HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsPolitical vitriol, political violence

Political vitriol, political violence


If visitors to Zimbabwe want to know what to do in the aftermath of the violence that rocked Parliament Building last week, they have discovered the country’s politics is no easy game to say the least.

It is fair to say — in Zimbabwe’s political climate, and given political rhetoric, these have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.

In the final analysis, why did these party apparatchiks do this? The answer will come from psychology, not from sociology or political science. We should not just exercise pop sociology out of our hip pocket. Is there any evidence that vitriol leads to violence? Yes.

Political leaders regularly infuse communication with metaphors of fighting and war, yet they feed on the same trough over a cup of coffee and pancakes.
In the week before last, unruly Zanu PF apparatchiks stormed Parliament Building beating up an MP, journalists and harassing chairperson of the Thematic Committee on Human Rights and MDC-T Zaka Senator Misheck Marava.

This prompted Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa to vow the party would defend its activists if they were to be arrested for storming Parliament and disrupting business in the august House.

Curiously, there is no suspect and no one has been arrested at this point. It is kind of annoying to say this, since I do not want to think Zanu PF would ever stoop to this kind of tactic, whereas I am always willing to believe the worst, but this is unacceptable for anyone, ever.

Politics is often heated, hell at a site where they mostly agree on goals. But, any time there is a move towards violence it is bad for a democracy. Zimbabweans can all agree that (our) democracy has enough problems without, adding a growing culture that accepts change by violence as a viable means of political change.

I want to believe Parliament is supreme, and its business must not be unnecessarily interrupted by uncouth party activists.

Violence is not the kind of thing that is acceptable, even in the heat of a fight where one side seems to be breaking the rules and laws of the State. It is never, ever going to be acceptable to try to intimidate politicians or political groups with violence especially at Parliament Building.

Even the mere threat does damage that is hard to correct the country’s political discourse. Anyone doing it, no matter their political beliefs is anathema to Zimbabweans and should be to anyone involved in politics in any fashion.

With this kind of politics, Zimbabwe can expect no short-term disruptions. Speculation and conjecture aside, the actual outcome of the violence has made it highly unlikely for anything untoward to occur between now and December 2011, when the three main political parties are expected to implement all positions in the election roadmap with the exception of the new constitution.

None of the parties can ill afford to have this programme disrupted. At the same time, the inclusive government will be working to deliver on its grandiose economic development plan, in which tourism will also figure prominently. The real agenda will emerge in 2012, after all the ducks have been lined up. That’s when the fireworks will probably begin. Although Zanu PF has been pushing for early elections, events of the past few weeks show precisely how Zimbabwe is now polarised.

The contours of the looming confrontations are apparent, geographically, ideologically and politically! This sharp divide is set to make the country extremely difficult to administer. At the grassroots level, it has scarred the psyche of the people and caused unprecedented rifts amongst friends, families, workplace colleagues and communities.

Unless healed, it could have a serious downstream impact on travel and tourism, an industry that has taken great pride in its primary characteristics — the friendliness and hospitality.
Events of the last weeks have simply demonstrated that “We are a strife-torn nation.”

Party supporters have been hating each other for political reasons, and this is simply sad. Not everyone is hateful, and there are plenty who are able to feel love for the “other colours”, but the scale of citizen-against-citizen revulsion is a marked phenomenon.

The parties in the inclusive government have super ambitions – MDC-T believes it is the majority party, yet Zanu PF has a stranglehold on the securocrats, and therefore State institutions while MDC is playing kingmaker in the political scheme.

While that may be true strictly speaking, the rubber has hit the road when it tried to ride that mandate to push through legal or constitutional changes to benefit its cronies and supporters. Questions abound about whether Zanu PF will ever honour its promises and democratic ideals, or whether it will become a dictatorship disguised as a democracy.

On the other hand, MDC-T claims to favour reconciliation, but will it be able to control the many in its midst who still will want to seek revenge? It seems the voting public has no apparent interest in the complexity of global politics. It wants someone to blame, and someone else to weigh-in with solutions of populist policies and unrealistic promises.

The right to speak one’s mind, even if it is hateful and hurtful, is a critical part of a democracy, but that right ends when speech is used to intimidate and threaten.

There is more to one’s words than just hyperbole.


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