BUHERA, ZIMBABWE: For 48-year-old Esau of Chigavakava Township, living in fear and withdrawal from society had become somewhat of a normal lifestyle.
With his home situated a couple of kilometres from the township, Esau avoided staying late drinking, fearing he would be attacked again by rival political party activists.
Esau is a victim of the June 2008 political violence that happened when opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T party led ahead of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF in elections held in March of that year.
With his attackers still walking free in the same village and the country not having achieved much in providing psychological therapy for political violence victims, Esau’s only choice was to withdraw himself than face his attackers every day.
Far from Esau’s village, the entire Buhera has a strong history of political violence, both inter-party and intra-party.
At its peak in the 2000 and 2008 elections, political party youths reportedly camped in mountains and descended on villages at night, terrorizing those suspected of not supporting their respective political parties.
The MDC-T claims that in 2008, over 200 were killed in politically motivated murders countrywide.
Although last year’s polls were relatively calm, subsequent incidents of political violence saw rural communities remaining politically sensitive zones, stalling the much-needed dialogue among major community stakeholders- villagers, political and traditional leaders.
The country’s political environment, mainly dominated by MDC-T and Zanu PF, has always been characterised by polarization and community-level political intimidation and harassment especially during election time.
But last week, the Zimbabwe Peace Project and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum brought together these political rivals at a ceremony to commemorate the International Day of Peace at Chigavakava Township.
Esau was one of the 350 villagers, traditional leaders and elected officials who attended the function.
“I was afraid to express myself because of the torture that I witnessed and experienced in 2008. But I am glad this meeting broke the ice for community dialogue. People within the community had created unnecessary enmity due to political differences but after this, we can now view each other as brothers and sisters again and I am glad I managed to talk to some people I had not talked to in a long time because of the political barrier that was separating us”
Traditional leaders for peace
Traditional chiefs have often been touted as catalysts of political violence countrywide but Chief Nerutsanga who attended the function defied this and instead encouraged peaceful co-existence and tolerance, “Ini ndinotungamira nekukokera vana vemuno, muno muBuhera tiri vanhu vanodada nehwunhu hwavo,” he said.
His prayer, there should be more dialogue platforms to encourage tolerance and respect of different political views.
Peace is community responsibility
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum director Abel Chikomo said the responsibility to sustain peace lay not just in the hands of traditional leaders, but in the community as a whole.
“In the end, we must acknowledge that if peace is everyone’s right, then building it must be everyone’s duty, because peace does not just happen. You have to work for it. It is difficult to work for peace, but to live with violence is a constant torment,” he said.
Meanwhile ZPP, in its statement on the same occasion, urged the alignment of existing laws to the country’s new constitution.
“Without this (alignment), the ZPP strongly believes that this year’s theme “the right of people’s to peace” will remain a pipedream for many Zimbabweans. ZPP urges policy makers and relevant stakeholders to publicly account and commit to supporting a peaceful Zimbabwe.”
The ZPP also called on government to establish the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) as enshrined in the constitution.
The NPRC’s mandate is to bring lasting peace, justice and ensure post-conflict justice, healing and reconciliation.
As the sun set on the dusty Chigavakava, villagers were finishing up their soccer tournament and receiving their trophies, hopefully in preparation for the beginning of a new day of peace and political tolerance.
The day ended with the words of the late Vice President John Landa Nkomo’s “Peace begins with me, peace begins with you and peace begins with us”