana. Not a single person has been prosecuted for any of these crimes. During the campaign that Mr. Mugabe called

A remarkable testament of hope for Zimbabwe

‘One who never turned his back but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed though right were worsted, wrong would triumph Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, Sleep to wake.’ This comes from Robert Browning’s ‘Epilogue’. It is quoted (though not of himself) in a staggering book by an author who in my eyes holds as good a claim to exemplify its spirit as anyone in the 20th-century history of Africa. Yes, anyone, including the many brave black freedom fighters, from Nelson Mandela down, who kept their heads held high when the odds seemed all against them. Even on Robben Island, even in

The Spectator podcast: The Brexit bounce | 10 September 2016

On the morning of the 24th June, Britain woke to find its stock market shattered and its pound pummelled. It appeared – for a brief moment – like all the prophecies of the Brexit doomsayers, not least the Great Seer Osborne, had come true. But then, from the wreckage of that mid-summer morning, green shoots began to appear, and now, more than two months down the line, it seems that Britain has bounced back. In his cover piece this week, Ross Clark argues that the Remain campaign fell victim to the perils of believing their opinion to be ‘objective fact’, and that economic recovery has humiliated the Treasury, Bank of

The Spectator podcast: The Brexit bounce

On the morning of the 24th June, Britain woke to find its stock market shattered and its pound pummelled. It appeared – for a brief moment – like all the prophecies of the Brexit doomsayers, not least the Great Seer Osborne, had come true. But then, from the wreckage of that mid-summer morning, green shoots began to appear, and now, more than two months down the line, it seems that Britain has bounced back. In his cover piece this week, Ross Clark argues that the Remain campaign fell victim to the perils of believing their opinion to be ‘objective fact’, and that economic recovery has humiliated the Treasury, Bank of