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Safety of Matabeleland’s social and political space is everybody’s responsibility

Condemning all forms of violence will be the first and most significant step in the second revolution of African politics where the enemy is no longer external to us but among us, and in our minds. We can no longer justifiably use Western governments’ meddling in local politics as reason for internal violence, for if we look deeply into the violence, we see African minds – our own prejudices, fears and ignorance. Even if we cut off all ties with the West, the roots of violence will remain in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will find new reasons for the violence.

Promoting peace

To work for peace, it must be everybody’s duty to rid society of the roots of violence – prejudice, tribalism, etc. We have to strongly condemn the vitriolic words and the use of naked aggression to solve internal political matters and pave the way for a new generation of politics that prioritises thought and discussion.

Matabeleland has first-hand experience and a good insight into State violence, and we know what surviving criminal violence in a political space that refuses to acknowledge it feels like. It is for this reason that we are disturbed by recent local displays of intolerance and acts of violence directly linked to it. What is significant about the latest acts of violence including one that saw a local artist being assaulted for his comedy performance is public response to it. The majority of people responding to the story saw the assault as funny and deserved; this is not an isolated incident, ordinary men and women are increasingly the sources of legitimating narratives around political violence.

Individual responsibility to condemn violence

A reminder to Mthwakazi people that those who glorify violence will never know peace; laughing at victims of violence is ignorance that needs to be nipped in the bud; we must understand that to excuse or legitimise violence, no matter the context and how tiny it may seem is to give communities the passport to practise hatred and violence in their hearts and minds, and frightening as it sounds, that is the best way to plant millions of seeds of violence, anger, intimidation, frustration, and fear that will be passed on for generations to come.   

There is precedence in the intolerance of difference and disregard of the law. ZANU is the master tactician of that dark, distasteful art. The public have witnessed or been victims of state aggression and aggression of the ruling party with no access to legal recourse. What is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour has been lost in the eyes of the led. Matabeleland must not fall into that temptation of legitimising violence against civilians for exercising their rights; let us act to restore human dignity and frown upon aggression and violence in all its forms – micro or macro.

State responsibility

Concerning the rule of law, violence and public safety, government must set a good example for the public to follow, as aptly pointed by Margaret Thatcher (former UK Prime Minister 1979 – 1990) in her 1975 speech to the Conservative Party Conference, “The first people to uphold the law should be governments…The first duty of Government is to uphold the law. If it tries to bob and weave and duck around that duty when its inconvenient, if government does that, then so will the governed, and then nothing is safe – not home, not liberty, not life itself.”

The genocide in Matabeleland did not start with the butcher of unarmed civilians but deeper tribal hatred in ZANU way back in 1963; the smear made against Dr Joshua Nkomo and Ndebele people relating to dissidents in the early 1980s was wrong and cannot be defended by any decent human being. Dangerous, false and baseless personal slurs were made to justify the murder of Ndebele people. Falsehoods are dangerous, they corrode trust in politics and cannot just be accepted and normalised as part of African politics.

Given Gukurahundi genocide did not end in 1987 but morphed into other forms that have left us subject to ongoing micro-aggressions and blatant abuse in Zimbabwe, there is nothing to admire from violence, and certainly nothing worth imitating. A diverse society like ours was never built on the back of deep intolerance but accommodation, respect of difference and the ability to disagree on issues but maintaining agreement on the value of humanity.

We are frightened by the prospect of intolerance creeping in and capturing the soul of Ubuntu, and hate the idea of those in the entertainment industry not being able to use their abilities for fear of retributive violence from those who may take offence to their work; we deplore the intolerance that saw a local comedian (uMdawini) assaulted for making a joke about tenants/ lodgers, and the deep affront to our people’s dignity from being unable to freely earn a living from a trade of their choice because somebody chooses not to differentiate apparent humour from confrontation.

Conclusion

Duty calls; in the face of violence we must neither be victims nor perpetrators, and most of all we must never be bystanders. Those who use violence as a primary means to achieve their goals in society must not be turned into heroes but shamed for the bullies that they effectively are. Those who legitimise violence need to take a look in the mirror. No one should be afraid of expressing their thoughts, and every thought should be open to critique; we have the legal system to turn to in the face of hate speech (forms of expressions which advocate, incite, promote or justify hatred, violence and discrimination against a person or group of persons for a variety of reasons) because such communication poses grave dangers for the cohesion of our society, the protection of human rights and the rule of law. Mdawani’s joke may have been offensive to some, but it was purely for comedic purposes, nothing more, and nothing less.

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