Veteran human rights activist Judith Todd is deeply distressed by the deaths, macabre beatings and arrests of hundreds of Zimbabweans following demonstrations last month against a doubling of fuel prices.
But Todd says the situation since January 14th “is confused and complicated with few angels on either side.”
To the dismay of some, she declines to place sole blame on the government for the violence. That stance infuriates her erstwhile ally David Coltart, the Bulawayo-based former senator and opposition human rights lawyer.
Todd says Jenni Williams, convener of WOZA, Women of Zimbabwe Arise, has made several visits to townships in Bulawayo finding no evidence supporting the allegation that women there were raped by government soldiers.
And she points to reliable evidence that a 32-year-old police constable was stoned to death by anti-government protesters and looters on January 15th.
In Harare there are credible reports of rape and arrests of children by police and soldiers.
Todd, a soft-spoken woman of 75, is no stranger to controversy. She has been on the front line of Zimbabwean politics for five decades, first as an opponent of minority rule and more recently against ousted president Robert Mugabe.
She and her missionary father – a former colonial prime minister – were imprisoned by the Ian Smith regime. Following independence in 1980 she initially supported Robert Mugabe but dramatically broke with him over the mass murders – genocide – in Matabeleland.
She was exiled and stripped of Zimbabwean citizenship by Mugabe but returned to the country ten years ago.
In an interview Todd professes optimism about Zimbabwe. She speaks of the “wonderful coup” of November 2017 in which Robert Mugabe was overthrown by current president Emmerson Mnangagwa and other military commanders who for decades were staunch Mugabe loyalists.
“The day after the coup,” she says, “I awoke with joy, a great burden lifted from my heart.”
Todd believes Mnangagwa is the person best suited to sort out the mess that exists in Zimbabwe.
“He and South African president Cyril Ramaphosa are parallel people,” she says, and “both are surrounded by enemies” determined to bring them down.
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