HARARE – On August 23, 1973, two men wielding machine guns forced their way into a bank in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. They held four hostages, three of them women, for five days until they were finally rescued.
Incredibly, after they were rescued, the hostages displayed a shockingly positive attitude toward their captors, despite the fact that they have been abused, threatened and feared for their lives during their time in captivity.
One of the women even got engaged to one of the captors.
Another victim set up a defence fund to assist in the captors’ legal fees.
It was apparent that the hostages had become attached to their captors. Instead of hostility which would be expected of them in such circumstances, they were supportive of their captors; they had developed a strong emotional bond with them.
This phenomenon, whereby the abused victim exhibits signs of support and understanding of their abusers has become known as the Stockholm Syndrome, drawing its name from this incident.
This phenomenon can be observed in relationships of authority — where one person or a group of people wields authority over others particularly in circumstances where the exercise of authority is attended by abuse.
It can show up in personal relationships within the family — between an abusive husband and wife; at the workplace between an abusive boss and employees; at the level of the state, between an abusive state and citizens; indeed at the international level, between a dominant and abusive state and other states.
In gender studies, the phenomenon is sometimes referred to as the Battered Spouse Syndrome, explaining a situation in which the abused spouse begins to see him/herself rather than the abusive partner as the problem; blaming him/herself for his/her predicament, even trying to rationalise and explain his/her partner’s behaviour. People around her are surprised when the abused spouse refuses to leave the partner
“He is cruel but I still love him”, is not an unusual comment from the otherwise abused victim.
As we have stated, this phenomenon is not unique to personal relationships or to hostage situations such as we observed in the Stockholm incident.”
It is not impossible to draw on this phenomenon to also understand the relationship between political actors and the general public.
Understanding this phenomenon can help us to appreciate why otherwise authoritarian leaders and political parties can still lay claim to popular support even among abused citizens.
Therefore, repulsive as he was to most people outside Germany, Hitler did not have a shortage of supporters within his own country.
Likewise, after all his atrocities in Uganda, Idi Amin still had his own fervent supporters. It is the same with other dictators and vile leaders that this world has seen.
An abusive state or more specifically an abusive political party and its leader can still claim support among the people, notwithstanding the fact that the majority of those people are otherwise victims of its abuses.
All this may be useful as Zimbabweans try to explain the results of the Freedom House Survey, which appears to have confounded general thinking on politics and party political support in Zimbabwe.
One of the findings of the survey is that the MDC has lost 18 percent of its support since 2010.
The other is that Zanu PF has gained popularity in the same period by 14 percent. It was also reported that 52 percent trust Zanu PF while MDC’s claim is 39 percent.
These figures were drawn from a sample of 1198 Zimbabweans, who were interviewed during the survey.
The net result of this survey is that among those surveyed, Zanu PF is currently more popular than the MDC. If this is a reflection of the general opinion across the country, this would suggest that Zanu PF is in the ascendancy whilst the MDC is in decline.
What is not clear is whether there is a direct relationship between the alleged rise in support for Zanu PF and the alleged decline in support for the MDC, that is, whether former supporters of the MDC have now crossed the floor to support Zanu PF. It may be possible but there is no obvious connection.
It could simply be that former supporters have become unsure and therefore fall in the 47 percent “undeclareds” in the survey. It could also be that formerly unsure Zanu PF supporters have become more emboldened since 2010 hence the rise.
But even so, how is it that given Zanu PF’s record over three decades in government, it can still lay claim to a rise in support, even over its adversary? Consider some of Zanu PF’s conduct over these years: Zanu PF orchestrated the atrocities in Matabeleland that led to deaths of an estimated 20 000 civilians in the 1980s. Generally known as Gukurahundi, even President Mugabe has acknowledged it was a “moment of madness”.
There has been no official acknowledgement, however, no official apology and no compensation.
Comparatively, the region remains grossly underdeveloped. People of that region have never forgiven Mugabe and Zanu PF.
Since 1980, Zanu PF has struggled to gain support in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions, losing massively to PF Zapu in the 1980s and in recent elections to the MDC.
Can it really be said that respondents in this region have found a new cause to support Zanu PF?
They may be frustrated with the MDC but it is incredible to imagine after all these years and the unresolved challenges brought on the region by Zanu PF that the people of this region now support and trust Zanu PF.
It is impossible to imagine unless of course this is a case of the Stockholm Syndrome on a massive scale.
IN 2005, Zanu PF launched Operation Murambatsvina that led to the destruction of homes and livelihoods of thousands if not millions of urban dwellers across Zimbabwe.
Under the guise of cleaning up the city, Operation Murambatsvina attracted the attention of the United Nations, which despatched its envoy to assess the problem.
Needless, to say, the thousands who were affected struggled to cope and many of them have never fully recovered. Have these people forgotten the abuse they suffered at the hands of the state and Zanu PF?
Have they found a new cause to support Zanu PF, after all the misery that was brought upon them by its destructive policy?
It is impossible to imagine this is the case, unless of course this is a case of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Elections in Zimbabwe have always been affected by violence, and intimidation over the years but the period between March 2008 and June 2008 will always be remembered by the unmitigated and gratuitous violence meted on civilians at the instigation of Zanu PF.
Having lost the first round of the Presidential elections in March and after fiddling with the results to cook up a case for a presidential run-off election, Zanu PF and its agents launched a vile campaign of violence which led to the death of almost 200 MDC supporters.
The images of violence remain etched in the memories of many who witnessed them. Have these people — relatives of the dead and injured, their friends and colleagues, supporters of the MDC and others who are repulsed by what they saw — suddenly had a change of hear and now support and trust Zanu PF?
This is impossible even to imagine unless of course it is a case of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Zanu PF inherited a thriving and dynamic economy at independence in 1980. However, in the period between 2004 and 2008, Zimbabwe recorded the world’s highest levels of hyperinflation in a country that is not at war.
By 2009, it had abandoned its currency.
Unemployment stands at over 80 percent with the majority of young people unemployed and redundant. The much-vaunted policies of indigenisation and land reform, which are used to explain Zanu PF’s support have done little to reduce the unemployment figures.
The majority of the youths are still looking for jobs but the economy is not doing well enough to create jobs.
The indigenisation policy itself has dissuaded foreign investment, which is critical to economic growth and job creation.
Have these unemployed people suddenly found a new cause to like and trust Zanu PF, notwithstanding that it is the same party that is responsible for economic mismanagement and poorly-crafted policies that have ruined a once thriving economy?
It is difficult to imagine, unless of course it is a case of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Zanu PF is in control of most of the levers of power, and more importantly, power in the security services sector. Leaders of the military and the police have openly and shamelessly declared their support for Zanu PF.
The Attorney General is a well-known supporter of Zanu PF under whose reign the law has been selectively applied against the MDC supporters.
Human right organisations have documented numerous cases of abuse of human rights and selective use of the law in favour of Zanu PF.
Even under the GNU, Mugabe has refused even some of the most elementary constitutional rules which include the requirement to consult with the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
The courts, most of whose officers are direct beneficiaries of Zanu PF policies take inordinate amounts of time to decide cases.
Perpetrators of violence in the past are protected by the police whilst victims who have reported are treated terribly by those who are supposed to protect them.
When the airwaves were opened up, the licences were given to state-related or Zanu PF-aligned operators. Television is still a monopoly of the state and is unashamedly pro-Zanu PF.
All these transgressions; the abuses of authority, the interference in politics by the military and the police in favour of Zanu PF, are known by ordinary Zimbabweans who have been affected by these actions, one way or the other. Zanu PF’s intransigence has continued during the GNU years; nothing has changed.
It is impossible to imagine against this background, that people have forgotten all this and now like and trust Zanu PF to the extent of even clawing back support from the MDC, unless of course it is a case of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Zanu PF’s arrogance is all too apparent in respect of the constitution-making exercise.
It is clear that Zanu PF is seeking to re-write the Copac draft constitution, even after negotiators of all parties agreed to that draft.
The nonsensical suggestions it is making have no bearing whatsoever to what the people asked for in the outreach exercise.
*To be continued on Monday