Plumtree, Zimbabwe: "Mugabe has got to go. He and his men have stolen two billion dollars since 1980. They are killing the country. We have got to do something. If we sit on our backsides and watch and wait we have no one to blame but ourselves for the misery of Zimbabwe."
"But Vusi" [not his real name], I say, "this is dangerous. You could die."
"To get rid of Mugabe, some of us must be prepared to die. I'm ready to lay down my life that Zimbabwe might be free of this dictator."
We sit in the shade of our tiny verandah. The day is cool and clear, a beautiful fall day in southern Africa. Bulbul birds chatter in the mango tree. Our cats lie stretched in the sun soaking up its warmth. So peaceful. Yet around us sit piles of packing boxes. We are preparing to ship our personal effects to the States as Zimbabwe spirals down into anarchy and violence, 20 years after Robert Mugabe led the country to freedom and became president.
Other missionaries have visited us to discuss the growing crisis in the country. The U.S. Embassy has updated its travelers' advisory to an alert of possible evacuation.
We've learned that a neighbor was beaten up by a mob of "invaders" brought to his farm by the government from Harare, the capital, 10 days ago. His family, including a daughter who is a schoolmate of our daughter, has fled to South Africa. His farm is 18 miles south of where we sit, just next to our congregation at Madabe. This beating is not part of the news. His invaded farm is just one of nearly 1,000 invaded farms. The Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe has told all white farmers in our area to leave their farms.
All these thoughts race through my mind as I study Vusi's face. His youthful face is free from worry lines. His high cheek bones accent his bright eyes.
When he smiles there's always a bit of fun in the corners.
Vusi is not smiling now. At 22 years old, he has joined the new party, "The Movement for Democratic Change" or MDC for short. He shows me his party card. If the police find this card on him it will mean a long interrogation at best. It could cost him his life at worst.
One of Zimbabwe's main problems is racism. The government has done little to bring the disparate ethnic and racial groups together in mutual respect and understanding.
Another problem is the inequitable distribution of land. Most of Zimbabwe's people are rural subsistence farmers. For survival, they need a piece of productive land to plow and plant. But Zimbabwe also is dependent upon its commercial farmers, mostly white people, who grow crops for export, earning Zimbabwe much needed foreign exchange. To destroy the commercial farming of Zimbabwe is to set the country back years. Land redistribution needs to be done, but within the bounds of law and order, not through anarchy and violence.
White people have been declared the "enemies of the state." Farmers like our neighbor have been beaten and killed. Confidence in the government has plummeted.
But the biggest problem in Zimbabwe today is not racism or land reform, but the rage for power in government officials. Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu says that Mugabe has become a "cartoon" of the worst stereotype of an African leader.
This morning the "red hats," the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade para-military unit that terrorized this area back in the mid-'80s, were in Plumtree, doing house-to-house searches. The Brigade members ransacked one house here, beat the owner and broke his arm because he was an MDC sympathizer. They left him with the warning to quit MDC or else. When my wife, Ana, phoned the U.S. embassy with this news, the man who answered responded, "That's standard practice around the country now."
On our verandah, the breeze brings the scent of frangipani blooms. As Vusi and I sit in this lovely setting in peaceful Plumtree, I worry about getting my family to the States before the violence escalates. Vusi has no other country to run to. This is his home. He, united with others, will continue to stand up and speak out for a just and democratic society. He will be counted as one of the growing opposition to Mugabe's despotic rule. Vusi is willing to lose his life for the sake of his country, and for the witness of the justice of Jesus and God.
Our family is taking it one day at a time. Keep Zimbabwe in your prayers, and us, too.
Tod and Ana Gobledale (with their children Thandiwe and Mandla), appointed by the UCC/Disciples Common Global Ministries Board, serve as ministers to 26 congregations of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA). Their address is P.O. Box 31, Plumtree, Zimbabwe; e-mail: . "We appreciate hearing from you," they say. "Knowing that we are in your thoughts and prayers strengthens our ministry here in Zimbabwe."