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Opinion: A photo Robert Mugabe does not want you to see

Police seize pictures of human rights abuses instead of arresting the perpetrators of atrocities.

This is one of 65 photos that President Robert Mugabe's government is preventing the Zimbabwean public from seeing at an art gallery in Harare. Zimbabwe's Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change leaves the Harare Magistrate's Court for medical attention March 13, 2007. Tsvangirai was sent to hospital with a deep head wound and swollen face. Tsvangirai said that he suffered "terrible" treatment in police custody. (Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — An incident at a Harare art gallery last week starkly illustrated the problems besetting Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government.

A photo exhibition showcasing gory pictures of victims of violence in the country’s 2008 elections was confiscated by the police, later returned to the organizers after they secured a court order and then hidden when the police threatened a second raid. The police wanted to see written permission from everybody featured in the 65 pictures.

In the midst of this tussle, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai formally opened the exhibit. A photo of him with a swollen face after a savage beating at a police station in March 2007 formed part of the display. Tsvangirai, who had instructed the minister responsible for the police to uphold the court order and return the pictures, said he felt sorrow not anger when he heard of the attempt to stifle the display.

“Anyone who believes they can deny the truth of our past is delusional,” he said. “Covering up old wounds can only make them fester.

The seizure of the photos in Harare did not happen in isolation. In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, police last week jailed artist Owen Maseko, for exhibiting paintings depicting the Gukurahundi massacres, in which Mugabe and the army's Fifth Brigade are blamed for killing more than 10,000 Ndebele civilians. Maseko was held in jail for four nights before being released on bail. The art gallery owner was jailed for one night and the paintings have been seized.

The Mugabe government is giving a clear message. It does not want the public to see any evidence that suggests it has committed any human rights abuses. At the Harare art gallery, Tsvangirai spoke out against Mugabe's heavy-handed attempts to prevent Zimbabwe from knowing its own history.  

“There is nothing new in this story,” Tsvangirai pointed out. “It reminds us of the trauma we went through as a nation. The reason why we are having this inclusive government is because of our desire to end the suffering of our people and say never again should we see a repeat of this.”

Tsvangirai said when he goes around the country he hears cries for revenge. “Forgiveness cannot happen in a vacuum,” Tsvangirai said. “There can be no real forgiveness without justice.”

Tsvangirai's remarks are timely. A delegation comprising ministers from both sides of the government of national unity is due to go to Europe where it will call for the removal of sanctions. This is Tsvangirai’s main concession to Mugabe and he is pressing ahead with it despite resistance from within his own ranks.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change is currently fashioning a parliamentary motion to name and shame those responsible for electoral violence. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF members walked out when the roll-call of the accused was read out.