In slightly over 2 1/2 years of residence in DC, I have attended only two events at the Heritage Foundation, both of them screened documentaries on the political situation in Zimbabwe. Yesterday’s event explored civil rights in Zimbabwe through the prism of Zimbabwe’s activist lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa. Heritage lived up to some of its typical conservative stereotypes – with the exception of a Zimbabwean national and Alfre Woodward, I believe the entire audience was white. There was even a question post screening regarding the possibility of white farmers having their land returned.
I arrived as the Director, Lorie Conway was introducing the film. While it uses a decent amount of archival footage (particularly of protests in Harare), it was shot in 2012 over two different trips to Harare. I had not known that Mtetwa was born in Swaziland (she moved to Zim after marrying a man from there in the early 1980s), but Conway chronicled her homestead in that country, so presumably some footage was shot there, as well as in South Africa, where the main exiled white opposition politician, Roy Bennett resides. Bennett articulates his belief that ‘if it wasn’t for Beatrice, they would have killed me in that prison.”
Conway apparently became quite close to Bennett and his wife while producing the film; she mentions that it is likely that he will visit DC to bring attention to the political situation their in the period between the first round and a possible run-off. However, she shared the stage with a representative from the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights who did not seem optimistic that things would get that far.
Conway articulated three goals in her production of the documentary:
1. To show the value of legal action in support of human rights
2. To educate people in ill-governed countries on the importance of the rule of law (interesting)
3. To spread word about the work of Beatrice Mtetwa (Conway stated that she came to this goal only after work on the film was well underway. Also interesting)
To accomplish these objectives, she interviews a cast of characters who have been represented by Mtetwa. These include the former opposition mayor of Harare Elias Mudzuri and his wife, the activists Jenni Williams (who was recently in DC) and Jestina Mukoko, and several journalists, including Andrew Meldrum, an American journalists expelled from Zimbabwe in 2003 (Meldrum is also the one who apparently facilitated the connection between Conway and Mtetwa).
There are brief interviews with the infamous ZANU-PF politician, Jonathan Moyo (‘she is not a good lawyer’), the leading opposition politician, Morgan Tsvangirai, and Charles Ray, former US Ambassador.
However, it is certainly Beatrice Mtetwa who comes across with the most prominent personality. The film opens with her saying that when perpetrators of political crimes are trying to commit their machination under the cover of darkness, ‘I’ll be there with my headlights on.’
The film provides a limited biographical exploration of Mtetwa’s personal developments – she became inured to dealing with ‘imposing men’ beginning with run ins with her father and there are also interviews with several family members, including her sister and a daughter. The film was a bit simplistic at times, but on the whole, I found it quite enjoyable.
Zimbabwe’s election is only two days away. The US government has openly spoke of wanting to reengage with Robert Mugabe and ZANU – PF, provided they win a credible election. Mtetwa’s litigation shows us that this claim means that the USG is open to engaging with people who perpetrated heinous crimes. As a US citizen, I find such talk discouraging. However, it is obvious that Mtetwa and others have experienced much greater hardships. She concludes the film by articulating her belief that rule of law will return to Zim in her lifetime and asks, ‘somebody’s got to do it and why shouldn’t it be you?’