The Use of Violence in Politics

In 1983 I received a call from a Catholic Nun who told me that she was speaking from the District of Lupane in Matabeleland and that an army unit was creating havoc in the district with hundreds of people injured or worse. It was the start of Gukurahundi, a four-year campaign to crush the spirit of the Ndebele people and wipe out Zapu as a political party. Thousands died in the subsequent campaign, which used violence and torture, killings and mass starvation. In 1987 the leadership of Zapu conceded and the 'Unity' accord was signed and Zanu's goal of eliminating this long-term rival was achieved.

20 years later, I sat in my truck watching the people of Lupane vote after yet another tough and violent election campaign. Villagers walked out of the bush from all directions and reported first to their Village Headmen who were seated in the shade about 200 metres from the polling station. They then walked down to the school, passing a large pile of 50 kg bags of maize that had been dropped there by the Grain Marketing Board some 5 days before. On the top of the pile was a policeman with an AK 47.

Inside the polling station were several policemen, some known CIO operatives and in front of these the peasants had to give their names, see them checked off in the Register, then collect a numbered ballot, fill it in behind a screen and then put it into the box. Then going back to the Headman to confirm they had voted. The people had been told, 'We know whom you vote for. If your area votes for MDC, the maize goes back to the GMB and you starve and we will then return and repeat what we did to you in 1983/4'.

They voted for MDC.

There is a limit to the value of violence as a political tool and after a while it is actually counter productive. Matabeleland has always voted against Zanu - first because they voted for Zapu and then simply because they could not forget what Zanu did to them in the 80's. The hurts are real and deep and are not forgotten or forgiven and are now translated into support for anyone who is opposed to Zanu rule.

Zanu has a political culture that has violence at its epicenter - in the sixties, the government banned both political parties, not so much because they were a threat to the status quo but because of widespread violence and intimidation - against each other's supporters. Our gardener carried both Party cards - when confronted he would pull out one or the other and give the appropriate slogan, if he got it wrong, the result would be a beating.

Today Zanu has metamorphosed into factions, one is in favor of violence as a means of avoiding an election that they now recognise they cannot win, others are for an election using their old tactics - manipulate the voters roll, distort and control the delimitation based on a distorted roll, control the balloting and the counting and if necessary (as in 2008) simply falsify the results. This faction would also use violence and intimidation - targeted killings, disappearances, beatings and torture, threats to family, destruction of property and even banning people from their homes.

Such tactics and plans were far advanced in 2010. They have not resulted in an election or in the failure of the GPA government simply because of regional pressure. Recent violence has its origins in both pro and anti election factions. The former because they really believed that they could get away with a snap election - first in October 2010 and then in May 2011. They set up the structures, deployed the thugs and leadership and have simply not been able to curb their eagerness to get started.

The violence planned by the other, more radical group, is much more serious and sophisticated and was best illustrated by the so-called riots in Harare on Monday. This group knows full well that they simply cannot win an election - not even if they are allowed to get away with all the nonsense that the other faction has planned. They therefore want a solution that would leave power in their hands.

So first they planned a strategic assassination, followed by a declaration of a State of Emergency and the arrest of MDC leadership, the formation of a Government of National Salvation as a front for a thinly disguised military Junta. Headed off by the region they now want an 'Egypt' solution.

I am astonished at the naivety of those who see in the riots and protest in Egypt a model for change in Zimbabwe. What do we have in Egypt today - 48 hours after the resignation of the President, a Military Junta with a civilian facade. For the hard line faction of Zanu PF today such an outcome is exactly what they want to see happen here. The engineered riots on Monday were a clumsy effort to evoke a response from the people of Zimbabwe and they had hoped that in the subsequent mayhem they would find justification for a crack down and the abandonment of the GPA and its wretched road map to elections.

I hear that even more violence is planned and that this will be more serious, not just looting stores and allowing the young Zanu thugs to keep what they can steal. This time I would not be surprised if they do not burn down some big buildings and engineer some real street battles.

The problem is that we are not buying it. MDC is telling its supporters to keep cool and stay out of it. Do not retaliate if attacked or provoked. This is not weakness but real strength and discipline. We decided 12 years ago that we wanted a peaceful, legal, democratic transfer of power to new leadership. We are not about to change our stance. We knew the GPA government would not work, we did not even like the arrangement, but we accepted it because it was the only deal on the table that would take us to a free and fair election. This time, violence will not help Zanu.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo 14th February 2011