Zimbabwe’s history of violence a lumbering yolk that needs to be broken

    by Dirk Frey

    We must break away from our history of violence.

    The colonization of Zimbabwe by British ‘adventurers’ (to use a polite term) started a cycle of endemic violence which haunts us to this day. This present moment in history finds us at a crossroads and we must, as a people, make the right decision – that of abandoning violence as our primary option of solving national issues.

    For as far back as human memory reaches, we as Zimbabweans have been second-class citizens in our own country. Subjugated by deceit backed by armed force, the majority diverse population of the newly conquered colony was forced into a sort of psychological slavery where the ordinary citizen was tolerated to exist at the leisure of the ruling class.

    This was maintained not directly by violence, but by the implicit threat of force – but the violence was readily applied if the threat alone was not enough. This philosophy of ‘might is right’ sank deeply into the national psyche. In addition, any fledgling precursors of national identity was thoroughly quashed by divide and rule tactics. The only identity was one imposed by the colonial regime.

    Although the war of liberation was physically won, the dynamics described above where still very much in existence, and although the new government imposed a nationalist identity, it was very much a politicized one, and the psychological methods used to rule were continued from pre-Independence: the citizen was to accept the rulers’ narrative or face the threat of violence in all its forms.

    Thus the citizen’s existence in Zimbabwe continued to be contingent on not rocking the boat, not crossing the rulers. If you stay in line, you’re fine. If you don’t behave as expected, you run the real risk of having your own government as an enemy, backed by the comparatively immense power of the State.

    Fast forward to today. After decades of self-censorship and self-imposed docility (although punctuated by repeated resistance, inevitably shut down), the citizens have grown their own national identity independent of ruling party philosophy.

    They have united and built a communal psyche using modern communication tools, unfamiliar to and uncontrollable by the archaic Cold War ruling class. And this generation has reached a simple consensus: We have had enough and are no longer going to play ball.

    The state is responding, unimaginatively, in time-honoured tradition… violence, physical and psychological, applied early and applied often. Instead of negotiating, communicating or – Heaven forbid! – actually LISTENING to the citizens, it attacks them.

    And so it is dragging everyone into its home ground – brutality. Now this is a game it is familiar with and used to playing. It is well-equipped and trained to do so. Anything is strange to it and unsettling which is why the citizen’s movement’s use of non-violent strategies has it in such a panic.

    The recent weeks has seen several instances of violence during demonstrations, a tacit declaration of war on the people by the government. Unfortunately, but naturally, protesters have defended themselves and responded with violence when attacked. It is absolutely crucial however that we do not allow ourselves to be sucked into their trap. By doing so, there is a tacit acceptance that violence is acceptable.

    More importantly, it is a battle we cannot hope to win, which will see us losing our moral position and detract from what has made us effective in the first place: the daring use of imaginative methods that stump the regime. It is only by countering their brutish methods with strategies they do not know how to handle that we will achieve victory.

    And crucially, we will as a people have disowned the violence that has brought us so much suffering and leave it behind. By such actions we will define ourselves on our own terms, not that of our oppressors. It will be an important foundation for the better Zimbabwe we are seeking to build.

    • Dirk Frey is an activist. Article appears on Khuluma Afrika – a non-partisan center for investigative journalism 

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