In the opening chapter of The Fear, author Peter Godwin writes with great excitement, “I am on my way home to Zimbabwe, to dance on Robert Mugabe’s political grave.”
Unfortunately for the people of Zimbabwe, things haven’t turned out as expected.
While political upheaval in 2011 is pushing to topple dictatorships in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, Mugabe is still the president of Zimbabwe. He recently marked his 87th birthday,along with his 23rd anniversary as the ruler of the impoverished African nation. Mugabe lives in a palace and is chauffeured in a Rolls Royce. His fellow countrymen, meanwhile, have an average life expectancy of 37 years, suffer from starvation and are subjected to violence at the hands of his political regime.
When Godwin was beginning to write The Fear in 2008, Mugabe had just lost an election, and it was the hope of many in Zimbabwe that his reign of terror was through. But like many political strongmen, Mugabe refused to yield, and he subsequently cut a power-sharing deal to remain in power. Contrasted with the successful uprisings elsewhere in the world today, that anticlimactic result is disappointing to read about. Yet The Fear is as much Godwin’s personal story as it is a profile of Robert Mugabe, and he keeps the story consistently engaging.
Godwin spent his childhood in Zimbabwe, his family being among the few whites in the country. Returning in 2008, he visits the old homestead where he was raised, only to find it in ruins. He visits the grave of his sister, who died during Zimbabwe’s civil war. He calls his aging mother, in exile in London, to relate his experiences, and hears her tearful reactions on the phone. On a broader scale, Godwin witnesses the continued troubles of his homeland: death squads, torture camps, burning villages. The pain he feels is both individual and universal.
The hope is that by exposing the struggles of Zimbabwe in a book like The Fear, it will spark some meaningful changes, eliminate the stranglehold of dictatorship, wash away the terror and restore freedom. That way, maybe someday Peter Godwin can go home and celebrate with a victory dance.