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In Zimbabwe, hope behind the horror

Peter Godwin's book, "The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe," is about more than tragedy.

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Q. You write about how you watched as Jim McGee, America's ambassador to Zimbabwe at the time, stood up to Mugabe's police forces and even dared them to shoot him. This happened while they tried to detain him and other diplomats during a tour of Zimbabwe areas hit by political violence. Was McGee – an African-American and veteran of the Air Force during the Vietnam War era – courageous or foolish or both?

That's the mold [McGee] is cast in: he's not a guy to shrink back. We'd spent the day talking to torture victims, and then when you first get sight of the people who are responsible for it, you've got this pent-up anger on behalf of all these victims.

In a sense, it may have been a little thing, but it was totemic and important. He's got diplomatic immunity, and he's the American ambassador. He was in danger. You never know, a junior soldier could have just shot him.

Jim knew that, but he was definitely pushing the envelope quite deliberately. At that point, we all felt hopeless. There was next to no media coverage about what was going on, and we were exasperated and frustrated and angry and feeling kind of powerless.

Q. Where do you see hope in Zimbabwe's situation?

The Zimbabweans have proven to be an amazing example of not giving up. The hope is in the pages of the book, in the people you meet. All the people want is free and fair elections. If democracy is restored, they can rehabilitate it amazingly quickly. The place has got such potential, and there are still institutional memories of how things work.

You realize that Zimbabwe doesn't need someone to come in and nation-build. It's got a nation. It just needs to express itself.

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Randy Dotinga is a regular contributor to the Monitor's book pages.

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