At this exciting and, in some ways, terrifying time of a convulsive, collective grasp for freedom from oppression and tyranny across much of the world, it’s important to remember that overthrowing a despot is only the beginning… what if the new boss is worse than the old? Zimbabwe’s failed revolution is a stark reminder:
From Wired, here are details on a Zimbabwean law professor and 44 of his pupils arrested for watching videos of the upheavals in North Africa:
Munyaradzi Gwisai, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s law school, was showing internet videos about the tumult sweeping across North Africa to students and activists last Saturday, when state security agents burst into his office.
The agents seized laptop computers, DVD discs and a video projector before arresting 45 people, including Gwisai, who runs the Labor Law Center at the University of Zimbabwe. All 45 have been charged with treason — which can carry a sentence of life imprisonment or death — for, in essence, watching viral videos.
Gwisai and five others were brutally tortured during the next 72 hours, he testified Thursday at an initial hearing.
There were “assaults all over the detainees’ bodies, under their feet and buttocks through the use of broomsticks, metal rods, pieces of timber, open palms and some blunt objects,” The Zimbabwean newspaper reports, in an account of the court proceedings.
Under dictator Robert Mugabe, watching internet videos in Zimbabwe can be a capital offense, it would seem. The videos included BBC World News and Al-Jazeera clips, which Gwisai had downloaded from Kubatana, a web-based activist group in Zimbabwe.
One of the biggest problems facing a people suddenly thrust out of oppression is that they are often not prepared for sudden freedom — as we’ve so often seen over the centuries.
The American revolution probably avoided the bloody excesses of the French revolution because the English people had, for centuries, had some fundamental rights assured by the Magna Carta.
But even though some of the most developed thinkers of the enlightenment and the move to democracy were in France, the people had been wantonly oppressed by despotic kings who ruled capriciously, and treated their people like chattel.
The extremely oppressive, white supremacist regime left over from colonial days that ruled Zimbabwe when it was known as Rhodesia fought against any sort of improvement in the lot of the huge black majority, who were mired in poverty and had few rights in their own homeland. Rather than prepare the people for eventual democracy, the regime resisted educating or raising the level of social sophistication of the disenfranchised black majority in the vain hope they could remain in power — and wealth — forever.
So, when change finally came, the people were ill-prepared… the new bosses were black, led from the beginning in 1980, in large part by Robert Mugabe — who has maintained control of the nation through fear, cruelty, torture, murder, and turning various elements of Zimbabwean society against each other.