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Is violent resistance by the Matabeleland movement justifiable?

Jostling for basics in life typifies civil society struggles under a ZANU PF government in an independent Zimbabwe. The Independence has been nothing short of a disaster for civil society; it has upended the lives of people of all generations, races, tribes and all regions, but its effects have been especially devastating for Matabeleland and Ndebeles who have endured systemic isolation from the country’s social, cultural, political and economic life. It is time Matabeleland freed itself from this predicament. No one expects ZANU PF to hand us freedom, but it is time we demanded it.  

Enough sacrifices made to date

We have made enough sacrifices already, hordes of our young people have left their homeland in search of opportunities in neighbouring countries and the world at large because of the apparent vulnerability under the ZANU PF tribal supremacist policies. The social, cultural, environmental and economic impact of migration has yet to be quantified, but the devastation is there for all to see.

How does Matabeleland free itself?

Freedom is on the verge of extinction in Matabeleland, we need to fight for it, grab it and jealously protect it before we hand it over to the next generation to do the same. We have one obvious pathway to deal with an unfree Zimbabwe and that is to become so absolutely free that our very existence is an act of rebellion; disobeying unjust laws is an act of patriotism. The only question remaining is of strategic nature, of what form the rebellion takes.

We have groups that favour civil disobedience on one side and on the other hand groups who believe nonviolence approaches are founded on naivety and will never cause a militant, violence prone organisation such as ZANU PF and its government to change its ways, as such these groups favour violent resistance.   

Allocating scarce medical resources during armed conflict - On Medicine
Photo credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr. Devastating effects of armed conflict in Aleppo, Syria
MRP members stage demo at Rainbow Hotel - #Asakhe - CITE
Photo credit: CITE (2019). Members of the Mthwakazi Republic Party stage a peaceful demonstration at the Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel accusing the hotelier of importing labour into the city instead of hiring local labour.

Has the case for violence been made by the movement?

Justifying civil resistance by the Matabeleland movement in the face of an ignorant, arrogant and violent ZANU PF-run state of Zimbabwe sounds impossible yet it seems equally daunting to justify violent resistance when one considers its short to long-term impact. We have to look at the performance of liberation movements as government leaders in post-independence to see the risks of violent resistance.

It is no coincidence that many liberation movement led governments have failed to transition to democracies with civilian authority being supreme over military authority. Because the basis of many of these movements has been their military wing whose operative policy was forcing its will on both the enemy and the public to achieve the goals of the movement, the civilians we relegated in the process of achieving the main goal of liberating the nations.

We do not believe a convincing case has been made yet that violent resistance is the answer to our political problems. Those who advocate for violent resistance risk being accused of taking the ‘easy’ but dangerous route of violence because of palpable impatience and a failure to reason and explore aggressive but nonviolent resistance measures, and having no interest in the consequences of violence to our society.

In “Violence Is Sometimes the Answer,” Kai Thaler (2019) argues that the use of violence by protesters is sometimes necessary, particularly in the face of aggressive regime violence, and critiques those “preaching nonviolent resistance” from the outside. Clearly, Thaler is rightly questioning the hypocrisy that disproportionately places the burden of moral responsibility on the civilian victims of state violence to maintain peace while governments embark on violent means to assert their authority and appropriate power.

The relationship between tribal supremacy and the State is apparent in Zimbabwean politics. Gukurahundi genocide is ZANU’s signature, its psychological impact can neither be dismissed nor minimised nor ignored, and the movement has to be clear how, in any armed conflict, civilian safety would be ensured or casualties reasonably reduced. Furthermore, it remains unclear how a reliable supply chain of arms would be maintained, let alone which of the neighbouring countries would be prepared to support the Matabeleland movement in the event of an armed conflict.

The case for civil resistance

Research shows that while violent campaigns may evoke glamour, they are not more effective than nonviolent campaigns. Chenoweth and Stephan (2011) studied 323 violent and nonviolent political campaigns between 1900 and 2006. A movement had to be substantial in size, constitute at least 1,000 active participants to qualify for inclusion in the study. The researchers found that violent campaigns had 23% success rate and 60% complete failure while nonviolent campaigns had 53% success rate and about 20% complete failure. The same study found that about 10% of violent campaigns were a partial success compared to 20% of nonviolent campaigns.

Rightly or wrongly, public perception of nonviolent campaigns is more positive as contrasted with violent campaigns. People across generations are more likely to engage in nonviolent means as opposed to violent means. And the likelihood of getting international support is greater. In their book ‘Why civil resistance works’, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan (2011) argue that mass, broad-based participation is critical to movement success and that movements that rely primarily on nonviolent tactics tend to enjoy more diverse participation, which in turn yields a number of political advantages for the campaign.


We do not think ZANU PF has any right to command us merely because it enjoys the support of the largest tribal group in Zimbabwe – both in government and in society – and we are a small population group in comparison; to claim superiority on the basis of tribe is moral emptiness. Until the last child in Matabeleland is able to access resources they need to reach their potential and live the life they deserve, we will not stop the fight for our freedom.


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