In one of the saddest episodes in Zimbabwe’s never-ending political drama, some lawmakers are now approaching the National Peace and Reconciliation Bill from factional vantage points influenced by Zanu PF’s unresolved succession issue.
Editor’s Memo,Brezhnev Malaba
At its second reading in the National Assembly, the Bill was subjected to unbelievable squabbling, as the legislators erupted in raucous behaviour unbefitting of the august House.
Some Zanu PF lawmakers, notably Joseph Chinotimba, argued that the passing of such a law was tantamount to “opening old wounds”. Who told him the wounds are old? This self-serving posturing is totally unhelpful. It is yet another reminder that the country’s political leaders are not prepared to come to terms with the ugly past in a manner that promotes justice, healing and reconciliation.
While the politicians are embroiled in childish and insensitive squabbles, there are reports of people stumbling upon human remains in rural Matabeleland. It has become customary after every rainy season for the traumatised communities to discover several mass graves of the Gukurahundi genocide which have been left exposed by the elements. When will these restless souls rest?
The government’s experimental formula for national healing is arbitrary, tactless and unhelpful. It beggars belief that Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, who is widely viewed as a Gukurahundi denialist, can be assigned the responsibility of spearheading this important national process.
Mphoko is a respected veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, a seasoned diplomat and a businessman of significant means. Nobody can begrudge him that. But with all due respect, he is the wrong person for this task. President Robert Mugabe should come to the party. Mphoko cannot carry the Gukurahundi cross on Mugabe’s behalf.
Time is running out for Mugabe to show statesmanship on this serious matter. The best way to go about it is to appoint a panel of elders comprising traditional and religious leaders who can assist him in reaching out to the affected communities.
Gukurahundi is not the only blot on the conscience of the republic. Victims of election-related violence and their families also deserve justice and closure. Every election is a life-and-death affair in this country. Dissent invariably invites official threats of violence. To oppose the ruling class is to declare oneself an enemy of the state.
Zimbabwe is a traumatised country. We have been at war, one way or the other, since 1980.
At independence, Mugabe inherited a violent colonial state, but instead of decolonising it, he has preserved and, in some instances, expanded the instruments of coercion.
As Achille Mbembe correctly notes, in post-colonial societies, “Power is exercised with a degree of violence and naked exploitation that has its antecedents in previous colonial regimes.”
Violence is now embraced as a normal part of life. It has even been celebrated as virtue and heroism. The eminent historian Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni takes this thread further, arriving at the conclusion that in this country violence is condoned and that is why those who have participated in it are actually rewarded with amazing riches while the wretched victims are condemned to an agonising existence.
Through the politics of exclusion, entire communities have been demonised and targeted for victimisation. The Gukurahundi genocide is an example of this. Ndlovu-Gatsheni says although colonialism is gone, the coloniality of state violence remains a brutal reality in today’s Zimbabwe.
The leftish philosopher Slavoj Zizek has identified various forms of violence which can be observed in the Zimbabwean context. The first is symbolic violence embodied in language and its habitual speech forms. The second type is systemic violence, located within economic and political systems.
Black-on-black violence in post-colonial Africa is best understood in the context of coloniality. Although the flag and anthem have changed, the infrastructure of state-perpetrated violence remains intact.
As the lawmakers have shown, the Gukurahundi genocide means different things to different people. Depending on who are talking to, it is variously described as old hat, a distant memory, someone else’s problem, a closed chapter, or an old wound. To the survivors, the wounds are not old at all — they are as fresh as a waking nightmare.