Failure by a discordant coalition government to deal with issues of transitional justice and reconciliation following elections that turned communities into war zones has made Gwenhure believe that only an election that produces a clear winner can heal his wounds. He, however, qualifies his support for elections. There must be effective international supervision, he says.
“Nothing has changed. No-one has been arrested,” Gwenhure said. “Instead, some Zanu PF supporters are holding meetings threatening worse violence. We want free and fair internationally supervised elections.”
Gwenhure was one of many political violence victims who testified at an indaba that brought together Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, National Healing minister Sekai Holland, Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (Jomic) representative Lovemore Kadenge, victims, civil society and doctors who treated wounded activists.
Members of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF’s party, accused by rights groups and election monitors of fronting the violence, did not attend the meeting held at a Harare hotel.
Another victim, Benson Chamwazoda of Checheche, Chipinge, in Manicaland, said transitional justice would remain a dream as long as Mugabe was in power.
“Tsvangirai appears to be struggling in the inclusive government. He doesn’t have the powers to act, so the only thing that can free us is a fair election that produces a clear winner who can then tackle these issues,” Chamwazoda told the Zimbabwe Independent.
“As it is, there is no difference. We are still being intimidated in the communities. Let’s go for elections. But they should not be a farce like the 2008 ones. The UN should intervene,” Chamwazoda said, in what appeared to be the popular view among the 200 victims of Zimbabwe’s past elections who attended the meeting.
Gwenhure, winding his memory back to Zaka, talked vividly about events of June 3 2008 at the height of the election campaign when he was attacked in the early hours of the morning. Gwenhure and colleagues were working at an MDC-T command centre when the attack happened.
He said no matter how hard he has tried to forget events of that day, the multiple scars on his face, hands and legs just cannot be erased.
“When we were at the MDC district command centre we were attacked by five armed men at around 3.30 am,” said Gwenhure. “At the time, we were still working since the office was operating 24 hours during this sensitive period.
“They told us to lie down and shot one of our colleagues Chrison Mbano. They then took 25 litres of petrol and splashed it around the room. One of them lit a candle, threw it at the centre of the room and closed the door.”
Silence filled the hotel conference room, with some participants closing their eyes as if picturing the horrifying incident.
Tears could be seen streaming down a number of faces as Gwenhure continued with his narration.
“Our clothes were set alight by the fire but we managed to bring down the door with some of my colleagues,” continued Gwenhure.
“But the moment the door fell. I was shot in the leg and I lost some toes and Washington Nyamwa, a colleague, was shot and fell down. I watched him crying as he lay on the ground burning to his death while I hid .”
Some victims told the Independent on the sidelines of the meeting that they were ready for elections despite analysts and civil society warning that the political environment was not conducive for elections next year.
Victims say the situation in their communities showed that the political environment would remain tense even if elections were put on hold for five years as demanded by business leaders.
The victims, however, qualified their support for elections, stating that only an internationally supervised election would solve outstanding issues such as transitional justice.
As most victims spoke of violence that has plagued Zimbabwe elections since 2000, a woman from Matopo, Matabeleland South, queried why victims of Gukurahundi — a 1980s ethnic campaign by the military that killed 20 000 people according to a Catholic agency—were being ignored.
“They would kill people and then instruct relatives to bury them. Some of the bones are still scattered. There have been no decent burials up to now and Gukurahundi victims want not only compensation but public apologies from the people responsible,” she said.
A representative of rape victims said women who had been raped wanted compensation before elections. She proposed the death sentence for those who committed rape, counseling services for victims and material, moral and financial support for those living with HIV.
Agreement Kagora of Muzarabani, representing people detained for political activism by President Mugabe’s previous government, said some of those detained lost their jobs in government because of the detentions. Such people, he said, should be compensated for the trauma they suffered and property they lost while in prison.
In response, Tsvangirai, who sat through some of the testimonies, said the state had an obligation to look after and compensate victims of political violence.
Tsvangirai said: “Transitional justice is not about retribution. It is about formulating a flexible approach, to engage in the past to lay a foundation for peace, tolerance and progress. It is about listening to the cries of the victims as well as understand the fears of the perpetrators, fears that if unchecked could derail the process of national healing.”
He said he would not agree to an election next year if violence persisted.