Violence, repression: Zim’s scourge

guest column:guest column

RHODESIA was born out of violence and so did Zimbabwe. And more recently, the new dispensation was born out of violence. This is a period that stretches 130 years — well over a century and a quarter of people living with violence and there seems to be no way out.

Cecil John Rhodes’ Pioneer Column was clear in its mission — subdue the Africans and control them with an iron fist. They carried out that mission — abominable as it was. And for 90 years they were not afraid to use the coercive apparatus of the State to quell any challenge to their rule.

The white settlers pillaged the land, marked mineral claims and forcibly used African labour for production on their farms, mines and factories – all for little or no pay at all. That was Rhodesia. The Rhodesian system Achilles heel was the white population at its very best never expanded beyond 250 000. They were a minority — a pitiful minority for that matter; never growing beyond 10% of the national population.

It was only until the 1960s that Africans organised themselves with support from regional and international organisations to militarily remove the colonial regime.

On its part, the regime was then under the leadership of racist Ian Douglas Smith, a World War 11 veteran, but someone who did not think the right to self-determination and respect of human rights extended to blacks.

War is nasty. It brings the best and the worst in a person. In an act of self-preservation, both the whites and blacks committed serious atrocities against each other and among themselves. It was a hectic decade-and-a-half from 1965 to 1980. Thousands died – many needlessly so – that in 1980 a significant number of people were asking themselves if the war had been worth it.

It goes without saying that the war led to the famous Lancaster House talks that ushered in a new Zimbabwe. A Zimbabwe with a Constitution that had a Bill of Rights, promised one-man one-vote, making sure that political leaders would have to be elected by the generality of the citizens.

The honeymoon did not last two years as war colleagues turned the guns against each other. Violence had become imbedded in the psyche of the rulers – politicians who thought they could use power to get away with anything.

It was a sad five years – 1982 to 1987. Thousands of indigenous people lost their lives and conservative estimates by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace put the death toll at 20 000. The total number of people who actually died from the atrocities per day was higher than the those of the 15-year-old independence struggle combined casualties.

Leadership transitions in Africa in general have been problematic. Zimbabwe learned it the hard way in November 2017 when the military moved out of their barracks to topple the late former President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe had been in power for 37 years and had led Zanu PF for 40 years.

Mugabe, like in the 1980s, used force and repression against the opposition to protect his power. This caused political and electoral violence never experienced in Zimbabwe. The 2000 elections, 2002 presidential poll and the 2008 presidential run-off have arguably been Zimbabwe’s bloodiest polls.

Despite the lull, Zimbabwe is still simmering with political tension. At the weekend, St Mary’s and Zengeza suburbs, Chitungwiza, experienced political violence. The violence was ignited by Zanu PF youths who were threatening to besiege Zengeza West MP and MDC national vice-chairman Job Sikhala’s residence in protest against sanctions.

It is curious that leaders in Zanu PF remained quiet when this was being planned and posted on social media. The security agents knew about these dastardly acts beforehand, but chose to look the other way. The resultant violence left a trail of disaster, stoned cars and buses and lost business to those who depend on vending.

The public transport utility, Zupco, in a rushed decision suspended bus service to the suburbs, a move that smells of collective punishment to the rest of the community, whether they participated in the political disturbances or not. In itself, the move seems normal but its intended consequences could be people getting more angrier against the regime.

The pictures of the violence are awash on social media and many an investor are thinking twice to invest in a community with such violence and a security service that is so eager to use disproportionate force to quell the violence. Zimbabweans have experienced lots of violence. Many across the world have not forgotten the violent expropriation of commercial farms nor the takeover of companies under the guise of indigenisation.

The few who still come to Zimbabwe are the fly-by-night investors in the extractive industries. With the commodities boom on international markets, the country is set to experience more of the same investors who are not concerned about Zimbabwe’s long-term future.

Since time immemorial, it is a fact that violence begets violence. In our case, 130 years is a long time, but a stop to this menace can be found.

Political leaders have to be responsible, use negotiations to achieve their objectives than resorting to violence or coercion. Zimbabwe should exorcise this scourge and do it now or else we can descend into a Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia or Afghanistan if the leaders continue pursuing their narrow political interests.

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