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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Truth, justice, reconciliation and national healing - Index of articles

  • National healing: First stop the violence - Peace Watch 2/2012
    September 10, 2012

    The focus on stopping violence is especially important now as we are fast approaching elections and we have had little indication so far that they will be less violent than the 2008 elections.

    National Healing - First Stop the Violence

    In the first Peace Watch of this series we looked at various stages involved in national healing: identifying the cause and extent of the injury or pain, stopping whatever is immediately causing injury and pain, preventing the causes from restarting, and repairing, i.e. treating the injury and pain. It was emphasised that these steps for healing should be taken sequentially, as often the last aspect, repairing, is what we concentrate on. Right now we need to concentrate on the first three in the sequence.

    Only when immediate and ongoing injury and pain has been identified and stopped and its reoccurrence prevented, can society in a deep and meaningful way concentrate on the fourth step, i.e., the more common view of “healing” summarised in the word “repairing”. We all want National Healing in the “repairing” sense – treatment, rehabilitation, integration, atonement, compensation, etc., and all that this entails [which we will explore in future Peace Watches]. When we see suffering there is an instinct to soothe and comfort and treat, but this is in essence “band aid” and misses the obvious point that any treatment done will be negated if more injury is still being caused. This is not to say we should not treat those that are suffering, but that it is essential to stop the cause of the suffering and prevent more. Churches, civil society organisations, doctors, teachers, therapists have done their bit to promote healing. But no healing can be successful if the cause of injury and pain persists. Healing a burnt hand cannot start if the hand is still in the fire. Healing a divided community cannot start if one side is still beating the other.

    Identify, Stop and Prevent

    As stated in the first bulletin of this series, the focus must be on the pain and injury caused by party or state condoned or sponsored violence – for the simple reason that this is the major cause of injury and pain that must be addressed when we are talking about National Healing. This focus does not suggest that other forms of suffering such as economic hardship, suffering caused by health service delivery shortcomings, domestic and criminal violence, etc., are not important, but in a sense they too are interconnected with the political situation. It was clear from the GPA signed by the three main political parties that party- and state-sponsored violence was in mind when provisions were set out to promote National Healing. It is likely that most people in the country agree that there was a need for National Healing, but not enough has been done about the violence causing the suffering. Recent surveys have indicated that the level of fear of violence in the general population is high.

    Violence Already Escalating

    Already, monitoring organisations, political parties, newspapers have been reporting ongoing “low-level” political and state-sponsored violence and, that as elections talk gathers momentum, this violence has been progressively escalating. No level of political or state violence is acceptable. It must stop and its escalation must stop, and measures must be put in place to prevent any more. It is not the objective of this Peace Watch, in discussing violence, to cast aspersions on any particular party - we have had enough of divisiveness and political party conflicts and blaming violence on others, and we need to take stock as a nation and do what is good for the nation.

    The nation has suffered enough from violence. The incidents listed below have happened in this country since the first memories in oral and written history. They escalated to a country-wide scale during the colonial era. They have reoccurred to a wide extent even in an independent Zimbabwe, in particular during the repression in the south of country that preceded the 1987 Unity Accord, and regularly around elections times. The list is not necessary complete – but all these types of incidents are all too familiar to too many Zimbabweans and together with any other forms of violence must stop:

    • Beatings
    • Maiming
    • Killings
    • Rape
    • Looting
    • Arson
    • Destruction of property
    • Displacement
    • Enforced disappearances
    • Torture
    • Intimidation

    Stopping the Violence a Political Responsibility

    As stressed in the last Peace Watch, there is no place for pretence and avoidance. All political parties and state actors have to acknowledge the violence of the past, that violence is still happening, and that unless something is done it will escalate towards the elections. There is an imperative for leaders to see the violence is stopped:

    • There is a moral imperative
    • An imperative to avoid legal and criminal liability
    • An imperative to leave a good name for posterity

    It is not enough that politicians make speeches about stopping the violence, and say they will sign a Code of Conduct incorporating non-violence for elections [which, incidentally, although mooted well over a year ago, has never seen the light]. Politicians should not be content with accolades from other countries. Recognition from outside the country is one thing – it is easier to hide some unpalatable truths to outsiders. But a father’s abuse of his children cannot be hidden within the family. Within a nation a politician who unleashes or condones violence against his own people may retain power through fear, but will ultimately lose the people’s love and respect. If politicians don’t stop the violence – it is this by which they will be judged by posterity. It is also in the immediate interest of politicians to stop violence now so that if a culture of impunity for political violence comes to an end they will not have to answer for not having stopped the violence.


    Leaders, political parties, government ministers, state institutions, the security arms of government, have a duty to stop:

    • Public avowals of peace while secretly justifying and condoning violence
    • Political and state or state-sponsored violence in all its forms
    • Political parties, their structures, organisers, and followers planning, threatening or using violence
    • Hate speech in any form, especially inflammatory language that denigrates and demonises political opponents
    • Threats by informal militia and security forces
    • Militant youth or other groups, purporting to act or suspected of acting on behalf of political parties, from terrorising potential voters [leaders should also ensure that these groups are disbanded; “bases” abandoned; forced mobilisation of youths and “pungwes” stopped]
    • Political harassment and intimidation through selective detentions, arrests, prosecutions, etc., by police
    • Selective immunity from prosecution for violence caused or instigated by any group or individual
    • Intimidation of businesses and citizens to supply goods and services to a political party, or to give up property
    • Using government money [taxpayers’ money] and the nation’s resources to further party political ends
    • Using the state media and broadcasting services to inflame conflict

    This list is not exhaustive.

    Special Role of President

    The President has a particular responsibility for stopping the violence and is in a unique position to do so – by virtue of his constitutional authority, the respect he enjoys for his role in our national history and as an African icon, his age and his position as leader of ZANU-PF. Both as President and party leader his speeches condemning violence are to be applauded. But it is necessary for him to acknowledge and stop the speeches and activities of his party and followers in promoting violence and to give clear and public instructions for them to stop. It is also incumbent on him to give clear orders to Ministers – especially to those responsible for Information, Youth, Home Affairs and Defence – to ensure that all under their jurisdiction avoid all activities that promote violence. These instructions to Ministers should also be made public to help ensure compliance from Ministries at all levels.

    Special Role of Prime Minister

    The Prime Minister must stop portraying himself as the innocent or helpless victim and take more responsibility for seeing that the Ministries more directly under his control do their part and, wearing his other hat as party leader, both acknowledge and stop the speeches and activities of his party and followers in promoting violence. Again orders to party and Ministries should be clear and public.

    There is a role that the public, the private media, war veterans, unions, churches, etc., can play in stopping the violence. There is also a need for cohesive monitoring of violence and safe publication of reports; and to examine what sanctions there are or should be put in place against those promoting violence. Ideas on these issues will be raised in further bulletins.

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