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Robert Mugabe's men tortured my school pal, Mark Chavunduka, but I'm still not celebrating his arrest

By Mark Olden

The war was over, as was 90 years of white domination. Rhodesia was no more. Its former Prime Minister Ian Smith's claim that he didn't believe in black majority rule - "ever in Rhodesia, not in 1,000 years" - was dust.

Robert Mugabe, whose name had been banned in the local Press, who had been jailed for 11 years for political activities, survived assassination attempts and called a "black Hitler" was our new leader.

The white pupils froze. Almost as one, the black children jumped out of their seats, tore out of the classroom and sprinted towards the swimming pool, dancing and making whooping cockerel sounds - "jongwe" in Shona being the symbol of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) party, which had just won the country's first democratic election. I followed them, caught in the moment, but not fully part of it.

This reaction - stunned fear among white people, jubilation among black people - echoed across the land.

In his first television address, Prime Minister-elect Mugabe said: "Let us forgive and forget; let us join hands in a new amity." He encouraged white people to stay and rebuild the nation.

In Zimbabwe this week, the realignments have not been so subtle.

The state-owned Herald newspaper, a propaganda tool in the days of Ian Smith and ever since, went from denouncing the "treasonous" statements of Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) Commander General Constantine Chiwenga, the man who led the bloodless coup, to less than 24 hours later running his speech on its front page.

On Tuesday, Kudzai Chipanga, leader of the Zanu-PF party's youth league, said that they were prepared to die to defend President Mugabe and the revolution.

On Wednesday, he apologised on state television for the statement, which he said he was "ill-advised" to have read and had not authored: "We are still young people, we are still growing up, we learn from our mistakes and from this big mistake we have learned a lot."

There have been other reported attempts at military coup during Mugabe's reign.

In 1999, the Zimbabwe Standard ran a story that 23 soldiers were being held in Harare's Chikurubi prison pending court martial after an attempted military coup. The Editor of the paper was Mark Chavunduka.

Mark was my classmate for six years and was one of the jubilant children who ran out of the room celebrating Mugabe's victory in March 1980.

After his paper ran the coup story, Mark was arrested and questioned. He and Ray Choto, the author of the article, were held in adjacent cells. They heard each other's screams as they were beaten with fists, wooden planks and rubber sticks.

After nine days, Mark and his reporter appeared in court, limping, disoriented and with swollen limbs. They were charged with "publishing a false story capable of causing alarm and despondency" under Section 50 of the Law and Order Maintenance Act, which had been introduced by Ian Smith to target the likes of Mugabe. A medical examination proved beyond doubt that they had both been severely tortured.

Mugabe came on television and said: "Any media organisation which wilfully suspends truth necessarily forfeits its right to inform and must not cry foul when extraordinary reaction visits them."

In the years after this, I would meet Mark when he visited London, and drink with him in the Africa Centre in Covent Garden, or - defiantly, considering it was populated by Zanu-PF supporters and officials - in the bar in the Zimbabwe Embassy on the Strand.

Mark refused to leave Zimbabwe, despite reportedly being on a death list. "I don't want to give Mugabe the satisfaction of saying he's chased away the 'troublemakers'.

"If all of us who aren't happy with the way things are sought asylum, nothing will change."

Mark died in 2002. Change has finally come to Zimbabwe, but, as yet, the euphoria is on hold.

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