, , , ,

Protecting citizens against state violence

Extraordinary levels of state violence against certain population groups characterise the independent Zimbabwe state under ZANU PF rule. Citizens from minority population groups are quite deliberately exposed to disproportionately high levels of insecurity and violence at the hands of state and non-state actors. Matabeleland people’s first experience was in the early 1980s in the form of Gukurahundi atrocities. Gukurahundi was a deliberate state intervention in which Ndebeles were targeted for unfathomed levels of violence by a predominantly ethnic Shona state. Since then, violence against minority population groups has become widespread in Zimbabwe as ethnic Shona elites allow politicians and violent non-state actors (e.g., the 5th Brigade, the liberation war veterans and the so-called Green bombers) to enforce inequality and protect their privileges.

Zimbabwe is a modern-day example of how economic and political elites can use both legalised and extra-judicial violence to enforce systemic inequalities, both economic and political. Gangs run riot with impunity as long as their activities impact marginalised communities in favour of the elite. In short, the unwieldy political system of Zimbabwe has many benefactors among the rich and powerful which explains why there are no genuine efforts to bring about order.

Predictably, in Matabeleland we have faced the bitter end of the system; security vulnerabilities in the region were exploited to legitimise violence against citizens. The 5th Brigade was deployed to terrorise, murder unarmed Matabele people. We may have temporarily lost political ground; we may have lost our dignity; but we have not lost hope and our principles; we will liberate our land and people. We will break the Harare stranglehold in Matabeleland. We will restore freedom and extend security to all who call Matabeleland home, no matter where they live.  

To change the status quo will require a correct diagnosis of the problem—the source of violence. We reject the theory that ZANU PF is the anchor of the problem and its removal from power will be the ultimate solution, but we propose that the violence crisis lies in the political values crisis inherent in Mashonaland society and that is the politics ZANU PF and the mainstream opposition are a by-product of and truly project.  

We saw during the Gukurahundi atrocities how the average Shona citizen glorified the state brutality, normalised, accepted and excused that violence. The ethnic Shona public even joyfully called for the execution of Joshua Nkomo, the Ndebele leader of the opposition PF ZAPU. No advances have been made yet, mainstream politics in Zimbabwe politicises tribe and ethnicity, it promotes patronage and dehumanises certain sectors of the population and readily uses violence to force its will on minority population groups.

The Mashonaland operational ethos is reflected in the form of a highly partisan, factionalised Zimbabwean society whose economic and political elites have excess privilege compared to the rest of the citizenry. As part of the ZANU PF leadership cartel, they maintain their privilege and impunity through campaign contributions from criminal gangs, promote violence to force electoral victories; significantly, they have politicised the security sector so that their favoured violent groups are literally exempt from prosecution and are not jailed.

Over the years, the security sector has been turned into ZANU PF militia, deliberately defunded, disenfranchised and de-professionalised; endemic corruption has seen budgets and promotions dependent on political favour and patronage rather than merit. The result is a partisan, weak security force — supported by a partisan justice system — unable to fight crime effectively.  

It explains why the Gukurahundi atrocities were not a “moment of madness”, but a broader governing order based primarily in the politicians who provide impunity for state brutality if committed against marginalised population groups.   

The security sector weaknesses are deliberate and unless there is complete overhaul of the socio-politics prevailing in Mashonaland and society starts emphasising the value of tolerance, open sharing of ideas, negotiated solutions over violence, there is no hope for broader changes in how the state behaves towards citizens. To stop high levels of internal violence, there needs in Mashonaland first, popular recognition — and rejection — of the systemic use of violence against citizens and, second, demands for inclusive political institutions and rights.

ZANU PF has captured and turned state institutions into private party merchandise. Selective application of state constitutional provisions and the law is the norm; the party decides who is safe and who is at risk based on their allegiance with the party elite or faction holding power at the time.

Hard lessons from Zimbabwean state and non-state violence directed at citizens must equip Matabeleland politicians with the knowledge of how not to behave if in power. As first-hand victims in a state with high levels of inequality and polarisation, we are fully aware that violence among marginalised citizens cannot be stopped simply by removing the governing party. A peaceful Matabeleland needs an inclusive social contract that will allow equal access to political processes and safety. In word and practice, we must signal that every community member deserves equal protection and support from the state and dedicate the government to serve all citizens equally.



Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: