Godwin (When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa, 2007, etc.), a white Zimbabwean journalist schooled in and relocated to England, bears brave witness to the last brutal days of Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship.
The author managed to infiltrate his devastated homeland during several months in 2008, when the 84-year-old dictator was finally voted out of power yet held on by a savage reign of terror and violence. Along with his younger sister, Georgina, a London broadcaster, Godwin toured the scarred land, interviewing victims of torture, rape and forcible land seizure, as well as officials such as the British and American ambassadors and the presidential opposition leader who was forced to drop out of the running. The author’s account is harrowing and not for the faint-hearted. For example, visiting the south, where he and Georgina grew up, they spied people being pushed home in wheelbarrows, and only later did they learn that these were torture victims of Mugabe’s interrogation houses, too weak to walk. Moreover, the hospitals began to fill with people battered because they dared to vote for the opposition. In the offices of the Counseling Services Unit in Harare, victims limped in, still in shock. Godwin relates these stories in pointed, immediate prose, as he, too, was horrified and amazed at this “torture factory,” a system which “is ordained from the top, it is hierarchical, planned and plotted.” With foreign journalists strictly banned from the country, the opposition removed to South Africa and the diplomatic community cowed but attempting “smart sanctions,” Godwin’s work serves as an invaluable, urgent dispatch from a country in the throes of an international humanitarian crisis.
The author’s return to his beloved homeland transformed by violence and no longer familiar proves heart-wrenching and extremely moving.