First a bit of background.
In recent months, a local pressure group called Stratford Voice, has been locked in a bitter struggle with local government over a proposal to place another bridge across the Avon. They argue that it would spoil the historic view of the river... and that it would undoubtedly result in land on the far side of the river being converted into parking spaces to boost the revenue of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre which is currently undergoing a renovation programme.
I won't dispute the plausibility of either of those arguments, they could easily be the truth. Whether or not the arguments are being made on a purely nimbyistic crusade is something I leave up to you - the discerning reader.
The group is chaired by a man called Martyn Luscombe and it is his latest comments that I wish to strongly criticise.
Mr Luscombe foolishly drew comparisons between Stratford-upon-Avon's backyard scuffle... and the plight of Zimbabwe. While it is true that the newspaper amplified the sentiment around his words by elaborating a little on what is actually going on in that country; the simple fact remains that it was an incredibly imbecilic argument to make... even as hyperbole it is vulgar, distasteful and completely out of order to suggest the comparison.
While it is true that local government may well ignore the the voice of popular opinion among the local residents... it is there that any comparison ends. Ironically Mr Luscombe, speaking out of turn in an attempt to defeat the footbridge proposals, may well have crossed "a bridge too far" of his own.... and at the end of the day, his battle is just about a bridge... and not about a collapsing economy or the brutal suppression of a nation's citizens.
Mr Luscombe and the people of Stratford will not be suffering any form of torture or severe intimidation, for making their views known. Here are a few examples from Amnesty International of what might be expected if they were in the crisis ridden Zimbabwe and not affluent Stratford-upon-Avon:
- In MDC activist in Mashonaland West province was stabbed to death on 13 April by ZANU-PF supporters outside his house, according to local reports. His brother, a 58-year-old man, also an MDC member from Mashonaland West, reported that three groups of about 60 ZANU-PF supporters came to the MDC activist’s house and started throwing stones asking him to come out because they wanted to "sort him out".
- Though nine other MDC members also gathered at his house and retaliated by throwing back the stones, they were out-numbered by the ZANU-PF supporters. The ZANU-PF supporters managed to reach his house and abduct his brother, the MDC activist. The MDC activist was stabbed twice with a knife in the stomach and died at the scene. The brother of the deceased also suffered serious injuries and had to be hospitalised. The case was reported to the police who are reported to have said they were too afraid to intervene.
- A 21-year-old woman in Harare, an MDC activist, was woken up during the night on 30 March 2008 by ZANU-PF supporters after she had been celebrating the victory of MDC councillors in the election. The ZANU-PF supporters took her from her house and assaulted her with clenched fists and sjamboks [whips].
- A 30-year-old man from Mashonaland East province reported that, on 9 April, a group of "war veterans" burnt down three houses at about 11pm. The inhabitants had previously received a tip-off that this would happen and had fled to the bush.
- On another occasion, nine people from a residential area in Harare were detained, while they were attending a funeral, by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police Support Unit and other people suspected to be members of the Zimbabwe National Army who were dressed in plain clothes.
- On 16 April, 22 people were abducted by soldiers and ZANU-PF supporters from their homes in a high density suburb outside Harare city centre during the early hours of the morning. Some of the people were assaulted with booted feet and slapped all over the body.
You can read Amnesty International's full report by following this link. You can also read this report on the BBC News website for more information.
No further elaboration is needed. Stratford Voice and Zimbabwe are poles apart... it was completely inexcusable for the pressure group to make such an analogy and Mr Luscombe should apologise immediately.
If anything positive has come out of this debacle at all; it is that the plight of Zimbabweans gets a little bit more publicity. If that helps to expose the corruption within Zanu-PF and expedite the collapse of Robert Mugabe's iron fisted reign... or even if it merely motivates people to see what they can do to help... then there will have been something good as a byproduct.