We have degrees in violence

Mugabe is famous for many sayings - including the above where he was openly acknowledging that Zanu PF not only used violence as a weapon but actually boasted that they were violent people. He also once said he admired Hitler for his ruthless establishment of a dictatorship in Europe that nearly dominated half the world.

There was a time when violence was perhaps the only way to achieve change - when all other avenues has been exhausted and no alternative route seemed to present itself. The people who make up the Zimbabwe nation are not by nature violent people, the majority are Christians and would not espouse violence in any form under normal circumstances. In the early 70ís there was probably no real alternative - partly because nationalist leaders had themselves decided that they wanted more rapid change than the then settler regimes were prepared to grant. Whatever the merits or demerits of the case, the fire of war started in earnest in 1972 and went on until it was finally put out in 1980.

Mugabe and many of his cohorts are a product of that period. Had Mugabe got his way he would have gone on fighting until the then regime collapsed and he was able to march into Harare at the head of a victorious army in the same way that the Vietnamese took over Saigon when that war effort collapsed. But he did not get his way because the Americans and South Africa decided that they had to intervene and get regime change under way. The local leaders conveniently forget that part of our history.

The transition in 1980 was nearly as miraculous as that which took place in South Africa in 1994. To my knowledge only one shot was fired during the whole process and that was by a soldier who ran amuck in Harare. It did not take long however for the demons of the past to come back and haunt us.

There was a short lived rebellion among Zipra troops - suppressed mainly by elements of the former Rhodesian Army now under Mugabe control, then came the South African inspired and managed destabilization programme that saw more white farmers killed in Matabeleland than had been killed in the war. This was followed by the effort to destroy the only effective opposition in the country in the form of Zapu under the leadership of the father of nationalism in Zimbabwe, Joshua Nkomo.

A secret campaign, known as Gukurahundi - a 'storm' got under way and in a period of three years some 40 000 people were murdered, perhaps 400 000 were injured or displaced and their homes destroyed. The leadership of Zapu was imprisoned - some for years, and others fled. In the end they capitulated and were absorbed into Zanu PF.

What is not widely known about this period is that the actual violence was accompanied by political control of all resources and food and the denial of opportunities to the Ndebele population. Specific sanctions were implemented targeting any person who spoke Ndebele or had Zapu connections.

After the subjugation of the Ndebele and the elimination of Zapu from the political scene, peace returned to Zimbabwe and Zanu simply targeted the various political formations that came into existence to try and influence Zanu PF and secure changes in the way the country was being governed.

The campaign against these smaller parties was just as unrelenting as the one that had been used against Zapu. Its leaders were targeted and humiliated or driven into the wilderness. Poorly funded and resourced they were easily brushed aside and posed no real threat to Zanu PF hegemony. That is until the MDC came on the scene in 1999.

When the MDC proved to be more than a match for the Zanu PF machine, the machine resorted to its roots and resumed the use of physical violence to get its way. The targets were anyone who stood in the way or helped MDC in its campaigns and activities. The business persons who funded our first Congress were forced to flee the country, supporters and activists were targeted and killed.

In the ensuing 7 years and three national campaigns later, it is difficult to estimate the numbers killed and injured in acts of political violence. The main target has been the MDC although other groups have been also on the receiving end. What is unusual is the extent to which the regime in Harare has been prepared to go to achieve its objectives.

Operations such as the one launched against the large scale commercial farmers is one example - they destroyed the productive capacity of some 4000 farms, in the process reducing food production to less than 20 per cent of our needs and in the process displacing the entire population of farm workers and their families - nearly 1,5 million people.

In the Murambatsvina campaign in 2005, 300 000 homes were destroyed, 1,4 million people displaced and all in a period of three months. They have systematically destroyed what is left of a once diversified and vibrant economy, in the process driving out of the country millions of people who otherwise would have voted MDC. The fact that in doing so they have undermined the security and stability of the region was never of any consequence, that they have destroyed thousands of families is also of little consequence.

Then came this final effort to crush the MDC and its structures. It started in March 2007 and continues today. In all at least 1500 people have been murdered, several hundred thousand beaten and displaced. There has been widespread use of torture and beatings. In the most recent episode some 8000 people have been injured in the past two weeks and ten times that many displaced. The theme used in almost all cases is that 'we have come to teach you how to vote'. I wondered why so many have broken hands and then discovered that these thugs are saying to people - you used your hands to vote wrongly - we will teach you how to vote or stop you voting.

Will it work for Zanu PF again, or is this their final fling before oblivion? All we want to know is who will ensure that when we win this time round - clearly and decisively, who will ensure that we are allowed to take over and form the next government?

Eddie Cross
7th May 2008