Origins, futility of contemporary politically-motivated violence

There is a sad and tragic continuing trend in Zimbabwe’s national politics. And this is the seemingly enduring challenge of politically-motivated violence against would be opponents in contestations for State or political party power.

By Takura Zhangazha

It rears its ugly head through the form of physical violence, hate speech and acts of exclusion (barring each other from meetings, censoring differing views in mainstream and social media).

Recently, there have regrettable incidents of politically motivated violence by alleged members of the mainstream opposition the MDC-T.

The assumed reason or motivation for the violence has been the issue of who succeeds the party’s late leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Or at least, who acts as president until an elective congress of the party is eventually held.

The party’s own leaders and even the ruling Zanu PF have condemned the acts of violence with the former promising thorough investigations and bringing the culprits to book.

Some of the alleged perpetrators have also been arrested and questioned by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).

There is, however, more to these unacceptable acts of political violence that must be examined if we are stop them recurring in the short term electoral future, but also as a dark part of our national political culture.

There is, therefore, need to examine the origins of a culture of politically-motivated violence in contemporary Zimbabwean politics.

And some of these origins are historical, where coercion and direct violence were tools of not only the colonial State, but also ended being those of leaders of the liberation struggle.

In fact, the colonial state was the primary purveyor of politically-motivated violence by way of both state structure and intention.

It meted out forms of violence not only by way of enforced physical dominance by a minority group, but as the anti-colonial movement grew by atrocious levels of violence with impunity that included bombings, parading deceased bodies of liberation struggle comrades, enforced encampment (keeps), abductions and evictions.

Just to list a few.

With those that led the liberation struggle, violence was formally adopted as a necessary change of strategy against the settler State, but it also had its own tendencies to be meted out against the people it sought to liberate.

Hence, the jarring tales of violence at pungwes or abductions and murder of those that were alleged sell outs in rural areas.

The settler State did not do the same.
In the urban areas, again, the use of violence between rival nationalist movement camps Zanu and Zapu is well recorded in the urban history of what were the then African townships.

Add to this the perennial and overriding violence of the colonial State (riot police, abductions, confinements) and we have a compounding of a regrettable culture of violence.

It is a culture that is carried over to post independence Zimbabwe through again the legacy of colonialism and the struggles against it.

But more significantly, it is instrumentalised by the ruling establishment to retain power.

Though contemporary leaders of Zanu PF would deny this, violence and exclusionary language were to reach their zenith with the rise of the opposition MDC in the late 1990s.
And the violence also included the use of State apparatus such as the police, prisons and party leaders and the youth.

In the conundrum that it became this violence also then lead to a developing culture of mimicry in the opposition.

Because the culture of violence had led to many opposition supporters feeling they had no option but to stand by their party(ies) and individual leaders, they copied some of the habits of the ruling party.

They also protected political turfs, with the youth embracing subtle ethnic undertones to their politics and began to use the language of exclusion in public (making statements on how they have been there from the beginning of the party etc).

In both the ruling party and opposition the culture of violence is largely internal before it is meted out on others.

And this is largely due to the lack of organic internal democracy in the parties (this includes even the smaller ones).

Perhaps with changes in leaderships of the main parties this culture might change, but it looks less likely in the short term.

There is too much entitlement to political leadership especially by way of “long duree” status in the “party” and slogans such as chine vene vacho (it has its owners).
The latter phrase having found its way into opposition lexicon after the ruling establishment’s “coup-not-a-coup” change of leadership.

And the thousands of unemployed young Zimbabweans will take the hand that they are dealt.

If not to make some sort of income, but also just to belong to some forward looking cause, particularly in an election year.

But the reality of the matter is that acts of contemporary politically-motivated violence are in the final analysis, futile, both for the party and for the individuals involved.

They do not portend ideas nor do they inspire toward greater democratic consciousness and progress.

Instead, they create fear and always the potential of victims becoming perpetrators if they survive it all.

Those in the leadership of the various political parties including the ruling Zanu PF and mainstream opposition MDC-T need to understand that it is not enough to condemn political violence.

They need to act concertedly to embrace internal party democracy and also allow others to democratically arrive at leadership positions, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or race.

They need to allow, in particular, young members of their parties opportunities to lead at earlier stages of their membership and democratically institutionalise their parties more than they do the individuals that lead them.

Vene vacho will then become not the individual but the values and principles that the party stands for and for an immediate posterity, where politically-motivated violence will become a thing of the past.

Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

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1 Comment

  1. Politically motivated violence started way back before the colonialists set their feet on the African continent. In Zimbabwe for example we had a situation of tribal conquest and the use of brutal force to take over either lands, wives, cattle, slaves and grain after harvest. It is a common act known from the past that tribes, especially those that came from down south, would usually organize raids on local tribes for power and benefits. It is therefore not true in its every sense that politically motivated violence was a product of the west. If the truth were to be said, politics in Africa was centered on empire building to an extent. The use of force among even the same tribe on issues of Kingship and Chiefdom has in most cases had its own victims. Such was the way then and that’s why you would have different clans organized from main clans, all for the Chiefdom and little wars would be fought on those grounds and force would be used to attain whatever goal expected. I think we just need to be responsible enough and accept that all humans, at one point may have employed violence to get certain spoils.

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