(MDC activist's home destroyed by ZANU PF supporters in April 2008: The Zimbabwean)
The attack at a ZANU PF rally in Bulawayo this weekend is a big stain on an election campaign that has otherwise been peaceful compared to previous campaigns which have been characterised by egregious violence. One of the worst periods of election-related violence was the run-up to the presidential run-off election on 27 June 2008, exactly ten years ago.
Those with longer memories may recall that the 1985 elections were also bad, particularly for supporters of the Joshua Nkomo-led ZAPU, which was the main opposition party. That election arrived in the middle of Gukurahundi, the most heinous of post-independence atrocities. The 1990 elections had their fair share of political violence, mainly against supporters of the then new Zimbabwe Unity Movement. The history of election-related violence has deep roots in Zimbabwe and it is heartening to see concerted efforts to eradicate it.
27 June therefore carries fresh, but not the only memories of a harsh and unkind past, authored by the State and the powerful men who control it. It's only a decade ago when hundreds of opposition supporters were killed, tortured, assaulted or displaced on account of exercising their political freedoms. It is a date whose mention still sends chills down the spines of many who survived it or witnessed levels of cruelty that man can inflict upon another. It is perhaps poignant that parties contesting elections this year signed a peace pledge just a day short of this anniversary.
Two years ago, we wrote a BSR on the anniversary of 27 June. That BSR is as pertinent today as it was two years ago. Tragic as events of last weekend were, it is important to remember 27 June and reaffirm the national commitment to peace and non-violence and that it should never happen again. There are a number of things which demand emphasis as we observe this day.
First, it is important to remember and honour the victims and survivors of 27 June. Many walk among us, carrying wounds that have not healed. But our country has form in this area of pretending victims and survivors do not exist or that they can somehow forget and blend into society with ease. That what we did in 1980 when we got independence. We did the same after Gukurahundi. We must remember the victims and acknowledge the survivors of these atrocities, including 27 June. Some who were killed were breadwinners for their families. Their offspring and surviving relatives live with bitterness.
Second, it is important to have mechanisms to rehabilitate and assist victims and survivors of political violence. The trauma caused by this violence cannot be underestimated or wished away. It is real and people need help to overcome their challenges.
Third, part of the rehabilitation and healing process is that there must be truth-telling and justice. Many of the perpetrators of violence walk free and live side by side with their victims who are forced into a life of silence because of fear. The freedom of perpetrators is a constant reminder that the powerful or those protected by the powerful can literally get away with murder. And they are arrogant because they know they are protected.
It is not surprising that after each period of violence in the past there has been a declaration of amnesty, protecting perpetrators. The existence of such amnesties on our books is a slap in the face of victims and survivors. We have in the past explained in a BSR how presidential amnesties have fueled impunity. It is that impunity which drives more violence.
Victims and survivors must be given respect, justice and compensation for their losses. The language of letting bygones be bygones is inconsistent with respect for victims and survivors or the idea of promoting peace and preventing future violence. Those who commit violence are likely to repeat it if they are not brought to account.
Fourth, 27 June is a landmark reminder that violence delegitimises an election process. No reasonable observer accepted the 27 June election as a legitimate outcome which could be go uncontested. The main opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai who had led in the first round was forced to withdraw from the run-off election on account of the violence against his supporters. Mugabe effectively ran alone and claimed victory, but he was shunned by the rest of the world.
This led to political negotiations which resulted in a coalition government with Tsvangirai taking the role of Prime Minister. ZANU PF learnt from that election that violence does not pay and in 2013 they tried to limit physical violence, although they benefited from the seed that had been sown in 2008.
Fifth, 27 June is a reminder that the electoral authority, the Zimbabwe Election Commission, is institutionally unfair and biased towards the ruling party and against the opposition. An election that was universally condemned because of the violence was nevertheless pronounced as free and fair by ZEC. It remains an enigma, how ZEC could have concluded that such an election was free and fair. Incredibly, some who served that ZEC in 2008 and prepared that ridiculous report are still part of the current ZEC!
It is hardly surprising, against this background, that most in the opposition still view ZEC’s approach to elections with great suspicion. When ZEC failed and/or refused to give parties an electronic copy of the voters roll before the 2013 elections, it was confirmation a well-known pattern of behaviour. No wonder then that the opposition has been vigilant and pushed ZEC hard this election season. It is because of this terrible past of bias. ZEC is one of the public institutions that need a complete overhaul because it is systematically and institutionally biased.
Sixth, the omission of 27 June and its victims and survivors from the national narrative is a reminder that if you entrust the hunter to tell the story of the hunt, he will always glorify himself and the side of the lion will never be known. The treatment of victims and survivors of 27 June is not unique or new. Those from Gukurahundi have gone through the same. The fact that victims and survivors were from the opposition does not make their stories less important. Their stories need to be told and recognised too. Their pain ought to be acknowledged too. The same machinery of investigation accorded to ZANU PF victims of violence should be given to opposition victims. The State has done nothing to investigate the many crimes that were committed in the run-up to 27 June. Law should not be applied selectively or it loses its purpose.
Seventh, 27 June is a reminder that 15 November had a precedent as far as military intervention to direct the course of politics is concerned. Operation Makavhotera Papi, as it was known was designed to cow voters into submission. The difference is that the coup last November was to take power from one of their own whereas in 2008, it was to prevent the presidency and power slipping away to the opposition.
Penultimately, and this is for the friends and associates of Zimbabwe around the world who are watching and observing the electoral process, 27 June is a reminder of how ZANU PF and its associates respond when they face an existential threat. They do not accept defeat. They have never accepted defeat unless they have a plan to prevail in the end. They accepted the referendum defeat in February 2000 because they planned to steal the parliamentary election which was imminent. They accepted the defeat on March 29 2008 because they had set up the result to give Mugabe another chance at the run-off election. 27 June is a reminder of the pervasive role of the military in Zimbabwean politics. That presence is even more ominous and important now as the election date nears.
Recent events will probably be used as justification for the wider presence of security services under the pretext of protection and prevention. The need for protection cannot be overstated but it is also important to respond proportionately and in moderation.
Ultimately, however, 27 June is an important reminder of the need to conquer fear among voters. 27 June should be appropriated in a positive way so that it becomes a “Never Again” commemoration of courage and survival in the face of serious danger. Those who were killed died for a cause. They are heroes. Those who were violated, lost limbs or property did so for a cause. They too are heroes. We do not do enough to remember and celebrate them. 27 June should be an annual moment of remembrance and celebration of those courageous men and women.