Zimbabwe Vigil Diary – 7-9 December 2007

A Vigil team of about 30 grabbed the attention of the media during the EU/AU summit in Lisbon.

Telling Mugabe and Bashir to wake up

Thank you Mr Brown

Adella Chiminya signs the banner

Our demonstrations were shown on television all over the world. In Britain we were on BBC, ITV, Channel 4,and  Sky News.  We gave interviews to broadcasters and other journalists from all over the place: Finland, the Czech Republic, Voice of America, and were tracked for a TV documentary to be shown later.   
In Lisbon itself we became minor celebrities because we were on television every day. People greeted us when they saw our Vigil t-shirts. They agreed with our stand: ‘Super Bastardo’ was how Mugabe was described by one of our taxi drivers who had seen us on TV. (Our celebrity status extended to Luton when, on our return, we were recognised by an immigration official.)  
We staged demonstrations near the Summit meeting on all three days we were in Lisbon and, in between, plastered the city with our posters contrasting the living conditions of the poor in Zimbabwe to Mugabe’s new mansion.
On our first morning, on Friday, Fungayi Mabhunu and Farayi Madzamba were roped in by the group Crisis Coalition to play the roles of Mugabe and Sudan’s President Bashir for a stunt in which they were shown in bed with President Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany – the suggestion being that these two leaders were being soft in dealing with tyranny. The four playing the roles wore very realistic masks: no doubt many of you will have seen pictures in the papers showing them surrounded by Vigil supporters.  
On Saturday, the opening of the Summit, we staged a seven hour protest while our supporters in London held the normal Vigil outside Zimbabwe House. We certainly had better weather in Lisbon and felt sorry for our colleagues shivering in the wind and rain in London.  Thanks to Chipo Chaya, Luka Phiri, Gugu Ndlovu-Tutani, Sue Toft and Arnold Kuwewa who kept things going in London in our absence.  They were augmented by the prayer group, the Zimbabwe Watchmen.   
We wondered whether we would get any publicity at all given the saturation coverage our anti-Mugabe campaign had already received but the CIO came to our rescue.  They arranged a pro-Mugabe demonstration with the notorious George Shire (“Widening Participation Officer” of St Martin’s College of Art in London).  Among his supporters were several young women from Guinea-Bissau who had obviously been paid to take part.  We tried to talk to them but they knew no Zimbabwean languages.  Someone who could at least speak English was a Jamaican woman from Brixton in London who shouted racist abuse at her own MP, Kate Hoey, who joined us for the day.  The Jamaican asked us ‘Are you African? Why are you being used by whites?’  
The only person who managed to shut the Shire group up was Adella, wife of Tichaona Chiminya who was burnt to death by Mugabe agents in 2002. She said “You have left my children fatherless” – referring to the murder of her husband. The pro-Mugabe demonstration guaranteed we would achieve our aim and keep Zimbabwe  on top of the Summit agenda.  
Armed police separated us from the Mugabe group, who were penned in on one side of the square, together with Gadaffi supporters flown in for the Summit.  We were kept on the other side, together with anti-Gadaffi demonstrators and a group demanding freedom for Cabinda in Angola.  By the end of the day we were firm friends with the other antis: the Libyans gave us their loudspeaker when they left and the Angolans gave us their t-shirts.  This was after both groups joined us in singing ‘Nkosi Sikilele’. Media interest was further heightened when police wrestled to the ground and arrested two pro-Mugabe people when they tried to cause problems.
On the final day of the Summit, we staged another demonstration in case the Mugabe hirelings were there.  But Mugabe had obviously decided that enough had been spent on a losing cause and the money could be better spent stocking up on electricity, water, bread and other essentials from the local boutiques. Only the Gadaffi supporters were on the other side of the square – but they have oil money! As everyone says, if only Zimbabwe had oil (rather than diesel coming from the rocks).

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