Association of Concerned Africa Scholars Review (previously: Bulletin)
ACAS Bulletin 79: Special Issue on Zimbabwe Crisis

Editorial: In Zimbabwe Today, Politics is Violence

June 2010

In previous elections paramilitary violence came before the actual polling, usually slowing down in the week or so before polling when international election observers and the world press arrived. This has not been the case in the present elections, as violence since the beginning of May has been reported by numerous and diverse sources to be perpetrated by the police, military, and the militias under ZANU-PF control. The intention of this political violence is to terrorize, destroy, and break the will of the MDC and their supporters leading up to the June 27th run-off for the presidential election. What makes the political violence feel like such an excessively brutal betrayal this time around is that it had appeared, for a brief period in April, as if the impressive showing of the MDC in the election and the wide support it had gained would have insulated it from further reprisals from the ZANU-PF before the run-off. After all, wasn’t the world watching this time? This hope for a peaceful campaign was not to happen. As a number of the contributions to this special issue have suggested, violence is the only language ZANU-PF knows, and it has once again unleashed its complete arsenal, resulting in the killing of 50 MDC members as of May 25th, 2008, and the displacement of hundreds of people, including rural villagers, teachers, and activists.

As Kriger and Moore suggest in this volume, the innovation of posting the polling results immediately outside the polling stations should have made it easier for the MDC to prove to officials and the world that they had won–the hoped for “orange” revolution result where a corrupt regime is forced from office after stealing yet another election. Instead, this innovation has only served to become the record keeping apparatus of violence for the military, police, and militias. Soldiers, police, and the party youth were sent to the rural districts and villages where the MDC did well, sent out to “re-educate” the rural population by using tactics developed during the liberation war to punish villagers who were accused of working with the Rhodesian forces. The American Ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, along with his British, Australian, and Tanzanian counterparts, toured the military camps set up for reeducation and visited victims of torture and violence. Ambassador McGee reported being shown ledgers with names of villagers alleged to have supported the MDC in the March 29th elections, lists of names of people to bring in for interrogation and re-education.[1] The reports from early May also included collective punishment of those rural villages where records showed the citizens had voted against the ruling party. Public torture has been reported, resorting to the gouging out of eyes and the cutting off of ears. Women have been raped, others have been beaten on their buttocks with plastic pipes and forced to sit on their wounds all day in the sun. A number of villagers died of these injuries or were beaten to death.[2]

In addition to collective punishment and harassment of rural voters, there have been direct attacks against MDC organizers and candidates. On Monday, May 26th, reports indicated that the body of MDC candidate Shepard Jani was found dumped on a farm near Goromonzi. Jani had lost in the election to ZANU-PF’s Tendai Bright Makunde, but it is believed ZANU-PF is targeting the MDC in Murehwa “…because they are very effective at organizing and had produced very good results for the MDC in the province.”[3]

Peta Thornycroft provides an account in this issue of the disappearance, murder, and funeral of MDC activist Tonderai Ndira. Thornycroft’s piece shows that the ruling party and its close associates are going after key MDC activists with a greater vengeance and desperation than in the past. Ndira, aged 33, had reportedly been arrested 35 times previously by the state. This time, the way he was taken from his home, tortured, his body mutilated and then dumped at the central hospital morgue shows the extreme forms of violence the ruling party has decided to use.[4]

While those who carry out these acts do so with a sense of impunity, the leaders hope they have timed the violence to avoid having the world pay attention and actually do something about it. They have worked out this timing fairly well in the past. The world only tunes into Zimbabwe for a brief time and then moves on to the next “crisis”. The xenophobic attacks in South Africa, as clearly as they implicated Thabo Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” with Zimbabwe over the past 8 years, also turned the world press’s gaze away from the political violence in Zimbabwe. Concerned scholars need to think of ways to keep the focus on Zimbabwe, and to help disseminate the stories written by so many brave journalists inside Zimbabwe, in South Africa, and elsewhere.

The funeral of Tonderai Ndira may turn out to be a turning point in the history of the opposition. As Peta Thornycroft and others who participated have written, the event symbolized the “war” in Zimbabwe. Just as Zimbabwean nationalism has had a host of martyred heroes, just as the funerals of Steven Biko and so many others in South Africa represented the “no turning back” attitude of the militants in the ANC and PAC, the public display of the MDC burying a hero of the ongoing Zimbabwean struggle against totalitarianism (once again) will likely become a major event in Zimbabwean history. The challenge for those who care about the future of Zimbabwe is not to let this orchestrated campaign of terror and political violence continue without protest.

As David Moore, Augustine Hungwe and Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni have shown in this issue, the reliance on the “sell-out” and “anti-imperialist” rhetoric by the ruling clique continues to gain support from the old guard in the region, but even this tired language has reached its limits.[5] How long will it take the region to finally bury the idea that any opposition is a “sell-out” and the only “true” leader is a liberation war hero? The words of the South African leader Pallo Jordan, a member of the ANC National Executive Committee, taken from a speech he gave to parliament in 2003, were recently reprinted in the ANC Today. It is worth reflecting on Jordan’s question to those who blindly defended ZANU-PF because of its liberation war legacy:

“It is an undisputed historical fact that colonialism denied the colonised precisely these protections, subjecting them to the tyranny, not only of imperialist governments, but often to the whims of colonialist settlers and officials. All liberation movements, including both ZANU (PF) and ZAPU, deliberately advocated the institution of democratic governance with the protections they afford the citizen.

All liberation movements held that national self-determination would be realised, in the first instance, by the colonised people choosing their government in democratic elections. Hence Kwame Nkrumah: “Seek ye first the political kingdom!” The content of anti-imperialism was precisely the struggle to attain these democratic rights. In the case of Zimbabwe, democratic rights arrived that night when the Union Jack was lowered and was replaced by the flag of an independent Zimbabwe.”

“The questions we should be asking are: What has gone so radically wrong that the movement and the leaders who brought democracy to Zimbabwe today appear to be its ferocious violators. What has gone so wrong that they appear to be most fearful of it?” [6]

The next few weeks before the June 27th run-off election will offer opportunities for the beginning of a new political opening in Zimbabwe. On the other hand, given the history of politics in Zimbabwe it would be naïve and overly romanticized to think the MDC will be able to match the “war” now being launched against it. When the MDC activists do respond to violence with violence, the State will only use this as further rationale for their repression and attacks. As Norma Kriger asked in this volume, is it realistic to think that it is possible to vote Mugabe out of office? What will it take? Will there be any interventions from South Africa, from SADC, from the African Union, the United Nations, or any combination of these? By doing nothing, the regional powers are only prolonging the suffering of the Zimbabwean people and exposing the brave opposition politicians and their activists to a one-sided war, a David and Goliath struggle. By staying on the sidelines, these organizations also feed Mugabe’s rhetoric that it is “the West”, the Americans, the British, and the Australians, who are against him. It is time for some immediate action on the part of those in power in Africa and international organizations. The lack of any concerted and meaningful response from the ANC-controlled South African government, SADC, the AU and the UN has been disgraceful; one can only hope and pray that something will spark them into action before more MDC activists and leaders meet the fate of those 50 already killed since the first election round.

About the Author

Timothy Scarnecchia, Kent State University,

1. Robert Dixon, “The not-so-diplomatic ambassador to Zimbabwe”, LA Times, May 23, 2008,0,3957643.story

2. Jong Kandemiri and Blessing Zulu, “Politically Motivated Attack on Zimbabwean Villagers Said to Leave 11 Dead” VOA News, 6 May 2008,

3. Tererai Karimakwenda, “Abducted MDC candidate Jani found dead” (May 26, 2008)

4. See Farai Sevenzo very thought provoking account of Ndira’s death for the BBC News “Death of a Zimbabwean Activist”

5. See also, T. Scarnecchia, “The ‘Fascist Cycle’ in Zimbabwe, 2000-2005”, Journal of Southern African Studies. 32(2) 2006:221-237.

6. Pallo Jordan, “Democracy is Not a Privilege” ANC Today Volume 8, No. 19. 16-22 May 2008

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