In 2002, millions of gallons of ground water in the American West were being disposed of in the rush to drill for gas. This episode of NOW with Bill Moyers went to the Powder River region of northern Wyoming to examine the impact of methane gas drilling on ranchers, the land, and our water supply. As Rancher Bill West said: “It took thousands of years to recharge these aquifers. But they’re pumping it out and in maybe ten years it will be gone.”
The second segment looked at racial and power struggles in Zimbabwe’s impending election.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to NOW.
There’s nothing short of a transformation underway in the vast landscape of America, and it’s not just urban sprawl. The great American West is about to experience a new gold rush.
The wealth this time will not be in gold nuggets but in oil rigs, methane and natural gas wells, and coal mines. President Bush wants more drilling, more mining, and more logging on public lands. So companies are getting a green light to exploit much of the 700 million acres controlled by the federal government.
We can see what this means by taking you to the Powder River region of northern Wyoming.
BILL MOYERS: We’re the most energy-consuming people on the planet, we Americans — and we’re always hungry for more. Turning on the lights, turning up the thermostat and turning on the ignition mean burning more and more fossil fuel, the gift of the dinosaurs. We are the demand. Supplying our demand is changing the earth . . .
You see our impact here in the Powder River Basin of northern Wyoming. This is the largest coal producing area in America. Fourteen mines running in a line 70 miles along the eastern edge of the basin provide one-third of all our coal. This is where the underground minerals rise to the surface — and the impact of our choices becomes clear. Below ground is energy and profit for fossil fuel companies and producers. Above is grass and dust, wind and sky, cattle and hard work. It’s a way of life these ranchers inherited from the last century.
JILL MORRISON: People that live on the land, particularly here in Wyoming, very con
MOYERS: Jill Morrison is an organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council. They’re ranchers who first fought surface mining 28 years ago. Most of them thought that was the end of the struggle, because most of the coal in the basin is too deep to mine. But about five years ago, somebody figured out how to drill under the cattle pastures for the methane gas that surrounds the coal.
MORRISON: All of a sudden someone’s knocking at your door and says hey, I’m coming in with a drill rig because I own the minerals beneath your property and I have the right to come and develop them. And sorry, sorry, it’s going to turn your life upside down for the next ten or fifteen years.
MOYERS: From the time settlers began homesteading the West, mineral rights were bought and sold separately from the surface land. By common practice and legal precedent, Wyoming ranchers who don’t control their own mineral rights must give access to the oil and gas producers.
JOHN KENNEDY/KENNEDY OIL AND GAS: The dominant usage here is the minerals. And producers can go in and develop the minerals, without the consent of the surface owners. . . . The surface land owner can’t exclude, the development of those minerals. So he doesn’t have the right to stop that development. The minerals have – they come first in line. . . . so, that’s just too bad.
BILL WEST: Each well is supposed to last, they estimate 10 years, but they’re still drilling more wells. It could be maybe another twenty years before, they’re still drilling. So that’s a long time, I think, they’ll be producing.
MOYERS: There are 13,000 wells now in the basin, with hundreds more going up every week. Methane producers pay gas royalties to ranchers who own their own minerals and much lower surface fees to ranchers who don’t.
JILL MORRISON: There’s the mineral owners who are making a lot of money and the surface owners who are just getting a little money, or the people who happen to be lucky enough, that small minority that owns both the mineral and the surface, who really wants the development because it is going to be a lot of money for them. So they’re pitted against their neighbor who’s next to them or downstream from them who’s experiencing the damages.
MOYERS: Ranchers welcome the income from the deal. But they are also finding out that the drilling can quite literally cost them the ranch. The coal seams run deep under the Powder River Basin. To get the methane gas, the developer has to drill a shaft down to the coal bed and remove the water that holds the gas in place. The gas flows into a pipeline — and the water becomes a nuisance, an unwanted byproduct to throw away. Developers are dumping more than sixty million gallons of water a day on basin ranchlands. They call this technique “de-watering.” Others call it a waste of this region’s most precious and endangered resource.
WALT MERSCHAT: Water was gold in Wyoming. I mean, if you did anything to anybody’s water rights, you know, you got in a gun battle? . . . Now all of a sudden we’re dumping water on the surface in proportions never seen before from precipitation. Maybe 10,000 years ago during the last big glacial period . . . .
MOYERS: Walt Merschat is a geologist who has seen the damage done by coalbed methane drilling elsewhere in the West. He advises members of the Powder River Resource Council on what to look out for.
WALT MERSCHAT: Any vegetation lost in the field?
BILL WEST: Yes. We lost 200 cottonwood trees and —
WALT MERSCHAT: And how old were they?
BILL WEST: Oh, up to 200 years old, some of them.
WALT MERSCHAT: Two-hundred-year- old trees and now they’re dying which means it’s not a drought, it’s something different that’s causing that, right?
MOYERS: The waste water from methane drilling is often polluted with too much salt, calcium and manganese, all of which can kill vegetation. The highly explosive methane itself also poses a risk if it vents directly to the surface.
WALT MERSCHAT: You don’t go underneath there and light a cigarette do you?
BILL WEST: You can see the fire, the burnt place on the board.
JILL MORRISON: Oh, yeah.
WALT MERSCHAT: You did that?
BILL WEST: Yeah. We lit a match and, it flamed up six feet.
WALT MERSCHAT: I don’t think they’d get angry if you heated your house with it. I mean, there’s a lot of methane coming out —
MARGE WEST: There is a lot in there.
BILL WEST: Yeah, that would heat a house there.
WALT MERSCHAT: I heard of . . . a rancher . . . got up one morning and had eight or ten cattle dead besides one of their water tanks.
MARGE WEST: Really? . . . And you see with this water, it kills the lawn; however, without the water, the lawn turns brown anyway because it dries – dies for lack of water. So it’s…
BILL WEST: It keeps it green but it won’t grow.
MARGE WEST: Yeah. It’s like a two-headed dragon – you know, no matter what you do, you’re wrong.
WALT MERSCHAT: It isn’t working.
BILL WEST: This is a desert area. This ground water they’re pumping out is — when they pump it out, I think it’s gone forever. I don’t know how long it’ll take to recharge it. We’ve got plenty of water now for stock water. But when they’re gone I don’t think there’ll be anything left in the ground to use. . . It took thousands of years to recharge these aquifers. But they’re pumping it out and in maybe ten years it will be gone. Maybe less. All of our wells have gone dry anyway.
MARGE WEST: Here they are killing our land and they keep on doing it and it’s perfectly legal.
MOYERS: By government estimates, the methane under the Powder River Basin could bring $75 billion in gross sales — and a tax bonanza for the state.
WALT MERSCHAT: The politics of this state are pro-development . . And prior to the coalbed methane boom, we had economic problems. The schools didn’t have enough money. We were losing people. I mean, our state population is going – going backward. We weren’t getting — a lot of kids would graduate from college and immediately leave. So the the economy was really hurting. And so now here comes this cash cow, coalbed methane. And all we have to do is — is just drill these shallow wells and – and throw the water away and that’s exactly what’s going on right now. It’s just easy.
MOYERS: And this is only the beginning. The majority of the mineral rights in the basin are owned by the federal government which proposes allowing 80,000 wells over the next ten years. At peak development, there will be three hundred and forty million gallons of waste water a day. According to the Bureau of Land Management’s own draft environmental statement this could put sixteen new species on the endangered list . . . destroy forage for grazing animals, including cattle . . . and bring about the loss of ground water here forever.
Ed Swartz has ranched this land for 50 years.
ED SWARTZ: And of course, I’m not a scientist but this creek was never dead like this before. There was grass. There would be a little channel down through there, but the grass would be so tall that you couldn’t see the channel later in the summer. And I grazed this all winter long and I’ve lost all the grazing out of it and left this salt deposit — this was never this way before.
ED SWARTZ: It’s terrible when you have to fight for your way to make a living and people won’t acknowledge that they’re hurting you. And like I say, when this washes out on these meadows, you’ll see that this is a pretty good alfalfa meadow here. I’ve got two cuttings of hay off of this thing here. . . . but if that kind of stuff washes out on there I’m going to lose those meadows. What gets me is that these industry people will say anything.
WALT MERSCHAT: We can’t destroy that much ground water and that much property and do all those detrimental things just for a what? half year’s supply of natural gas. I mean I can’t stop it, nobody can stop it. There’s too much money and too much of a political picture behind this thing. But if I could, I’d stop it and I’d say ‘wait, now let’s just think about this thing and see how can we develop it and save the water and be careful about seepage, worry about subsidance — can we do that? I think there are some things we could do but right now it’s too tied into an easy dollar to even think about a sensible way of developing it.
ED SWARTZ: Okay, so it’s going to keep doing that?
WALT MERSCHAT: Yeah, it’s going to keep sloughing off and narrowing down your channel.
ED SWARTZ: Oh, it’s so discouraging. Everything I’ve worked for all my life and — and some guys are about to screw it up because they don’t care about anybody else except how much money they can make.
MOYERS: The search for coalbed methane is cutting a broad stripe through the Rocky Mountain states, across the Gulf coast of Texas into the Deep South as far as Florida, along a Midwest arch on both sides of the Mississippi and running into the historic coal fields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. There is hardly a region untouched.
JILL MORRISON: We could easily supply this country with energy in a much more sustainable fashion, in a much more efficient way, in a much more environmentally friendly, less damaging way. But nobody’s standing up and taking, you know, as a, who has a leadership role and saying let’s do it because we’re motivated by greed and we’ve got to have it now.
MOYERS: Here’s a footnote to that report from Powder River.
The energy bill now before the Senate provides almost $3 billion in tax credits to coalbed methane operators.
They include huge and profitable companies that are among the biggest contributors to political candidates — names like Anadarko Petroleum, Atlantic Richfield, Chevron, Peabody, Texaco and Unocal.
Meanwhile, here are just a few places where the Administration would permit more drilling — Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area in Montana, Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest, Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana, and Utah’s Redrock Canyon.
Employees of the Bureau of Land Management in Utah have been directed to speed up the process of drilling in that state.
All of this prompts our commentary from the Utah writer and naturalist Terry Tempest Williams.
She is best known for her book REFUGE: AN UNNATURAL HISTORY OF FAMILY AND PLACE. It’s a very personal account of her passion for her family and the natural world.
TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: I’m standing at Dead Horse Point, one of the most spectacular vistas in all of the Southwest. Below me is the Colorado River meandering through Canyonlands National Park, shaped by water, wind, and time. The silence one finds here is a reminder that there are still places of peace in this world.
But it may not be for long, if the Bush Administration has its way. In the name of national security, we are being asked to sacrifice sensitive wildlands throughout the American West and Alaska. Eighty-five percent of Utah’s public lands, that translates to over 20 million acres in all, are now open for oil and gas exploration, oil drilling has already been approved in much of this redrock wilderness.
Last week, I witnessed the Bush/Cheney Energy Plan in action, just outside Arches National Park. Huge 50,000 pound trucks roared through the delicate landscape, leaving behind broken junipers and crushed cottonwoods, delicate soils obliterated. It will take hundreds of years for the scars on this landscape to now heal.
The oil fields erected in this area, during the first Bush Administration, have yielded only 1/10th of one day’s US energy consumption over the past 10 years. Even so, new derricks and pumps are planned on the rim of Dead Horse State Park within months.
We can learn something from this redrock country as we stand on its edge. These rocks tell time differently. In the desert, there is time and space where we can begin to experience a settling of the soul. We can learn humility in the face of Creation, reverence in the presence of light and faith in one another as we exercise restraint in the name of what lands should be developed and what lands should be preserved.
Conservation is an act of democracy, the greatest good for the greatest numbers for the longest time. Surely, the protection of these natural treasures is fundamental to “homeland security.”
Who can say how much nature can be destroyed without consequence? Who can say how much land can be used for extractive purposes until it is rendered barren forever. And who can know what the human spirit will be crying out for one hundred years from now?
The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying that we might act with restraint.
MOYERS: It’s not just about the land. Water, too, is at risk. The Environmental Protection Agency says about 40 percent of western watersheds have been polluted by mining.
Water is fast becoming a resource to be owned, extracted, and commercialized, and the need for clean water may create a new generation of water barons.
Meet now Texas oil man Boone Pickens, who is poised to turn water into liquid gold. Over 40 years, Mr. Pickens turned Mesa Petroleum Company into the country’s largest independent producer of oil and gas. He gained celebrity in the ’80s as a corporate raider. His autobiography is called BOONE: THE LUCKIEST GUY IN THE WORLD.
Welcome, Boone. Glad to be with you.
BOONE PICKENS: Good, thank you, Bill.
MOYERS: We’re having a severe drought up here in the Northeast. Are you getting rain in Texas?
PICKENS: Well, we’ve had a drought also. Parts of Texas have had some good moisture, North Texas has, but West Texas it’s very dry.
MOYERS: How much water do you own?
PICKENS: Own or under option?
MOYERS: Well, how much water do you control? Are you going to try to sell?
PICKENS: Okay. I’m about 150,000 acre feet of water a year which would be 150,000 acres. It’s premium water.
MOYERS: Premium water to whom? Is the water that you own marketable to a city like Dallas, a city like Fort Worth which are oh yes,….hundreds of miles away?
PICKENS: Well, we have the pipeline that we propose into the Dallas/Fort Worth area would be 363 miles long, 108 inches in diameter and the cost would be a billion, 200 million.
I envision that we would have a contract with one of these cities. We would then finance the pipeline. We would amortize the cost of the line.
The line then would become owned by the cities that had purchased the water, and I would retain an interest in it which I would then give away.
MOYERS: You told me on the phone the other day that if it cost you $1.2 billion to build that pipeline and those related costs, you might make 300-400 million dollars from that investment.
And you didn’t think that was a high return on your investment.
PICKENS: I think it could even be….talking about the pipeline itself, after a 1 billion, $200 billion investment that it could very well be twice that. It could be $600 billion.
MOYERS: Let me ask you a philosophical question, Boone. Why should ground water, a life-sustaining resource, why should that be owned by private owners?
PICKENS: Why should it be? Well, the easy answer is it’s the law.
MOYERS: In Texas.
MOYERS: That the person who owns the land owns the water underneath that.
PICKENS: That’s correct.
MOYERS: Would you want the water you drink to be owned by a corporate raider?
PICKENS: Woo, that’s kind of tough.
MOYERS: I’m serious. The water I drink subject to the supply and demand rules of the market.
PICKENS: Well, let me say this. I have no history of contaminating water. You know that.
MOYERS: I know that.
PICKENS: But I think….
MOYERS: But here’s what concerns a lot of people.
I mean over the years the private ownership of oil has created shortages, has created even wars.
I mean, what’s going to prevent water, the private ownership of water from being subjected to the same forces that oil has been subjected to?
PICKENS: It’s not the ownership of oil. Of course, the reason why it was privately owned is because land was privately owned in the United States, and the minerals were owned by the owner of the property, the ranch.
That is the case with water, but also you didn’t have…With oil you didn’t have lakes of oil around. And there’s far more water in the lakes than there are in the…on the ranches and the ground water.
So one of the points that needs to be made… Because I’ve been accused of, you know, taking all the water out of the panhandle of Texas and making it into a dust bowl. That’s common to have somebody write a letter to the editors that says that.
The water is controlled by the water district, and they will stop your pumping when you pump down 50 percent of the saturated thickness, meaning that you leave 50 percent of the water in the ground for future generations.
MOYERS: So you’ll be regulated.
PICKENS: We’ll be regulated, yes, sir.
MOYERS: By the state? By politicians?
PICKENS: No. We’ll be… the laws are, of course, passed in the legislature. But the water district is not run by politicians. And it is… it’s administered by a manager, an engineer, who has a district, has a board for the district which are land owners from that district.
MOYERS: Will the highest bidder get it?
PICKENS: Well, if there’s a bid between San Antonio and Dallas, we would take the best price for the water.
You know, we have to figure all our costs because it’s much more expensive to go to San Antonio than it would be to Dallas. But we would take the best price that we were offered.
Once a contract is made, I mean, it isn’t a case that they could have a drought and all at once I say, well, you’ve got to pay me more for my water or I’ll cut it off. It doesn’t work that way.
MOYERS: The population of Texas will double in the next 50 years to 40 million or more people. Is Texas going to run out of water?
PICKENS: Texas… They won’t run out of water because I do think the planning is such that we will be able to develop the water.
There will be more dams and we’ll probably go to desalinization in some cases but, you know, I’m a Texan and we believe we’ll handle our problem. But it isn’t easy. There’s going to be a lot of conservation that will come into play here.
MOYERS: But if water, Boone, is subjected to supply and demand, to the forces of the market, what happens to people who can’t afford it?
PICKENS: That may happen as far as maybe a commercial use. A certain industry might not be able to afford the cost of the water, but as far as people in the city, they will always have a reasonable price for water. It won’t… they may not…
You may get to the point where you’re not going to water your lawn seven days a week. Maybe you water it once.
MOYERS: Your company, you were one of Enron’s biggest clients, weren’t you?
PICKENS: We traded a lot of natural gas and oil, futures contracts, with them. We concluded our business with Enron, I believe, in October of last year.
MOYERS: Was it because you were getting suspicious?
PICKENS: We were… felt like it was time to quit using their trading department.
MOYERS: How do shareholders protect themselves against a rapacious crowd of managers like that?
PICKENS: Well, I think what you’re going to have happen is that you’re going to separate the auditors where they can’t be consultants and also auditors. I think that will be healthy.
MOYERS: If you were a resident of Dallas depending on a company to get you drinking water, would you want Enron and Kenneth Lay to be in charge of that tap?
PICKENS: If I had a contract with Enron I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable that they somehow would not be able to deliver or would try to change the contract or something like that. I don’t see that that’s where their problem is.
MOYERS: So you don’t think we should be concerned when private companies can sell and move water around like electricity or oil?
PICKENS: No, I don’t think so.
I think there’s going to be enough players in the market that you’re going to get the best price, the consumer will, for electricity or water or whatever it is.
And then you’re going to have to be sure that those companies are watched over, as we have in the past, and that they have…that they’re properly audited and we know exactly what they’re doing.
MOYERS: You know, it’s easy to buy the attention of politicians these days to what you want them to do.
PICKENS: Well, I trust corporate America a lot more than I do politicians.
PICKENS: I think they’re better regulated and I think that they’re…they have…there’s a lot more control over corporate America than we have over politicians.
MOYERS: That wasn’t true with Enron.
PICKENS: Well but that… Bill, I think that… I mean, give me another example of what Enron did.
MOYERS: Savings and loans.
PICKENS: Pardon me.
MOYERS: Savings and loan.
PICKENS: Savings and loan, that’s right.
MOYERS: Global Crossing.
PICKENS: Global Crossing was luckier than anybody I’ve seen in a long time to have Enron go just ahead of them.
They took all the headlines and Global Crossing got, you know, sort of eased out of the picture but Global Crossing is one, that’s right.
But there have been those in corporate America. We’ve had them from time to time, you know, throughout our history. And our system has worked very well. Markets… they will… Absolutely, they’ll make you pay when you do things like that.
MOYERS: Thank you very much, Boone Pickens, I very much appreciate your being with us tonight.
PICKENS: Thank you, Bill. I enjoyed it.
DAN BUDNIK: As a photojournalist, my involvement with the Black Mesa started in 1970.
I was painfully aware that strip mining was about to start on a huge scale with the Hopi and Navajo involved, so I’ve been trying to see some justice for the Hopi and the Navajo who’d been the victims of it.
There were Navajo elders who were against the strip mining of the coal, but then their sons got jobs at the Peabody Coal Company.
Black Hat Son is a Navajo medicine man.
He is with his grandson.
His son was able to obtain employment with the Peabody Coal Company, and then the father continued to criticize Peabody and did not want this environmental degradation in his backyard.
He son actually got physical with him to keep quiet because he didn’t want to lose his job at Peabody because he was making money.
And Peabody offered bonuses.
If you relocated, you got a $5,000 bonus, so the elders didn’t go for it, but the young people did.
So they lost all the young people almost immediately.
There is tragic consequences for the family units.
They were destroyed effectively.
The photograph of an empty coral.
A Navajo lady took me.
It was her brother’s coral, and his house is in the background, and he actually took the bait and in the middle of the night moved without telling her.
Strip mining coal is pretty brutal on the landscape, and it’s just an amazing eyesore.
They pulverize the coal, and then it mounds up and you can see the wind hitting it, and, God, it’s a fearsome thing.
I’m sure a lot of the Navajo workers have suffered immensely with black lung disease.
There’s a very tragic subject for the Hopi and Navajo, but it’s also, we’re all involved.
I think we just have to realize that what goes around comes around.
My sadness is that these are beautiful people who no one listened to.
MOYERS: We’re told that only one percent of the earth’s water is drinkable and that that precious supply is increasingly being strained by explosive population growth the world over.
It’s an approaching crisis that leaves few countries untouched. Some nations are finding novel ways to tackle the problem.
In South Africa, the government has hired thousands of people to implement an unusual plan that makes it possible for more water to flow naturally, now and in the future.
BILL MOYERS: The most valuable and the most imperiled resource in the world is fresh water.
PRISCILLA NYEWU (WORKING FOR WATER): Water vapor comes up from the sea into the sky and there it forms clouds that get thick with rain which falls to the ground. We drink it, we make electricity out of it, we even make our homes from it. Right.
BILL MOYERS: Water is for everything we do – but water is not forever. There is now half the fresh water per person than there was in 1960. In twenty-five years, we will have half of what we have today.
They are already running out of water in South Africa – where the population is growing faster than the water supply.
Five years ago the government decided it was time to tackle this threat to life itself. They put 40,000 people to work preserving water.
NYEWU: [in English] Working for Water. [in Xhosa] What are we working for? We are working for water. The people are doing that.
MOYERS: For centuries, European settlers planted trees in this treeless landscape. Pine, eucalyptus, acacia – these trees drank rain water that should have gone to rivers such as the Palmiet winding here through a nature preserve. The thirsty trees had to go.
This eucalyptus drinks twelve gallons of water every day. Now it drinks none. That’s the essence of Working for Water. Forty thousand people saving water by destroying invasive alien plants. It’s that simple.
JACKIE VAN DER MERWE: That is a pine preister and up there that is a Port Jackson, that is part of the acacias. OK, so that must be coming out, and that pine must be coming out . . .
MOYERS: Jackie van der Merwe scouts the preserve for invasive plants.
JACKIE VAN DER MERWE: Sometimes I am walking forty kilometers, maybe more, maybe less, up down, up down, over rivers. It’s just the nature. It’s just good, man. And I love my job.
MOYERS: When Jackie has located invasive alien trees, cutter-slashers move in to kill them . . . no matter where they are . . .
It may take a helicopter, four men, climbing ropes and a chain saw to remove three pines. But if they weren’t removed, the hillside would be covered with pine within twenty years – and the Palmiet River flow reduced even more. Because of this work, just the opposite has happened.
BRIAN VAN WILGEN: In areas which have become invaded by these alien plants, where we clear them and people have lived in those areas for 20 or 30 years, they will tell us – you know, we haven’t seen the stream flowing for 20 or 30 years, and as soon as you clear the trees, the water starts flowing again.
NYEWU: We are taking away all of the trees that drink our water.
BILL MOYERS: This weekend one of the most important elections in Africa’s troubled search for democracy will take place in Zimbabwe. Voters will choose where whether this man, President Robert Mugabe, once praised the world over for bringing white rule to a peaceful end, is to remain in power. I first reported from Zimbabwe some 25 years ago when it was known as Rhodesia and was ruled by the white racist regime of Ian Smith. Mugabe was the country’s first elected black president, full of promising hope. Since then, he has become a despot and rules by fear and intimidation.
These pictures, taken only days ago, show activists who had spoken out against Mugabe and have been beaten, maimed, even killed. At least 25 people have been killed in the past two months.
If Robert Mugabe does win the election, it won’t be because he is popular. He has allowed the cities to go to ruin, while in the countryside he has played the race card, urging his followers to drive white settlers from their land. Farming is in a tailspin. Food is scarce.
Later, we’ll show you some exclusive and remarkable footage, but first, we want to talk to Kingston Kajese.
Mr. Kajese spent nearly a decade working in community development in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa for international aid organizations. Today, he’s on the faculty at Africa University in Zimbabwe. Thank you very much for coming on with us tonight.
MOYERS: You were an early supporter of Mugabe’s. Do you feel betrayed?
KAJESE: Yes. There are certain aspects of the situation in Zimbabwe that causes one to feel betrayed. In particular, the level of violence that’s being meted out to citizens.
The President and the forces of law and order must assert the rule of law in the absence or in the apparent absence of that accession of the rule of law, and therefore leading to unparalleled levels of violence, are a matter of concern and disappointment for me.
MOYERS: I was in Zimbabwe when he…right before he was elected…there was so much promise there.
Why did he fall so far from that promise to the petulant tyranny of today?
KAJESE: I think that one is to take a long retrospective on President Mugabe. In many respects, President Mugabe hasn’t really changed. What has changed…
MOYERS: Hasn’t changed?
MOYERS: C’mon now.
KAJESE: Let’s just look at it from where he’s coming from, because this is important.
President Mugabe came in on this issue of land. I think they said they fought for land, and because we have to talk about the land issue, because…
MOYERS: Whites own most of the land and he promised land reform and transferring of power to…
KAJESE: That’s right.
MOYERS: …black Zimbabweans.
KAJESE: But he did nothing about it. For better, for worse, whether he was responsible or not, whether there were reasons for not doing so or not essentially 20 years in which the land question was not addressed in the form of land reform through the legal channels.
The land issue, which should have been addressed in a systematic and absolutely determined way, remained on the shelf. Was talked about every election, it was talked about, but not acted on.
MOYERS: But that’s why he was elected, to address that issue, to make a nation out of a colonial past where…
MOYERS: …white racism had been the rule.
KAJESE: Yes. Yes.
KAJESE: When President Mugabe then sought for him to create this nation, he announced the policy of national reconciliation by which essentially demanded those who had perpetrated the evil or harm or whatever would not…would not be identified, exposed, tried and brought to book. Basically Mr. Smith and the former Bishop [Museraweye] and their court were left alone. We never had any kinds of hearings or trials post that.
MOYERS: There was no Nuremburg Trials after the end of…
KAJESE: That’s right.
KAJESE: Now, as a church man myself…
MOYERS: A Methodist.
KAJESE: A Methodist for that, I feel that the whole people of Zimbabwe really especially civil society including churches, we let this particular tool, this potential tool of national reconciliation lie to waste.
We devised no programs to effect nation building around the issue of reconciliation. The whites were left alone, they were happy to be left alone. They disappeared from the public scene in terms of participation in governance, in whatever.
Because the whites seem to be a kind of bone in the throat, and so President Mugabe has tolerated opposition before. He has had people who oppose him. But this is the first time that citizens across the color line have come together and his analysis, his analysis is that the white minority that has remained unreconciled, is really driving the forces of opposition on its own agenda of retaining land.
MOYERS: So this is why he’s playing the race card, why he says his opponents are stooges of the white party.
MOYERS: Of the white race.
And it’s no help to the opposition when Mr. Blair says that, you know, what we have outside the European powers denigrate him, for him that’s proof that the opposition is really not genuine.
MOYERS: That the white puppeteers are still manipulating…
KAJESE: Are still manipulating.
MOYERS: Let me pause right here and show you and the audience some footage we have just received from Zimbabwe. It’s about a young activist named Tom Spicer. He’s everything that Mugabe despises. He’s white, he’s affluent, and he’s working to bring about the end of Mugabe’s power.
Let’s look at this footage.
MOYERS: In addressing this opposition rally Tom Spicer speaks fluent Shona. He’s the son of a prominent family that has lived here for generations. He’s a senior in high school. But at the moment the most important thing to him in life is defeating President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.
TOM SPICER: If we don’t, if…the country will decay to such an extent that no one will be able to scrape together a half decent meal every night.
EDWINA SPICER: What gives you the right to do this? You’re a white boy.
TOM SPICER: So? What doesn’t give me the right? I’m a Zimbabwean. Yeah, I’m white but before being white I’m Zimbabwean.
NARRATOR: Spicer learned Shona from his family’s maid and her children. He entered into politics two years ago after attending rallies where he heard Mugabe’s party blaming the country’s problems on whites.
TOM: And got very annoyed at hearing slogans like “[down with] mabhuno.” “Mabhuno” is a derogatory term for white people. The slogan means down with white people.
NARRATOR: But opposing Mugabe is dangerous. Tom’s friend, Trymore Midzi, also a campaign activist for the opposition party, was beaten to death by a gang of civilian militia, young men who are using violence against dissenters.
TOM: I think people in the western world don’t actually know what it’s like to a have a friend killed. To know with almost absolute certainly that those people under the current legal system will not have to pay for killing that person.
NARRATOR: Trymore Midzi had been handcuffed by a policeman and then beaten to death by Mugabe supporters.
TOM: Three years ago hearing that someone who I knew had been killed might have shocked me. These days it doesn’t really.
NARRATOR: Now Tom Spicer’s own life is at risk. He’s been arrested six times, threatened, beaten, and stabbed. And at this moment he’s waiting in the family home. He’s been told the police are coming for him again.
EDWINA: You’re not getting fed up with this?
TOM: Of course I’m getting fed up.
NARRATOR: Tom Spicer says his anger is an anger shared by black and white alike.
TOM: I don’t really know how in words you can capture the rage of a generation. People, young people in Zimbabwe face no future. We have no future.
TOM: Any self-respecting citizen, of any country, won’t just sit back and watch the country that they live in, that they love, that’s their home be eaten away, and destroyed and take no action.
MOYERS: The police did come that day, but they didn’t arrest him. Mr. Kajese, Tom Spicer is white, his friend who was killed is black.
MOYERS: This isn’t really a racial struggle, is it? It’s a power struggle, an old-fashioned power struggle. A tyrant doesn’t want to give up power.
KAJESE: It is very unfortunate that the election issues are being reduced to issues of race, because really in terms of numerical significance, the whites don’t count for anything, you know…
KAJESE: …in terms of numbers. There is very little they can do to change the votes.
MOYERS: So is this why President Mugabe is sending out these young toughs with their whips and their clubs to intimidate voters? and why they’ve resorted to violence? he just doesn’t want to take a chance that this could be a free election or a fair election?
KAJESE: Well, I think that this election cannot be called free and fair if the power of the incumbency has been used so excessively in terms of the ability of the forces of law and order.
I come back to that again, that the forces of law and order should be seen to be meting out an even-handed treatment to all citizens that break the laws of the land.
MOYERS: So before they can be a real solution to the problems you and other countries…yours and other countries face, there has to be a government that is responsible to law and order and to…
KAJESE: That’s right. It has become…that is is seen by its citizens to be responsive to their needs, that is seen to be trustworthy, that is seen to be accepted by its people.
So and that is a matter of both maturing of democracy as well as a risk that’s taken by true democrats in these young countries to be willing to be vulnerable as to lose at the ballot box.
MOYERS: What gives you any hope that this maturation of democracy that you talk about might yet be fulfilled?
KAJESE: Oh, I think that when you take it in the long perspective I’m very hopeful that the situation in Zimbabwe is going to come right. The polls are important even if the opposition loses. That’s okay. The point has been made that Zimbabweans want change and that they want change through peaceful means.
MOYERS: Do you think that this election tomorrow is going to really represent what the majority of people want?
KAJESE: The election tomorrow is likely to be won by President Mugabe. I’m sorry President Mugabe has been effective in painting the opposition as stooges in terms of the bigger issue of land…. Secondly, there is considerable unease about the possibility of rigging. You know, already there are produced…there are reports coming out saying that the army has voted already and the police have already voted. We don’t know.
But we already know that there have been mass movements of people, disruptions of people. And the recent, the supreme court ruling that says that if you are not in your constituency you cannot vote…
MOYERS: Lots of barriers put up to…
KAJESE: So it is likely… I mean, when you put all these things together in scenario, that tomorrow the president will be reelected.
MOYERS: Why should Americans care about this?
KAJESE: Well, why should Americans care about what’s going on in Zimbabwe?
KAJESE: Well, because to care only where it matters to you is the height of hypocrisy. So, why not care because you have set as a model for the kind of society that many nations are saying they want to be.
The sense of freedom, the sense of account… holding accountable those that you elect to represent you, these are things that everybody wants. It doesn’t matter where in the world.
And if America says these are the values they stand for, they should care, but not wait until some dictator now is going to deal you a good hand and then they become a good friend.
MOYERS: Well, we’ll all be watching, and more informatively, thanks to your insights. I appreciate very much your being with us. Thank you very much, Mr. Kajese.
KAJESE: Thank you.
NARRATOR: Now a look at stories coming up on NPR radio this weekend.
SCOTT SIMON: Hello. I’m Scott Simon of NPR news. On WEEKEND EDITION SATURDAY, defending our homeland with humanities. Bruce Cole, the new chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, shares his vision of renewing America’s spirit through scholarship.
And the debate within ABC over NIGHTLINE versus LATE NIGHT.
To find your local NPR station come to our web site, npr.org. Hope to see you.
MOYERS: That’s it for tonight.
If you want to join the discussion, go to pbs.org.
So many of you let us hear from you, there’s no way we can answer every one of you, but I assure you, I’m reading your mail.
For NOW, I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on March 19, 2015.