Summary of 2nd E-Discussion Topic
can communities do to protect themselves against violence?”
stimulated a useful debate. Responses were sent out to members
of the E-discussion forum and what follows is a summary of the
key suggestions. A few responses were starkly pessimistic, saying
that violence is too deeply rooted and embedded in the fabric
of Zimbabwean society and politics for communities to fight back
– a situation attributed to lack of democracy, power-hungry
politicians, a culture of impunity and lack of professionalism
within the police force. On the whole though, contributors came
up with positive long-term and short-term strategies for communities
to deal with violence. What was of special interest were the stories
that came in of practical approaches already being effectively
employed in a small way by some besieged communities – strategies
such as passive resistance, citizen’s arrest and “whistling
against violence”. The story of a village in Makoni District,
where community leaders took a courageous and principled stance
against violence and harassment and succeeded, shows that with
courage and leadership villages can be proactive to stop violence.
While acknowledging the gravity of the problem of violence in
Zimbabwe, E-Forum Discussion members offered the suggestions listed
below as possible ways to confront the problem.
Strategies Already Being Employed by Some Communities
Elders Reject Violence: A contributor from the Makoni District
of Manicaland described how in the build-up to the last elections,
the village elders pre-empted violence by going to see the political
leaders in the district and youths at militia bases and declaring
that they would not tolerate violence in their community. The
elders used their authority derived from their role during the
liberation struggle to insist on protecting the community spirit
and cohesion of their village. They said the youths and their
leaders were welcome to visit the village in peace to educate
the people but that they should not expect anyone to be receptive
to their message if they insisted on resorting to violence. It
worked – the village was reported to be an oasis of calm
and harmony while neighbouring communities continued to experience
violent disruption and harassment. The elders had the courage
of their convictions to take that principled stance. This strategy
has great potential if more community leaders would be prepared
to stand up and be counted.
Campaign: Villagers in Chipinge and Nyanga devised a whistling
strategy – whereby if a person is attacked or feels an attack
is imminent, he or she whistles. Those who hear the whistle also
whistle and run towards where they hear the first whistle, so
there the noise gets louder and more and more people converge
to help the person in trouble. This strategy is intended to try
and put off or confuse the attacker and at the same time mobilise
people to help the person being attacked. If there are enough
people to confront the attackers they can hold down the attackers
and also take note of who they are. Then they are taken to a police
station and the hope is that the police will actually do something.
The big question is whether the police, whose partisanship and
dereliction of duty caused the people to resort to this tactic
in the first place, will now act professionally.
Arrest: MP Douglas Mwonzora revealed how villagers in Nyanga have
resorted to citizen’s arrest. Villagers gathered for a rally
he was due to address were attacked and ordered to disperse by
ZANU-PF supporters wielding axes. The villagers all turned out
and they outnumbered, surrounded and subdued their attackers and
handed them to the police. The sequel, however, was an unhappy
one: the attackers were released without charge and the police
arrested and charged the villagers who had arrested the attackers.
Comment: The sad conclusion is that while action of this sort
may give temporary respite from violence, it is likely to backfire
unless police act impartially and professionally when members
of the public carry out a citizen’s arrest and take the
apprehended individuals to the police.
accused the police of being biased and not acting professionally:
refusing to take reports from victims, turning a blind eye, refusing
to arrest ZANU-PF perpetrators of violence, and even turning the
tables and arresting the victims in such situations.
Watch will be doing a bulletin on citizens’ arrests and
options available if one’s local police refuse to take a
Strategies Suggested by E-Forum Members
Comment: Article 13 of the GPA, recognising that “state
institutions do not belong to any political party and should be
impartial in the discharge of their duties”, provides for
the training curriculum of the uniformed forces to include human
rights, international humanitarian law and statute law “to
inculcate a greater understanding and full appreciation of their
roles and duties in a multi-party democratic system”.
suggestions which were made but at the same time the contributors
pointed out they could be dangerous strategies.
left no doubt that violence is a cancer in Zimbabwe that needs
to be eradicated. It was also clear from the views expressed that
contributors had no illusions about how heavily the odds were
stacked against ordinary people hoping for peace and democracy.
All felt that long-term measures to combat violence are necessary
and that the situation is not likely to change much before the
next elections. Therefore it is imperative that all communities
start looking into ways they can pre-empt, stop and report violence.
Some communities were reported to be passive as they felt they
were damned if they acted to defend themselves and damned if they
did not. It is important to share ideas on means of protection,
and offer encouragement and solidarity.
makes every effort to ensure reliable information, but cannot
take legal responsibility for information supplied.