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4.2 out of 5 stars17
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 11 July 2010
This is an excellent book. Too long have didactic books been written about Zimbabwe representing the situation in warped and simplistic ways. Barclay's book does not. It looks at the 2008 elections and what unfolded thereafter in a subtle and honest style - using the smaller events to illustrate the bigger problems. The stories of the 'everyman and woman' are told as they come - raw and complicated. Barclay's own experiences and insights help to weave an image of Zimbabwe as so many Zimbabweans see it - with no binaries and no answers. It is hard and messy and this book tells the truth intelligently and beautifully. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the broader politics of recent Zimbabwean history, as well as the experiences of the people on the ground.
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on 24 July 2010
a fascinating book,it far exceeded my expectations. a very fair unbiased account of the tragedy of Zimbabwe. A once great country reduced to poverty and despair by a brutal, egotistic, racist regime. Essential reading.
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on 5 October 2010
Barclay's book reflects his personal experience during a relatively short period of service in the British Embassy in Harare. The book breathes love and respect for Zimbabwe as a country and its people, covering only the last couple of years prior to 2010 and centring on the national elections. It relates a wealth of personal experience in which the author of the book often took considerable personal risk when trying to file detailed reports abroad and trying to help Zimbabweans he knew personally. For readers who want to know more of the history of Zimbabwe all the way back to the time when Mugabe came to power, other books on Zimbabwe may be more appropriate. Barclay touches only briefly on the subject trying to provide a background.

All in all. a book written with passion and well worth reading.
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on 18 December 2014
This is a detailed account of the 2008 elections seen by a person who was new to Zimbabwe, did not have the historical baggage so to speak, so started from an outsiders perspective, learning about the country and integrating with her people. I had a similar view as Chimurenga Boy to the point that my gut tightens when there is a reference to a society run for white pleasure and convienance as this was not the case. As usual, I ignored the anti-colonial nonsense and continued to listen (i obtained the audio book version). Over time the author starts to understand Zimbabwe's problems that is not immediately obvious on the surface. He details the elections in depth, visiting many different locations and explains what was happening in the rural areas. He takes the reader through the journey of the "stolen" election and the events that followed, people were trapped, harrassed and taught a very hard lesson for expressing their desire for change in the country. He clearly felt deeply for the country and its problems while recognising that the international community, in particular the SADC just let the Zimbabwe people suffer in a so called "democractic" environment. It's tough reading and gives a unique detailed slice of history of those specific years.

On the audio version, a couple of the place names weren't pronounced correctly, but this didn't detract from the enjoyment of hearing it.
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on 31 December 2010
This book was desribed as "chilling and heartbreaking" on the back cover. I agree. I also agree with the sentiment of one of your other reviewers; I was left with an overwhelming sense of sadness that the hopes and aspirations of a courageous people have been brutally quashed for the foreseeable future.

I endorse the review, word for word, of the first seven lines of the earlier review of this book by "Chimurenga Boy". I too was incensed by the casual statement that "Rhodesia was a society run for white pleasure and convenience". This is sloppy and unprofesional journalism on the part of Philip Barclay and betrays either his own political leanings or simply reflects what he may have been told, without taking the time or effort to ivestigate the full picture. Rhodesia wasn't the Happy Valley of Kenya as described in the movies. Whilst there may have been some or even many white farmers with views that the author may not have liked, this doesn't mean that everyone shared these views or should be tarred with the same brush.

However, Chimurenga Boy, was completely wrong to dismiss the book and he should have persevered. It was not an enjoyable read because of the subject matter, but the book is excellent, well written, and deserves to be read by a wider audience interested in events in Africa and those wishing to understand the unwillingness and impotence of the rest of the world to do anything positive to alleviate the suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans. The book was necessarily very detailed on the flawed election process of 2008 and those wishing to understand more about the wider picture will need to read accounts by other writers.
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VINE VOICEon 23 July 2011
Zimbabwe provides an example of Marxism in action, ruled by a corrupt regime, dominated by the cult of personality, committing atrocities against dissidents and creating fairy tales to excuse its continued abuse of human rights. One wonders why left-wing critics of British foreign policy ignore the injustices suffered by Zimbabweans, unless they actually believe Gordon Brown was responsible for the cholera outbreak in 2008 as a prelude to invasion by Britain and the United States. The late Ian Smith declared Mugabe was "mentally deranged" and the Zimbabwean regime's denial of reality provides proof of the accuracy of Smith's statement.

Mugabe was one of the founders of ZAPU, a Marxist organisation led by Joshua Nkomo which employed a two pronged approach of negotiation and guerilla warfare while seeking Rhodesian independence in the 1960s. ZAPU was a multi-ethnic party with close ties with the Soviet Union. Unable to wrest control of ZAPU from Nkomo, Mugabe and Ndabaningi Sithole founded ZANU which itself split when Sithole renounced violence and Mugabe took control of ZANU whose membership was overwhelmingly from his own Shona tribe. Mugabe set up links with China and North Korea, using the latter to train Zimbabwean troops. These were employed during the 1980s to attack Nkomo's Ndebele tribe who had dominated the Shona in pre-colonial times. It is estimated that at least 20,000 people died. The West and Africa as a whole ignored the situation (where was John Pilger one wonders?) providing Mugabe with the confidence that he could literally get away with murder. In 1987 ZANU and ZAPU merged as ZAPU - PF, the latter standing for Patriotic Front.

Relations with the United Kingdom deteriorated once New Labour came to power. Clare Short was appointed Minister for International Development presumably as part of New Labour's ethical foreign policy) and told Mugabe that his plans for land reform were unacceptable because of the damage they would cause to Zimbabwe's agricultural output and adverse affect on inward investment. Short was proved right but her approach provided Mugabe with a narrative that argued the former colonial power had deserted undertakings to fund land reform. Mugabe wrapped his policy with a tirade against white farmers (most of whom were Zimbabwean by birth) and a need to satisfy the demands of war veterans who were incensed by the regime's corruption which robbed them of monies they considered was rightly theirs. Mugabe's second wife, Grace, known as "grasping Grace", was a target for resentment owing to her extravagant life style which included expensive shopping trips abroad and the building of two palaces. To satisfy the veterans Mugabe began to print money which led to astronomical inflation rates and undermined the Zimbabwean economy.

In addition, Mugabe was confronted with political opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), founded by Morgan Tsvangirai, which attracted support in rural and urban areas as well as white farmers. Mugabe's response established a pattern which has been followed in all elections in the twenty-first century. The tactics were "characterised by several months of intolerant language of intolerant language, abuse of state resources to favour the ruling party and widespread violence including substantial numbers of murders, rapes and serious beatings. But the conduct of the election days themselves were good." Malpractice, including amending results in favour of Mugabe, came after the counts ended. This was reinforced by appropriating food supplies for his supporters. Barclay witnessed this first hand at a school opening ceremony when he and a local Zimbabwean MP were each given a sack of maize meal. Knowing how scarce food was Barclay gave his sack to the head teacher and asked that it be used for school lunches. There was a delay in leaving when the MP's car stopped. Within minutes Barclay's sack of maize was loaded into the boot of the MP's car.

Mugabe's regime did not confine itself to acts of theft. Tsvangirai and over a hundred opposition activists were detained for three nights at the start of the 2007 election campaign, Tsvangirai suffering a fractured skull. A cross-party group of MP's due to attend an international meeting of parliamentarians was stopped and the MDC's Nelson Chamisa savagely beaten. Mugabe sought to characterise the MDC as agents of imperialist nations seeking to subordinate blacks to whites. In the eight years of land reform the production of cash crops such as tobacco and coffee fell by 80 per cent. Production of maize was down by 50 per cent as Zimbabwe became a food importer rather than a food exporter. Foreign exchange earnings fell from more than a billion pounds a year to less than a hundred million. By 2008 the annual inflation rate was 26,471 per cent, but then Marxists never did understand economics!!

Mugabe lost that year's Parliamentary election but remained President which enabled him to control the army. There were suggestions that he was prepared to step down but was persuaded by his military cronies, fearful of an investigation into their atrocities, not to do so. He was helped too by divisions within the MDC some of whom considered taking part in government while comrades were incarcerated a humiliation. This was made worse by the appalling starvation that annually reduced prison numbers by five percent.

Barclay had a degree of sympathy for the white farmers whose numbers have dwindled from 400,000 to 40,000, although their attitude towards blacks would not have been out of place in Mississippi in the 1950s. He suggests that had they considered managerial roles for their workers it might have created a bulwark against Mugabe's land grab policy. Mugabe has brought Zimbabwe to its knees and recovery appears impossible while he remains in power. Barclay comments,"The old guard in Zimbabwe....... will never surrender power willingly because of something so impotent as an electoral defeat." Mugabe and Marxism have betrayed the independence movement and this book shows how. Five stars.
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on 30 May 2010
A deeply moving book. I was left with an overwhelming sense of sadness that the hopes of a courageous people have been so brutally quashed.
S E L Robinson
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on 22 April 2016
Utterly self-opinionated, riddled with left wing simplistic snap judgements. Lacks depth or any sort intellectual rigour. Avoid at all costs unless you read the Guardian and are comfortable in the world of Corbyn chattering classes who know it all, criticise and snipe, yet know nothing about another countries actual complexities and realities, I am not surprised that Barclay has not published anything else since(?) and has probably fled back to the junior levels of the diplomatic core to scape a living as he probably couldn't succeed as an author based on this work.
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on 26 May 2010
This book is an incredible insight into the workings of this troubled country. Philip Barclays rare first hand view of events is a really compelling read.
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on 21 August 2010
A well written book that is difficult to put down. So good to have the view of an unbiassed observer.
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