Back to Index
Activists Face Daunting Challenge
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
Yamikani Mwando (AR No. 141, 31-Oct-07)
October 31, 2007
like many African democracies - has been plagued by election violence
since the country opted for multi-party politics upon attaining
black majority rule in 1980.
escalated since the 1999-2000 electoral campaign, when the main
opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, gave the
ruling ZANU-PF a run for its money. Houses have been burnt, people
abducted, pro-democracy activists tortured and killed.
and the ZANU-PF government in particular have routinely been accused
of fanning violence before, during and after elections and stoking
tribal conflicts in the process.
organisations involved in peace-building initiatives are already
reporting politically motivated violence and killings ahead of Zimbabwe's
potentially bruising presidential and parliamentary elections early
While some communities
have begun efforts to make this election violence-free, they agree
it is not - and has never been - an easy job.
36, a volunteer for the Catholic
Commission for Justice and Peace, CCJP, is involved in efforts
to ensure tolerance of diverging political views. He works among
communities where the expression of political loyalty has, in the
past, turned bloody.
At a time when
there is widespread resentment of all things political, the CCJP
is in the vanguard of preaching peaceful co-existence amid growing
agitation amongst locals as the nation prepares for next year's
is a job one has to do," Phuti told IWPR from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's
second largest city - which was considered a hotbed of opposition
politics before the MDC was rocked by divisions.
The local authority
has been controlled by the MDC since the 2000 legislative polls.
Political temperatures have risen with each approaching election
as President Robert Mugabe tries to wrest control of the city from
his political nemesis, explained Phuthi.
During the 2000
elections - which threatened to oust the Mugabe regime - Phuthi
said he was on the receiving end of political violence, which convinced
him to preach a new gospel of political tolerance.
was the time when we were all excited by the prospect of voting
for change and I was one of the people who actively took part in
the activities of the new political opposition," said Phuthi,
referring to the MDC.
instead of luring neophytes to a particular political party, he
preaches tolerance of opposing political preferences.
with a team of volunteers and we use the platform of the church
to educate our communities," he said.
parish premises has made the job easier for him, as people from
different political persuasions come in as members of the same church
and are encouraged to raise these issues with their non-Catholic
Because of Zimbabwe's
restrictive security laws, NGOs say it has become increasingly difficult
to organise public meetings where issues of a political nature are
Such a meeting
would require police clearance under the strict Public
Order and Security Act - which was introduced in 2002 and makes
it illegal to "undermine the authority of the president"
or "engender hostility" towards him - because the authorities
maintain such a meeting is likely to breach the peace.
the CCJP has organised meetings of that nature as "prayer
meetings" within parish premises, John Nkatazo, the CCJP coordinator
in Bulawayo, told IWPR.
made inroads into rural Matabeleland in southwestern Zimbabwe, organising
workshops on political tolerance. He said it is especially difficult
working with these communities.
are areas where the ruling party says it enjoys majority support
so you can imagine how difficult it is coming to these areas preaching
peace and tolerance," said Nkatazo.
we are from the CCJP we are viewed with suspicion", he added.
The CCJP was
accused by the regime of working in cahoots with enemies of the
state after it published a damning report documenting government-sponsored
atrocities in Matabeleland in the early 1980s, and their relationship
has been stormy ever since.
The report accused
the government of launching a massive security clampdown against
bands of "dissidents" who were killing civilians and destroying
property, and also against supporters of the former opposition party
the Zimbabwe African People's Union.
said the CCJP report, "thousands of unarmed civilians died,
were beaten, or suffered loss of property during the 1980s, some
at the hands of dissidents and most as a result of the actions of
Working as a
peace activist like Phuthi takes a great deal of courage.
A recent report
by the Zimbabwe
Peace Project - a non-governmental organisation involved in
documenting political violence and human rights abuses - notes that
the project recorded more than 4000 human rights violations between
January and June this year, which were politically motivated in
these findings, the internationally respected Zimbabwe
Human Rights NGO Forum says 2007 is set to be the worst year
for human rights violations by police and government agents yet.
restrictive climate presents one of the biggest challenges for volunteers,
such as Phuthi.
easy to attract the attention of security agents who are largely
blamed for the abductions, but the fact that we work within parish
walls, though very limited in our outreach efforts, we manage to
escape their wrath," said Phuthi.
the biggest challenge is instilling values such as tolerance in
parishioners, who also wear another hat as activists of a particular
had instances where a parishioner is a fervent supporter of the
ruling ZANU-PF and has embraced the party's beliefs and philosophies
about who are the real perpetrators of violence, its enemies, etc.
So when you try to explain such issues as tolerance, instead of
understanding these issues from the point of view of the Church,
they will tell you that is not their party's position, but
rather that they have an enemy to fight," he said.
actually try to convert you to their party. You can imagine the
frustration we have to deal with."
* Yamikani Mwando
is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.