[Author’s note: Every italicized section of this essay is from Rod Serling’s introductory narration for a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone (episode #73, “It’s a Good Life,” starring Billy Mumy)—except for the final italicized section, which is taken from the closing narration for that same episode.]
This … is a map of the United States, and there’s a little town there called Peaksville. On a given morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed and only Peaksville left untouched or whether the village had somehow been taken away. They were, on the other hand, sure of one thing: the cause. A monster had arrived in the village. Just by using his mind, he took away the automobiles, the electricity, the machines—because they displeased him—and he moved an entire community back into the dark ages …
Robert Mugabe has led the government of Zimbabwe since the country’s birth in 1980. He was Prime Minister from 1980 to 1987. In 1987 he became the country’s first President and abolished the post of Prime Minister.
Zimbabwe’s annual inflation was below 12 percent during the late 1980s. At that time, Zimbabwe’s economy was one of the strongest in Africa.
Today the Zimbabwean economy lies in ruins: The current annual inflation rate is officially (according to Mugabe’s government) over 164,000 percent; but private sector economists estimate the rate at between 1.5 and 2 million percent.
Recently the price of a liter of Coke rose from 200 million Zimbabwean dollars to 1.4 billion in one week. This is equivalent to the cost of a liter of Coke rising from one U.S. dollar to seven U.S. dollars—or seven dollars to 49—in one week.
According to researchers at the University of Zimbabwe, annual agricultural production decreased by 51 percent between 2000 and 2007.
The unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is over 80 percent.
But because of the hyperinflation, even many of those few Zimbabweans with jobs can no longer afford to buy even basic necessities. Much of people’s day-to-day economic activity is now taking the form of barter. People are simply trading whatever things they can produce, since the value of cash is next to zero and constantly decreasing.
Average life expectancy in Zimbabwe has dropped from 63 years in 1990 to below 37 years today. In fact, Zimbabwe—a country rich in natural resources such as gold, platinum, and coal—now has the lowest life expectancy in the world.
This is Aunt Amy, who probably had more control over the monster in the beginning than almost anyone. But one day … she began to sing aloud. The monster doesn’t like singing, so his mind snapped at her—turned her into the smiling, vacant thing you’re looking at now. She sings no more.
The opposition party in Zimbabwe is known as the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In June 2008, the MDC’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, pulled out of a scheduled presidential run-off, stating that he did not want to put his supporters at further risk, and that there was no point in his running since the elections would not be free and fair and the outcome would be determined by Mugabe himself.
Upon withdrawing from the run-off, Tsvangirai sought refuge at the Dutch Embassy in Harare (the capital of Zimbabwe), saying that he feared for his life. He had been arrested several times while campaigning, and his top aide, Tendai Biti, was in government custody at an unknown location, charged with treason—a crime punishable by death. The MDC said that 86 of its supporters had recently been killed and 200,000 forced from their homes by militia-gangs loyal to Mugabe.
Several weeks before Tsvangirai pulled out of the presidential run-off, the run-off had been triggered by a stunning result in a presidential election, in which Tsvangirai had garnered 49 percent of the popular vote compared with Mugabe’s 42 percent—despite the tactics of intimidation and violence by Mugabe’s henchmen against MDC members. However, since neither candidate had received a majority of the vote according to the government’s count, the run-off was declared.
The day before the run-off, the bodies of seven MDC supporters were found in the town of Epworth.
You’ll note that the people in Peaksville, Ohio, have to smile. They have to think happy thoughts and say happy things because once displeased, the monster can wish them into “a cornfield” or change them into a grotesque, walking horror. This particular monster can read minds, you see. He knows every thought; he can feel every emotion.
In 2008 it has been widely reported that Mugabe’s security forces have taken an active role in intimidating citizens into attending rallies for Mugabe and his subordinates—even going so far as to visit local businesses and tell the owners and workers that they must close shop and attend the rallies.
And even though Mugabe was the only candidate on the ballot for the June 2008 run-off, numerous reports from inside Zimbabwe contained accounts of roving bands of Mugabe supporters assaulting any citizens found without an ink-stained finger to prove that they had voted. There were also reports of citizens’ identity numbers being written on the backs of ballots, citizens being forced to show their ballots to authorities before dropping the ballots into boxes, and people being told they must declare themselves as illiterate so that an election-worker could guide them in their filling out of the ballot.
Some MDC supporters who’ve survived abductions and beatings have reported that their assailants referred to “Operation Where You Put Your X”—the street-name for the concerted campaign of violence and intimidation designed to force citizens to vote for Mugabe.
Oh yes, I did forget something, didn’t I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster. His name is Anthony Fremont. He’s six years old, with a cute little-boy face and blue, guileless eyes.
Robert Mugabe is a highly educated man. He was raised Catholic and as a child studied in Catholic schools run by Marists and Jesuits. In his youth he was known as a serious student who spent most of his time with the priests or his mother or at the school libraries.
He has four bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees. Two of his six degrees were earned while he was a political prisoner during the 1960s and 1970s as an opponent of the white minority-rule government of the British colony of Rhodesia. Once released, Mugabe was instrumental in the Rhodesian Bush War (later known as the Zimbabwe Liberation Struggle), which resulted in the fall of that government and the transformation of the colony of Rhodesia into the new independent nation of Zimbabwe.
At that time—in 1980—Mugabe was hailed as a national hero and elected the inaugural Prime Minister of the fledgling nation.
But when those eyes look at you, you’d better start thinking happy thoughts, because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge. This is the Twilight Zone.
Today, 28 years later, the horrific attacks on Mugabe’s political opponents have extended to the wives and children of those opponents.
On June 6, 2008, three white pickup trucks pulled up to the house of Patson Chipiro, the local leader of the MDC in Mhondoro (near Harare). Chipiro’s wife, Dadirai Chipiro, told the men that her husband was in Harare but would be back by the evening. The men left but returned an hour later and chopped off one of Dadirai Chipiro’s hands and both of her feet. Then they threw the already-dying woman into a hut, locked her inside, and threw a gas-bomb through the window.
Dadirai, a 45-year-old former pre-school teacher, died in the fire.
When Chipiro returned home to find all three of his huts on fire, he at first thought that his wife was hiding in the bushes. But soon his four-year-old nephew, Admire—who had witnessed the mutilation and burning—ran to his uncle and said, “Auntie has been beaten, and they threw her in the fire.”
On June 16, one of Mugabe’s death squads abducted 27-year-old Abigal Chiroto and her four-year-old son. Abigal was the wife of the just-elected mayor of Harare, Emmanuel Chiroto, a member of the MDC. The abductors set the house on fire before leaving with the woman and child. Hours later they released the boy at a police station. Abigal’s body was found a few days later, so severely beaten that a relative could only identify her by her clothing and hair.
These are two of dozens of examples of MDC members and their family members being murdered for their opposition. Tens of thousands of MDC supporters have been intimidated, harassed, beaten, and/or driven from their homes.
No comment here, no comment at all. We only wanted to introduce you to one of our very special citizens, little Anthony Fremont, age six, who lives in a village called Peaksville in a place that used to be Ohio. And if by some strange chance you should run across him, you had best think only good thoughts. Anything less than that is handled at your own risk, because if you do meet Anthony you can be sure of one thing: You have entered the Twilight Zone.
|Ranjit Souri (rjsouri [at] gmail [dot] com) teaches classes in improvisation, comedy writing, and creative non-fiction in Chicago.|