Toledoans witness Zimbabwe turmoilWritten by David Steffen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
At age 20, Sylvania couple Allan and Anne Marillier saw their native country disappear from the African map.
In 1980, the former British colony of Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and for the first time, a white was not elected president. Robert Mugabe took power as president of the newly formed, independent Zimbabwe. Twenty-seven years later, he is still in office.
“It was a self-fulfilling prophecy because the country was named after the Zimbabwe Ruins … like it is now,” Allan Marillier said.
Today, Zimbabwe regularly makes headlines for its poverty and government oppression. The Catholic Diocese of Toledo has maintained a mission in Zimbabwe since 1984. They host a “Pray for Zimbabwe” bulletin on their Web site’s home page.
“We’re very aware of the problem. We’re not going to solve the problem in Zimbabwe. Some people will need to stand in prayer,” said Sister Nancy Mathias, Order of Saint Ursula, of the Toledo Catholic Diocese.
She said she saw the poverty and high inflation first-hand during a visit there in February 2007.
“You go into the stores, and there’s nothing on the shelves,” Mathias said. “The shelves are completely empty, and even if there were commodities on the shelf, the people don’t have the money to buy things.”
The Marilliers opened a letter sent recently from one of Allan’s former high school teachers in then-Rhodesia. They point to the current Zimbabwean postage, marked at $10,000 Zimbabwean dollars. It is a result of the Mugabe government’s artificial inflation, Allan Marillier said.
Ruth Shaver worked at the Catholic Diocese’s mission in Binga, Zimbabwe, between 1999 and 2004. She said Mugabe pursues anyone believed to be opponents of his political party.
“It’s not the survival of the country that’s important for him, it’s the survival of the party he created,” Shaver said.
While at the missions in Zimbabwe, Shaver said she worked at orphanages and helped with food distribution. Because she worked to aid suspected Zimbabwean opponents to Mugabe, his party sought to disrupt the missions’ work, she said.
“When the food trucks came, they would beat the workers on site,” Shaver said. “They would use any means to stop humanitarian aid to try to stop the food from reaching the people when those people were in opposition to them.”
Shaver said she knew of girls as young as three years old raped near her missions’ base in Binga. She said her pleas to authorities were useless.
“I would report it to the authorities, but they would not prosecute,” Shaver said. “They were afraid of the witch doctors. Those people escaped any kind of accountability for their actions.”
Shaver said Mugabe has convinced many Zimbabweans that he and his fellow leaders are witch doctors.
“We expected there was going to be an uprising, but there wasn’t,” Shaver said. “With the brutality, the people are really afraid to rise up.”
Shaver said she left after she felt her life was on the line. She said she received death threats during her time in Zimbabwe.
Shaver, the Marilliers and Mathias said they all believe Mugabe is responsible for the crisis in Zimbabwe.
“I was just shocked that people would treat their own countrymen like that,” Shaver said. “It’s not tribal. It’s now the police.”
Mathias said Mugabe is only concerned with his own political well-being.
“It’s all about him,” Mathias said. “I don’t think he knows what the word ‘serves’ means. It’s all about getting more for Robert Mugabe.”
Anne Marillier agreed. She said Mugabe is against many of his fellow countrymen, including blacks of other tribes.
“He’s anti-anyone who isn’t himself, and he’s anti-anyone who’s not in his tribe,” Anne Marillier said.
The Marilliers left Rhodesia individually before meeting each other in South Africa. Allan Marillier said changes in power in other African nations hinted at what was to come in Zimbabwe.
But he said he liked South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, later in 1994.
“Most of the white people could see the writing on the wall because we had seen what happened to Mozambique and the Congo,” Marillier said.
He said shortly before Zimbabwe’s independence, some pro-Mugabe students threatened him in college of what was to come if he were to win elections.
“I could see what was going to happen,” Allan Marillier said.
The Marilliers said they are officially South African citizens and consider themselves as such after spending most of their adult lives there. Allan Marillier said many white Rhodesians who left at independence had their citizenships revoked, despite applications to become Zimbabweans. They said after all the social and economic problems inflicted on the country by Mugabe, their native country is not the same.
“It’s like a death in the family,” Anne Marillier said. “It’s dead. It’s gone.”
Sympathy for those still there
Allan Marillier said he sympathizes for those still remaining in Zimbabwe, including distant relatives.
“I feel sorry for the people left behind,” Allan Marillier said. “I wonder how they survive, and that’s blacks and whites.”
Mathias also said she sympathizes with those still in the country.
“We can all come back to the U.S.,” Mathias said. “They still have all the difficulties to deal with as far as what’s going on in their country.”
Shaver said she hopes the current administration disintegrates so the country can move forward.
“I hope for a collapse of the party so that it will change and start to get better because for the past seven or eight years, it’s only starting to get worse,” Shaver said. “You get to the point where everybody thinks it can’t continue like this, and then a new [low] shows up. It’s mind-boggling.”
Hope in Zimbabwe
Despite the crisis in Zimbabwe, Mathias said many Zimbabweans remain optimistic.
“I think what surprises me is he people continue to have some hope … they’re hopeful,” Mathias said. “I don’t think hope is the same as 10 years ago, but they keep just keeping on.”
Shaver agreed. She said she also saw some hope in Zimbabwe.
“People can still smile when there’s something to smile about,” Shaver said. “They still dance. Sometimes it’s at a funeral, but they’re dancing.”