The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission in the new constitution does not guarantee addressing the trauma and will have to rely on its members to ensure that it is one of its core business than merely persuading and bringing victims and perpetrators together.
Until the Zimbabwean government deals with the roots of fear associated with elections, the country can never truly have free and fair elections
The 2008 election remains one of the darkest election periods in Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe Human rights NGO Forum estimates that between March 2008 and July 2009, about 3000 cases of political violence were reported. These cases represent individual Zimbabweans tortured, injured, murdered or rendered destitute by arson in the political violence perpetrated by the state during and after the March 2008 ‘harmonised’ and presidential elections. As Lloyd Sachikonye points out, Zimbabwe has a long history of violent political problem-solving: 2008 was yet another example.
In 2008, young people in the regions of Mashonaland and Matebeleland witnessed, participated and were forced to see a lot of gruesome activities. Those who participated in the violence did it for a number of different reasons.
For some, participating in politically motived violence was a form of shielding themselves and their families from being targets of those who willingly took part.
Others had been indoctrinated and genuinely believed that supporters of other political parties other than ZANU PF were ‘cancer’ that should be extracted from within their society.
Some, who could not be identified as being with or against the opposition, had to prove their loyalty to ZANU PF by attacking individuals well known as members of the opposition.
A great number of the victims were mistakenly believed to be with the opposition. These unfortunates were beaten, tortured, raped, had their homes burnt down, and were forced to attend all night vigils. Some lost their lives. Those that survived lived to tell the stories of what they saw at the militiabases that were established around that time.
The legacy of Zimbabwe’s violent political history
The world has moved on since 2008, but the scars for many young people who witnessed and suffered have not healed. Physical violence in Zimbabwe during elections may be a thing of the past, judging from the 2013 harmonised election, but the scars of previous elections run deeper than most can imagine.
Intimidation has since become an effective tool to influence the outcome of an election: the violence is not forgotten, and, unless the structures of violence are removed, the fear of political violence will remain. This is the key message that emerges from our interviews with Zimbabwean youth for the programme Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency (PVCA): at the mention of elections, many young people are gripped with fear.
Such fear manifests in different ways. In Matebeleland, the target of brutal repression in the 1980s as well as in 2008, many young people choose to leave the region during elections. They are able to find refuge because the region’s history and their associated fear of violence is widely understood.
In Mashonaland however, only a few migrate to urban areas if they have family, and most prefer to comply with whatever is happening to be able to survive that period.
How can Zimbabwe heal its young people?
How does a nation move from associating elections with trauma, given the experiences of so many of its population? I believe there has to be some form of redress: wounds may heal but the scars will always serve as a reminder of what happened.
To date, the Zimbabwean government has not formally acknowledged the magnitude of the damage of the 2008 electoral violence. After 2008, the Organ of National Healing was established, but it was not successful in dealing with the trauma that a lot of people suffer from.
There is a Shona proverb which says, chinokanganwa idemo chitsiga hachikanganwe (What forgets is the axe, the tree stump does not forget). This is true of election violence; the perpetrators and those that are guilty of omission have since moved on and forgotten, but those scarred by the violence cannot forget. And, every 5 years when another election comes by, it is a reminder of what can happen.
Given that nearly 2 million young Zimbabweans (under 30 years old), did not bother to register as voters for the 2013 elections, we must not simply conclude that it is apathy or the difficulties put in the way of registering for young persons (because they may be supporters of opposition political parties). There are many reasons why the youth are voting with their feet, and knowing that politics is a violent business in Zimbabwe may be a huge discouragement as well.
Caroline Kache is a Researcher at the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), a research partner for the Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency (PVCA) project at IDS. The Zimbabwe case study is being carried out by Marjoke Oosterom and RAU and is funded by Hivos.
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