Culture of violence keeps Zimbabweans on edge
HARARE – With the country’s political protagonists readying themselves for arguably the biggest elections since the 1980 independence polls, the generality of citizens are on the edge.
The spectre of violence still looms large given the bloodshed that has characterised past elections, including the 2008 charade which culminated in the current fragile ruling coalition.
Institutions set-up by the coalition to deal with peace are many and impressive, but citizens have questioned their effectiveness.
Parliament has peace committees; government has the National Healing Organ while a parallel structure in the form of the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (Jomic) which have been rallying people around the country to accept diversity.
The question Zimbabweans will be asking themselves is have we termed the beast of political violence?
Zimbabwe’s cycle of violence makes them worry.
Veteran freedom fighter Shadreck Chipanga, a former Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) director general and Mines minister, seems to think it will be difficult for Zimbabwe to come up with a credible and peaceful poll.
He told a local weekly this week that political parties found it difficult to accept political pluralism since the early days of resistance to colonial rule.
“At the time (1964) there was serious rivalry between Zanu and the People’s Caretaker Council (Zapu’s successor). This was really serious kwete zvamunotaura zvekuti kune violence neMDC. This is all chicken stuff.
“If you form another party, the older party does not usually accept this. So Zanu was seen as a sell-out movement that had come to disturb Zapu programmes,” said Chipanga.
Political commentator Lawton Hikwa said electoral violence in Zimbabwe today is not justified but thought the country has a chance to move forward.
“The issue of violence in this country is two pronged; pre-independence violence was a justified means to reach an end of self-determination but now that it’s being used to entrench a particular clique it is not justified.
“The political leadership is basically accountable for the actions of its membership and I think looking at the situation and how Mugabe has tried to rally people around peaceful elections I think the likelihood of a violent free election is high,” Hikwa said.
He said law enforcement agencies will do themselves a lot of good by embracing the virtue of non-selective application of the law.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisayi Ruhanya said the country’s constitutional architecture is not to blame for past violent elections. He said violence was in the DNA of politicians.
“What we need is a culture for the respect of human rights and rule of law. We need guarantees of civil liberties and the police in particular to stop the selective application of the law. Unless Mugabe decides his time is up, makes up his mind about transfer of power to his opponents then the threat of violence is still real,” said Ruhanya.
Some major political violence markers in Zim’s political history
– 1960-1970s: Zapu and Zanu violence leads to many unaccounted deaths in camps and warfront mainly centred on ethnic power struggles.
– 1980: Robert Mugabe, the Zanu leader declares if he does not win elections his party would continue to fight to guerrilla war.
– 1981-87: After winning the first democratic elections and assuming power Mugabe begins a manhunt for his erstwhile comrade Joshua Nkomo leading to Gukurahundi killings.
– 1989-1990: Mugabe’s party former secretary-general Edgar Tekere breaks away to form the Zimbabwe Unity Movement, but the response from Zanu PF is violence leading to deaths and injuries, including that of late Patrick Kombayi in the fight for Gweru Central Constituency with Mugabe’s deputy Simon Muzenda.
– 1999-2002: The arrival of Tsvangirai’s MDC on the political scene is met with renewed violence which results in many deaths, the violent farm invasions and the bloodbath in the 2002 Presidential elections.
– 2005: Tsvangirai’s MDC splits following disagreements over participation in elections. Violence follows.
– 2007: A prayer meeting in Highfield led by the MDC leads to a wave of violence that has Tsvangirai bludgeoned to near death in police custody.
– 2008: After losing the first round presidential elections Mugabe turns to the army for support. The military unleashes a wave of violence that forces Tsvangirai to pull out of the presidential run-off but Mugabe forces it through to declare himself winner, a claim that is rejected worldwide.
– 2011: The MDC congress in Bulawayo is marred by violent scenes. The culprits are yet to be punished despite an investigation and the subsequent tribunal.