Violence dominates Zim political history

This is the first in a series of articles extracted from a report done by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) tittled Conflict or Collapse? Zimbabwe in 2016.


Violence has been woven through the intricate fabric of Zimbabwe’s political history in various forms which include murder, beatings, rape, death threats, abductions, arbitrary arrests, torture, forced displacement, property damage, harassment, intimidation and terrorisation. It has been used as the weapon of choice by the governments in power since the declaration of UDI in 1965 through to post Independent Zimbabwe as a measure to ensure retention of power at all costs.

This systemic assault has had the desired effect of ensuring the nation is risk averse and as shown in the Afrobarometer surveys citizens are careful about what they say in public and that civil society, with few exceptions, can be described as risk averse (Masunungure, 2006), and other commentators point out the apparent passivity of Zimbabweans in challenging the state (Mills, 2014).

Much of the analysis of risk aversion centres on the fear generated by a highly coercive state. For example, Afrobarometer surveys from 1999 show a marked increase in the number of citizens who say that are careful about what they say in public, often or always — increasing from 59% in 1999 to 89% in 2014. This is further supported by a recent analysis of political risk in Africa, which included Zimbabwe (Bratton and Gyimah-Boadi, 2015).

In this Political and Economic Assessment, the Research and Advocacy Unit in its review of landmark events in the country‘s political history explores the possibility that deteriorating standards and conditions in the country may be pushing people to take action.

Also highlighted in this PEA is the notion that citizens are less focused on elections, political violence and Constitutionalism and more concentrated on the issues that affect their everyday lives such as the economy, employment, food security, health and even crime and security.

It is probable that the deterioration in Zimbabweans livelihoods is adding to a new assertiveness, as was seen in the response of the vendors to attempts to displace them from the cities (RAU,2015).

A weak adherence to the rule of law and compromised judiciary has had an adverse effect on Zimbabwe‘s economy, resulting in socio-economic deprivation for the majority of Zimbabweans.

The country has undergone an extensive period of ineffective economic management resulting in an informalised economy to the extent, that some estimate 90% of employment is petty trade, vending, and artisanal mining. Added to the equation are the collapsing infrastructure and the costs of rotten roads, erratic power, poor sewage and sanitation as cities become hubs for those fleeing rural collapse, especially with current and future impact of climate change and the severe drought.

The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac) estimates that three million Zimbabweans will be food insecure in 2016-2017.

The state which has been dominated by the immense power centralised in the presidency and Robert Mugabe, is facing internal challenges by way of factionalism within the party. The contentious confrontation between the two factions is spilling into all sectors of society. This is evidenced by which there are conflicting positions on policy by government officials.

President Mugabe, a critical issue for both political parties and civil society, but rarely acted upon, is the fact that the passing of the amended constitution into law in 2013 rendered all legislation inoperative and unenforceable that was at base ultra vires the constitution. However, the government and government agencies persist in implementing unconstitutional laws and regulations, apparently under illusion that these laws remain operative until new or amended legislation is put in place.

The recent mass demonstration by the MDC-T in Harare may be an indicator that Zimbabweans are more willing to take risks. Here it is also important to note that this demonstration was also an indicator of the ways in which the new constitution, underpinned by the courts, may be creating new spaces for civic action.

The PEA — Conflict or Collapse — Zimbabwe in 2016 also suggests that there may be a need to shift from big to small politics as this may provide considerable traction in developing peace and reducing conflict, particularly because the issues in small politics rise above narrow political party matters.


Zimbabwe has a continuous history of violent conflict, dating back to the original occupation in the 1890s. Violent problem solving has been a feature of all governments, and persists today (Sachikonye.2011). States that emerged out of violent struggle through liberation movements seem to have developed differently to those that emerged through peaceful handovers (Clapham, 2012), and this is very evident in contemporary political dynamics in Zimbabwe (Bratton, 2014; Reeler, 2014).

The Liberation War, while beginning in the aftermath of UDI, reached a peak in the 1970s, with over 30 000 killed, thousands maimed or injured, tens of thousands tortured or abused, and tens of thousands displaced — either to neighbouring countries, or forced into protected villages (Reeler, 2004). Following a very brief period of peace, the country was once again wracked by extreme violence between 1982 and 1987, the so-called Gukurahundi, ending with the Unity Accord in 1987. It is estimated that about 20 000 civilians were killed during this time, and once again torture became an epidemic (CCJP & LRF, 1997; Amani Trust, 1998).

Two other significant episodes of violence need comment. The 1998 Food Riots, predicated by deepening poverty and increases in food prices, led to a very violent response from the government, with thousands arbitrarily imprisoned, and many thousands tortured, beaten or abused (HRF, 1999). In 2005, and strangely following Zanu PF’s resounding victory in the elections that year, the government, under the guise of urban renewal, displaced over 700 000 people in Operation Murambatsvina. This brought widespread international condemnation and accusations of genocide, and had devastating consequences for a populace already reeling under growing poverty (ActionAid, 2005).

There was much speculation that this latter operation had little to do with urban renewal, and everything to do with pre-empting urban opposition and organisation against the government.

Outside of these two very serious periods of violence, the Liberation War and the Gukurahundi, virtually all elections since 1980 have been marred by political violence (Makumbe & Compagnon, 2000; CSVR, 2009), and some were much more violent than others, especially since 2000. Presidential elections, 2013 apart, seem particularly violent, as the stakes for retaining the immense power of the presidency are so very high. Whilst the elections in 2008 were not more violent than those in 2002, this latter election did not receive the usual support from Sadc and the AU, and forced Zanu PF into a power-sharing arrangement with the MDC (the Global Political Agreement (GPA)) resulting in the Inclusive Government.

The consequence of these violent elections, the violent displacement of commercial farmers and farm workers, attacks on the judiciary, and the frank abandonment of the rule of law, led to Zimbabwe being suspended from the Commonwealth, dispute proceedings being instituted by the European Union under the Cotonou Agreement, leading to restrictive conditions being imposed on Zimbabwean political leaders, and the imposition of sanctions by the United States.

All of this violence has had a marked effect on the nation, with estimates of the trauma caused by three, nearly four, decades of political violence suggesting hundreds of thousands of trauma victims in need of rehabilitation and assistance (Parsons et al 2011). It has left a nation that is one of the most desirous of democracy in Africa also one of the most pessimistic about ever achieving this, and a citizenry that is regularly termed captured or mere subjects.

The Origins of Conflict

3.1 The Legacy of Political Violence

As indicated above, Zimbabwe experiences high and fluctuating levels of political violence. 75% of political violence from 1997 to 2016 was directed at civilians, this is well above the average in Africa of 30%. As can be seen from Table 1, Zimbabwe, when compared to Sadc countries in which former Liberation movements are currently in government, is the most conflict-ridden country in the region, and the violence is strongly associated with elections (RAU, 2016)

Table 2 reveals that, in Zimbabwe, far fewer violent acts are caused by riots or protests in Zimbabwe, and most violence is against civilians, twice as much as the next worse Sadc country, Mozambique. The actors most likely to be identified as perpetrators of violence in Zimbabwe were massively political militia and government forces (Table 3 over). Many studies document the types of perpetrators, and the army, the police, the CIO, Zanu PF leaders and supporters, war veterans, and the graduates of the National Youth Training scheme are all identified with great frequency (CSVR, 2009).

According to numerous Zimbabwean civil society reports, the forms of violence include murder, beatings, rape, death threats, abductions, arbitrary arrests, torture, forced displacement, property damage, harassment, intimidation and terrorisation. Although the total number of violent events has gone down, they have become more dispersed (ACLED, 2015).More recently, there are increasing numbers of reports of intra-party violence, especially related to the ―succession‖ struggle taking place within Zanu PF. Furthermore, there must always be cognisance of the manner in which political problem solving in the country has always involved violence (Sachikonye, 2011).

3.2 Elections

The greatest concern about elections in Zimbabwe is always political violence. Elections in 2000, 2002 and 2008, were all violent as Table 1 (Section 2) and Table 4 demonstrate.

However, it is not the case that it is violence alone that has won Zanu PF elections. For example, in 2005 and 2013, Zanu PF won a two thirds majority in both elections in the absence of political violence, and here it is apposite to point out that elections have been won both through violence and extremely efficient electoral rigging (Matyszak, 2013; Bratton, Dulani & Masunungure, 2016).

The 2013 elections have also led to contested explanations for the massive swing in popular support for Robert Mugabe, with a number of commentators suggesting that this was due to an increase in Zanu PF‘s social base and a loss of faith in the MDC-T. Neither of these two ZPP (2016), Zim body politic in Uncharted Territory. February 2016. Harare: Zimbabwe Peace Project. See also Lacoste Thugs run amok in Midlands. Daily News, 5th April 2016; Zanu PF supporters disrupt Parly meetings.NewsDay April 18 2016. 3 46% of all recorded events concerned elections, with an average of 545 reports for election years (five out of 18 years since 1997) as opposed to 210 for non-election years (13 out of 18 years). Total number of recorded events on the ACLED database for Zimbabwe was 5,075 reports, as opposed to 561 for Mozambique, 3001 forAngola, 573 for Namibia, and 4540 for South Africa. The rationale for contrasting these SADC countries in particular was that they are all countries in which liberation movements still compose the governments of those countries. Data extracted from ACLED Version 5 (1997 — 2014). Accessed online on November 5 2015 views stands the test of empirical scrutiny. Morgan Tsvangirai and MDC-T received almost exactly the number of votes in 2013 that they did in 2008: ZANU PF‘s increase was not due to taking votes from the MDC-T (Matyszak, 2013; RAU, 2014). Furthermore, all empirical analyses reported multiple sources of possible rigging; manipulations of the voters‘ roll, assisted voting, huge numbers of voters being turned away, unknown number of voters using voters slips, and enormous numbers of security personnel voting in unmonitored ways. It is not the decrease in the vote share for MDC-T that requires explanation; rather it is to explain the enormous and improbable increase in affection for Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF.

This short diversion into election issues is to raise the profile of the implications of the government‘s control of state institutions, with the role of the security sector paramount, and to point out that all of this is only possible with a united Zanu PF. Elections in 2018 will undoubtedly take place in a wholly new environment with the emergence of Zimbabwe People First, (ZimPF) and require, if rigging alone is the method of maintaining political power, completely new strategies from Zanu PF. Here violence becomes again a serious probability.

To be continued next week.

See Document below: