HomeCommentCandid Comment: Lord Soames Would Feel Vindicated

Candid Comment: Lord Soames Would Feel Vindicated

I HAVE always abhorred violence. There was a lot of it during the Independence war in the 1970s.

We heard a lot of it as students at Masase school in Mberengwa as the war raged on.

There were tales of “Vakomana” who beat up or shot dead “sellouts”.

One day the war theatre got closer.

We were woken up in the night one day in 1979 by the “Freedom Fighters” and led into the village, some two kilometers away.

A local woman was accused of selling out and she was going to be tried.

Beatings of “sellouts” at nearby bases had become common place.

As we stood singing around a bonfire, the woman was pushed forward through the crowd screaming, her hands and feet tied with wire.

A male “accomplice” managed to flee into the dark as a volley of gunfire tore the night.

Before we knew what was happening and quivering in fear, Selina, as the woman was known, had her head blown up in a hail of bullets. That was the end for all sellouts, we were admonished. Nobody cried.

No one could scream. We found our way back to school in grim silence. Vakomana had vanished.

A few days later an uncle of mine was bombed by helicopters as he returned from repairing water pipes for the school.

Soon after the school was closed down. We moved to Bulawayo.

Then it was Independence. In the merriment and euphoria, the horror of war quietly crept into Matabeleland and Midlands under the name Gukurahundi.

The Breaking the Silence report by the CCJP has graphic details of the atrocities there; things normal citizens never imagine possible.

Innocent pregnant women had their abdomens ripped open; men were thrown alive into mine shafts and whole families were locked into huts which were set ablaze while the state agents stood by the door to make sure no one escaped.

This was Zimbabwe’s golden era, by some accounts. The rest of the country was enjoying a boom in everything.

The death of PF-Zapu in 1987 brought relative respite. I have heard those who never experienced wanton murder call it a sellout deal by Joshua Nkomo.

I don’t know what the alternative was to end the killings.

Yet looking at how people in Matabeleland have voted in all elections ever since, I think they have been more resilient in their silent agony than the rest of the country where Robert Mugabe’s violence has worked wonders  for him in every election.

He resorted to it after losing the 2000 constitutional referendum. He has won every seat in Mashonaland through terror, we are told.

It is the same story in Manicaland and Masvingo.

The period towards the parliamentary elections in June that year was the most violent thing I had witnessed.

And for the first time the world was exposed to the horrors previously most parts of Zimbabwe were shielded from by propaganda.

A few white commercial farmers who had survived the liberation war had a sense of déjà vu.

People escaped villages with broken limbs, fractured skulls; their homes, food and livestock destroyed in an orgy of violent madness.

Many have yet to recover.

Many were still trying to reconstruct their shattered dreams when Murambatsvina struck in May 2005.

For the first time since Independence war was brought into the heart of Harare. People were beaten up and homes destroyed.

Men and women wailed openly in broad daylight as they watched their life’s investments vanish into the sky in a pall of cement dust.

Just before the March 29 elections we had an alfresco lunch with workmates at Mereki in Warren Park D.

There was animated discussion about how Zimbabweans had “matured” politically as we looked at the posters of different party candidates pasted side-by-side on the walls. Zanu PF and MDC activists shared opaque beer.

Some joked that you could put on a Zanu PF skirt and an MDC T-shirt and scarf without getting awkward questions.

My sixth sense told me all this was a grand illusion. 

I said I didn’t believe in the so-called maturity of Zimbabweans. “You only need a politician to say one word to cross from carnival to mayhem,” I warned.

We went on to hold one of the most peaceful elections since Independence (yes, since 1980, not 2000).

Peaceful because psychological terror has become a part of our lives. We talk about overt violence.

That is why even in rural areas people voted against Zanu PF despite violent retribution in the past.

A blitzkrieg followed like was never seen before, except after the 1985 elections.

Maturity of Zimbabweans! It’s all recriminations between the parties as violence sweeps the countryside, turning up lacerated backs, burnt buttocks, broken skulls, knocked-out teeth and severed lips while political leaders tour western capitals, providing curious amusement to foreign audiences.

It is the deadly aftermath of a watershed election which Zanu PF lost. We are witnessing the familiar horror of black-on-black violence.

In his book, Mugabe, Martin Meredith records these observations by the last Governor of Rhodesia Lord Soames on the eve of 1980 elections: “I want to see the freest, fairest elections possible in this country … but intimidation is rife, violence is rife … You must remember this is Africa.

They think nothing of sticking poles up each other’s whatnot, and doing filthy, beastly things to each other. It does happen. It’s a wild thing, an election.”

The March elections show that we have not moved an inch from that beastly behaviour.

If Lord Soames were alive today, he would feel vindicated in his comments three decades ago. We have disappointed every norm of civilised behaviour.

It’s free choice if we want to blame this abominable behaviour on a violent colonial past.

Or is it something we love doing to ourselves?

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