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Truth, justice, reconciliation and national healing - Index of articles
of political violence: Time to break the cycle of terror
Lloyd Sachikonye, OSISA
June 30, 2011
Mzila-Ndlovu spent the 2011 Easter weekend in jail at Lupane
in Matabeleland North Province. A co-Minister for the Organ of National
Healing, Reconciliation and Integration (ONHRI), he had recently
made outspoken comments about the Gukurahundi violence in the 1980s,
and strongly argued for restitution for victims of that episode
of state violence. Mzila-Ndlovu was soon joined in jail by another
advocate for justice for Gukurahundi victims, Father Marko Mnkhandla.
A more cynical and punitive discrediting of ONHRI
an institution set up under the Global
Political Agreement (GPA) would be difficult to find.
symbolises more dramatically the dysfunctionality of certain institutions
under the Inclusive
Government (IG) than this deliberate assault by the state security
establishment (sometimes termed securocrats) on an institution ostensibly
set up to work towards transitional justice and national healing.
GPA and political violence.
Yet there had
initially been high hopes that the advent of the IG would herald
a new era of democratic transition and a decline in political violence.
Indeed, the IG text itself stated that the parties agreed to 'renounce
and desist from the promotion and use of violence, and take all
measures necessary to ensure that the structures and institutions
they control are not engaged in violence'. It went on to state
that prosecuting authorities would expedite, where sufficient evidence
existed, the prosecution of people accused of politically-related
offences arising out of, or connected with, the March and June elections
of 2008. With specific reference to ONHRI, this was an institution
set up to advise on what measures 'might be necessary and
practicable to achieve national healing, cohesion and unity in respect
of victims of pre- and post- independence political conflicts'.
But very little
headway has been made in addressing either contemporary or historical
violence. Despite individual efforts by ministers such as Mzila-Ndlovu,
ONHRI has found it very difficult to earn credibility for its mission
and activities in the wider Zimbabwean society.
In a recent
book, When a State Turns on its Citizens (Jacana Media, Johannesburg),
we observed that political violence has deep roots in Zimbabwean
society, and would therefore require a holistic and concerted approach
to address it (Sachikonye, 2011). First, the roots can be traced
to colonial state structures and practices, which ruthlessly suppressed
moderate African nationalism in the 1950s, with the unintended consequence
of fostering a more radical, uncompromising African nationalism
in the 1960s. The arsenal of the colonial state included sjamboks,
dogs, guns and poison as well as torture against nationalist activists
and liberation fighters. Most of these weapons and repressive techniques
were inherited by the new state in 1980 almost hook, line and sinker.
To these were
added, the tradition of nationalist inter-party violence, which
had initially spread in the 1960s and had then been rejuvenated
after independence. The significance of the new post-independence
era was the greater scale of this violence, drawing on immense state
resources that resulted in pogroms such as Gukurahundi and the repression
of both opposition parties and also civil society organisations,
especially after 2000.
violence and terror reached its peak between 2000 and 2008 when
ZANU-PF increasingly utilised state agencies, war veterans and militia
during election campaigns. Hundreds of opposition party activists
and supporters, mainly from MDC-T, were killed in the 2000, 2002
and 2008 elections while thousands were injured and thousands more
displaced. The intensity and ferocity of the violence
resulted in the discrediting of the 2008 run-off presidential election.
As the country heads towards another election, the tempo of inter-
party violence appears to be increasing. In the wider society, this
has had the effect of triggering terror and reviving the trauma
of 2008. In this scheme of things, the levels of human insecurity
are high because the police and other security agencies are viewed
as partisan, and therefore unreliable as custodians of the law and
major dimension of political violence is what is sometimes termed
intra-party violence, which has rocked ZANU-PF as well as the two
MDC factions. Although usually mild and non-fatal, this mode of
violence often rears its ugly head during party primary elections.
While preparing for its April 2011 congress, MDC-T experienced widely
reported violence between groups contending for top provincial positions
in Bulawayo and Masvingo. The intra-party violence in MDC-T has
prompted anxiety about what has been termed the 'zanufication'
of the party with respect to the use of violence to resolve political
disputes. This followed similar intra-party violence in ZANU-PF
in the build-up to its annual conference in 2009. This culture of
violence even seems to have begun to spread to some civic organisations,
such as student and youth groups, and even to churches such as the
Anglican Church with internal conflicts threatening to tear them
apart. Thus, consciously or unconsciously, the culture and method
of violence once the monopoly of ZANU-PF seem to have been adopted
by other parties and civic institutions.
An ominous development,
especially since 2008, has been the use of political violence in
the format of economic penalties against opponents. This became
a weapon of choice against rural and urban MDC-T supporters during
the presidential run-off campaign in 2008. For example, property
such as cattle, goats, maize and farming equipment was confiscated
by ZANU-PF supporters and militia, especially in rural areas. Extensive
case-studies on this economic victimization have been carried out
by organisations like the Catholic
Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe (CCJPZ, 2009) and
Human Rights NGO Forum (2009). In some instances, victims suffered
both political violence and confiscation of property as punishment
for supporting the opposition. A sample in the Zaka district of
Masvingo Province showed 86 percent of victims had some of their
livestock, crops, food, clothes, radios, solar and kitchen equipment,
cash and other items confiscated by ZANU-PF supporters (CCJPZ, 2009:98).
In one of the wards in the district, MDC-T polling agents were fined
goats or chickens for the electoral role they performed.
In a sense,
economic penalties against opposition members were not a completely
new phenomenon. They were already discriminated against by being
denied food aid that is channelled through state and ZANU-PF structures.
What was a new and sinister element was the expropriation of assets
that support victims' livelihoods for unlawful gain by perpetrators.
Communities experienced politically motivated economic sanctions
and taxes such as these against opposition supporters on a systematic
Sooner or later,
both political and economic violence was bound to provoke retaliatory
violence from those that had borne its brunt. In 2009 and 2010,
there were reports of some rural communities reclaiming their confiscated
or looted property, including livestock. In some instances, this
resulted in intra- community violence during which police and state
authorities tended to side with those linked to ZANU-PF. In urban
centres, the reclamation of property, including housing, flared
up into inter-party violence in which the youth played a prominent
role. Sadly, the cycle of violence continues precisely because impunity
is tolerated by state agencies, whose role should be to protect
the law and rights of victims.
Of course, the
focus on violence and impunity does not do justice to several of
the genuine achievements of the IG notably in restoring some measure
of economic stability and growth, resuscitating basic social services
and boosting media pluralism (although it remains quite limited).
Yet it should be admitted that the ambitious hopes to address political
violence and partisan policing, as spelt out in the GPA, remain
largely unfulfilled. This is not to say that important hopes and
objectives should be abandoned, such as the injunctions that:
- state organs
do not belong to any political party and should be impartial in
the discharge of their duties;
- all state
organs and institutions should strictly observe the principle
of the Rule of Law and remain non- partisan and impartial; and,
policies and practices should be conducted in a manner that ensures
that no political or other form of favouritism is practised. (GPA,
One of the major
obstacles preventing a democratic transition as was the case during
the 2008 elections is that certain state institutions oppose it
and continue to resist the implementation of key provisions of the
GPA. As we have observed, they have undermined new institutions
such as ONHRI, as well as blocking the professionalisation of the
police, the intelligence service and the military. They continue
to obstruct the transformation of the current 'police state'.
Yet the agenda
and momentum for transitional justice and security sector reform
should continue to be supported. Zimbabwe is a deeply scarred society
whose psyche has been shaped by over a half century of state and
party violence. Mobilised and controlled through various militaristic
operations, such as Operation
Murambatsvina in 2005 among others, Zimbabwe is a traumatised
society in dire need of an end to the cycle of violence and of a
transition from the current authoritarianism to a genuinely open
and tolerant democracy.
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