As the dust settles and the amber and ashes cool after days of violence in Zimbabwe, I took a step back to understand how we got here. Politics and socials issues aside, an affinity for violence was one thing Zimbabweans were never known for, until now. In fact, many argued that because we are not a violent people (partly due to many still alive today having experience the liberation war and not wanting to live it again), we were easy to oppress and control.
So what changed? I’ll try try give the short answer.
A cycle of abuse.
Statistically speaking, they say some people raised in physically abusive households will grow up to become abusers themselves, and until broken, the cycle can and will continue to go on.
We have a government that has, for over four decades, used violence and intimidation to maintain their privilege, power and control. We saw it during the Gukurahundi genocide in the 80s and continue to see it today and in the recent past through the beatings of opposition politicians and activists, journalists disappearances, politically motivated arrests, voter intimidation, military face-offs with protesters and more. And this predisposition to resorting to violence and intimidation when backed into a corner or feeling desperate, has worked its way down to the regular Zimbabwe citizen.
Where did they learn it from?
You have to ask yourself, where did our leaders learn this from? Well, let’s remember that many of them, or at least the most powerful of them, fought during the liberation movement of the 1970s as freedom fighters. And the same tendency of resorting to violence and intimidation they now inflict on us from time to time was used on them by the white Rhodesian government that didn’t want to give up THEIR privilege, power and control.
The liberation movement prevailed over the oppressive white Rhodesian regime, and to our founding fathers and mothers, we are grateful. Through your sacrifices, Zimbabwe was born.
But in this moment of hope and aspirations, our leaders carried with them a dark lesson they had learned from the colonizers: violence and intimation is what gets you power, and once you have it, violence and intimidation is what keeps you in power.
It’s a lesson and tool they would use sparingly but effectively over the next 4 decades—never too much, but just enough to rid themselves of the outspoken, just enough to keep the masses docile, and just enough to make sure that they never did anything so extreme that the world would notice.
They even used it on their own.
They even used this on their own, authoritarian Robert Mugabe. Some may call it a soft coup because it had had little to no violence, but one thing was clear as tanks and armored vehicles rumbled down the streets and military personnel took over the airwaves: the threat of violence and intimidation was more than evident.
Are we normalizing violence?
And so now, we find ourselves in a situation in which the regular citizen on the ground is now resorting to violence and intimidation. Their fear of the military, law enforcement and the government has seemingly evolved into anger that is fueled by frustration and desperation. Perhaps they have become numb and feel as if they have nothing to lose. Regardless, they have picked up a bad habit that was not of their own making, but inherited from the very people that swore to protect them.
In addition to this, the government has helped normalize violence and intimidation by protecting those who should be held accountable. One great example is those involved in the post-election deadly shootings on August 1, 2018. No one was held accountable: no arrests or prosecutions. This sends a very terrible message to citizens as well as those who feel they can get away with committing violent acts.
Nothing positive can come out of a situation in which violence and intimidation are slowly becoming the norm. And as we’ve seen in many other parts of Africa and the world, when normalized, it can embed itself into a society’s psyche and culture: violent skirmishes every other month and coups every few years.
How do we break the cycle?
When you beat your child, you teach them that violence is how you resolve conflict and instill discipline. And when you beat them often and excessively, even when they don’t deserve it or the punishment doesn’t fit the crime (August 1, 2018 for example), they become numb to it–they don’t fear it anymore. And with time, they adopt your proclivity for violence as their own because they expect it from you.
To break the cycle, everyone needs to understand how we got here and acknowledge what part they played in that spiral, starting with our leaders (both ZANU and MDC) and those who’ve always resorted to violence and intimidation to thwart protests, activism, voter’s rights, and opposition. I do not say this to absolve the violent protesters and opportunistic thugs that hid amongst them–they need to be held accountable, but to simply point out the fact that the precedent was set by those who lead because, like in many households, a lot of children pick up their habits, both good and bad, from their parents or guardians.
Sincerely, Kwapi Vengesayi
Kwapi Vengesayi is an Amazon four-time bestselling author and author of Her Name Was Zimbabwe: Finding Hope, Strength, and Courage through the Struggle (2017) Available on Amazon
The most ancient African stories, legends, tales and tidbits of cultural heritage were passed down to us through word of mouth. From generation to generation, the history of our triumphs and failures, hopes and fears were passed down through stories that embraced one of the most important tenets of African oral tradition: every story should have a moral.
Her Name Was Zimbabwe: Finding Hope, Strength and Courage through the Struggle is a touching short story and conversation about Zimbabwe. It is a story that celebrates Zimbabwe’s beauty, while reflecting on her pain—a story about struggle and finding hope, a story about feeling powerless and finding strength.