Once a British colony, Zimbabwe is a country in Africa with a population of 13 million. Robert Mugabe won the first post-colonial election in 1980, and has remained in power since then. In the first decade of his rule, access to health and education dramatically improved for most citizens, but the last decade has reversed many of these gains and plunged Zimbabwe into political and economic crisis.
Robin Hammond – Your wounds will be named silence
“I first visited Harare as a photojournalist in 2007. By the end of 2008, after four separate difficult assignments the country’s economic crisis and the arresting poverty and political violence had left me emotionally and physically wrung out. The reason? It was a situation without hope. The economy was imploding, impoverishing millions, while the leaders responsible flew in chartered planes to the other side of the world for shopping trips. Many Zimbabweans felt that way too, and hundreds of thousands had already left for South Africa. I even helped some of them escape. I understood exactly why they wanted to leave. I didn’t want to be there either.
2008 was also the year when Zimbabwe’s opposition party, the MDC, won one election and then their supporters were beaten, killed and tortured until they withdrew from another. It was also the year Robert Mugabe, with the wave of a manicured hand, denied there was cholera in his stricken country shortly before I covertly photographed a mobile clinic full of semi-conscious victims of the disease. Men who spoke out against the government were killed and children died because hospitals ran out of antibiotics.
By the end of 2008 I had seen too many bodies buried and too many hearts broken. After two years in and out of the country I found myself filled with despair, yet as a foreigner it was only a small taste of what a generation of Zimbabweans had endured. I didn’t want to go back, I decided to focus on other projects in Asia and other parts of Africa, but Zimbabwe always, somehow, draws you back.
In 2009 I found myself crossing the border into a country I had effectively stopped reporting from. From South Africa I drove across the border and within 24 hours I had become one of the first journalists to enter the Marange diamond fields since the massacres of 2008. There I documented military syndicates mining diamonds in contravention of the Kimberly Process. It was one of the most dangerous journeys of my life. That documentary gained global attention, won an Amnesty International Award and evidence gained from the trip was submitted to the United Nations as proof of violent atrocities being carried out by Robert Mugabe’s regime in the relentless pursuit of blood diamonds.
I felt that after that report I should leave Zimbabwe for a while and I withdrew again to focus on other issues around the world. But Zimbabwe would not leave me for too long. In October 2011 while on assignment in one of South Africa’s biggest townships, Khayelitsha, I received a call from Edouard Carmignac. I had been awarded the Carmignac photojournalism Award. (…) But with this amazing opportunity also came enormous responsibility and risk: Responsibility to the Zimbabwean people whose story’s needed to be told, and risk to myself. I would have to travel further across and deeper into Zimbabwe than ever before to tell this story: to document the people of Zimbabwe and the suffering they’ve endured.”
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- Susan Meiselas jury chairman, president of the Magnum Foundation in New York
- Massimo Berruti documentary photographer, winner of the 2010 Carmignac Gestion photojournalism award 2010
- Sophie Bouillon journalist, Albert Londres Prize 2009
- Christian Caujolle journalist, curator and founder of VU’ agency and gallery
- Philippe Guionie documentary photographer, Roger Pic Prize 2008
- Françoise Huguier photographer, curator of Photoquai 2011
- Yacouba Konaté professor at the University of Abidjan and art critic
- Alessandra Mauro artistic director of the International Photography Centre in Milan
- Patrick de Saint Exupéry editor in chief of the magazine XXI