THE past few weeks have seen unprecedented global outrage at the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on the street.
The police in the United States have a legacy of racism that has seen many black people being victim. This murder was captured on video by eyewitnesses and since then, the world has not been at peace with demonstrations across the US and spreading to London.
Social media was flooded with #BlackLivesMatter.
Many Zimbabweans at home and abroad plugged in and demanded justice for George Floyd. I am one of the people who were outraged by the murder of Floyd and I signed a number of petitions. But by the time this murder happened, I was already outraged by other things that have been happening in my country.
I was outraged because a police officer in Bulawayo had killed Levison Ncube in April 2020, accusing him of breaking lockdown regulations.
I was also outraged because the police in Cowdray Park had assaulted the Mpofu sisters accusing them of the same offence. I was outraged because the police again had facilitated and probably perpetrated the enforced disappearance and torture of MDC leaders Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova.
I had accompanied our chairperson Jestina Mukoko to deliver a petition to the Home Affairs minister and to the Commissioner-General of police demanding an investigation into these matters.
But our voices and actions against police brutality in Zimbabwe did not raise any global outrage as did the murder of Floyd. It looks like human rights violations in Zimbabwe are the concern of non-governmental organisations, while in the US ordinary people get concerned.
I believe it is right for everyone to be outraged at the sight of injustice anywhere in the world. If they become aware of it, it is an obligation. I do not claim to understand why police brutality in Mabutweni does not arouse the same outrage as police brutality in Minneapolis. But I was touched and encouraged to see the world rise and show solidarity with Floyd’s family and demanding justice. In no time, we knew the name of perpetrator police officers, the names of the Floyds, their profession, and many other personal details. I believe this is the world I want to live in, where injustice to one person is received with anger by everyone. But perhaps the legacy of the civil rights movement in the US has a lot to teach us in terms of pushing and advancing the rights agenda.
I share here a few thoughts and hope to trigger more reflections.
What do we need to do here in Africa, and in Zimbabwe to be precise, to make ordinary people angry about an act of injustice? I saw Zimbabwean socialites so angry about Floyd. People I never thought believed in human rights. People who said nothing about Itai Dzamara were so infuriated about Floyd. What did it take to make them care?
Believe me; I am not angry that they were angry at Floyd’s murder. I am impressed, but I wish they were also angry about Levison Ncube. As an activist in a grassroots organisation that is trying to build consciousness about human rights, I honestly want to know. How can we get to you to make you outraged about the gross human rights violations happening in our backyard?
Maybe it is the media. We probably need to do more to bring injustice into the public space. The media in the US did not waste time to let the world know that a murder had been committed. How can the media be a tool for the advancement of justice? But beyond exposure, how can we tell stories in such a way that we appeal to the conscience of the people?
But it is also the personal responsibility of the witness who filmed the event and shared the footage with the world. We are all, every day, witnessing injustice, but we hardly do anything about it. We accept it as normal — that police beat up people, that the militia rape women. Everyone who witnesses an injustice has an obligation to act against it. This is how we build outrage and consciousness. It has to be personal.
Maybe it is political polarisation. The regime in Zimbabwe has succeeded in dividing us and making us believe that violence against certain persons is acceptable. This is why some chose not to speak when the MDC activists were tortured. Because some think it is a crime to be involved in opposition politics. I heard statements such as: “Why were they demonstrating in the first place?”
Human dignity has no political label. MDC members must not be tortured. Zanu PF members must not be tortured. We need to find ways to build solidarity across political or professional loyalties.
Maybe it is fear. When Dzamara disappeared, we cannot claim that we did not know. Everyone knew about it. But our celebrities here said nothing. I can only think it was out of fear that the people who engineered Dzamara’s disappearance are too close to home. I can shout about Floyd and know that I will still face no threats. Can we do the same about the brutality of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. We need to get to a stage where we overcome fear because it works against us. The power of the perpetrators seems invincible because of fear. If fear did not work to support their impunity, it would be useless as a tool for repression.
Anything that stops us from acting against injustice is part of the problem that we need to deal with before justice comes home to our nation. These are what we call the pillars of impunity that allow the government and individual perpetrators to get away with injustice.
I do not believe that any situation is helpless and that as humanity we have no options. We do. It is our duty, particularly leaders in civil society and community activists, to rise and deal with this challenge that makes murder acceptable in our backyard and yet outrageous in other places. Our lives matter, too. We must make it our homework, that Zimbabwe becomes the place where people are outraged at the sight of an injustice.
This is not impossible. It is possible. It has happened before. When Evan Mawarire was arrested that first time, there was a flood of solidarity at Rotten Row magistrates’ court. When command justice visited our courts following the 2019 fuel riots, lawyers went into the streets and confronted the Chief Justice with great outrage.
When medical doctor Peter Magombeyi disappeared following a strike by doctors, medical professionals across the board came out and demanded his return.
We are a people of conscience and we believe in making a stand against injustice. We can tap into this anger and go beyond our silos as lawyers, doctors, families, and declare that injustice will be unacceptable anywhere and on anyone regardless of profession, race or nationality. I hope that day is not far away.
Bere is national director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association. Comments on this article can be send to firstname.lastname@example.org