Last week I met a young woman, Hilda, at one of the women’s organisations in Harare where she was reporting her domestic violence case and the conversation gravitated from light chit chat to more a serious discussion on elections and the violence associated and right off the bat she said her mother had died in 2000 from complications resulting from the violence. Hilda said that her mother had pneumonia in 2000 and during the campaign period she was forced to attend a rally. She said that a group of people came to her mother’s house one night, she didn’t know who they were and they insisted that everyone should attend the rally. As the group was very rowdy and aggressive everyone just left the house hurriedly, in the melee her mother did not have an opportunity to grab warm clothes and went out in the cold. Her condition deteriorated after the night she spent at the rally and she died two days later. This didn’t surprise me as it is common knowledge that a number of people died that year during the election period but what did surprise me was how Hilda explained the events of that night, she blamed her mother for forgetting to get her jersey before she went out to the rally!
Many people have died as a result of political violence; be it direct or indirect and too often we blame the victims for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This incident can be relayed by many people in Zimbabwe but when are we going to stop blaming the victims and start blaming the thugs that were responsible for these deaths and bring them to justice? When we don’t punish perpetrators, what message are we sending to our community? Victims end up feeling guilty and blaming themselves and the perpetrators become a menace as they know that they can kill without having to answer to anyone. Have we as Zimbabweans lost our respect for life and is this something we want to pass on to the next generation?
We have numerous households that lost family members as a result of political violence in our recent history let alone those from the 1980s and the fear is rising as we approach yet another election, the Presidents has been talking about elections since October 2010 and this past weekend, he was at it again. This talk is enough to remind people of the horror that comes with elections in Zimbabwe. How many more have to die before we start making noise and demanding justice for all those who fell victim to political violence? Is it a crime to have diverse political views, to want change? The more I see change in other parts of Africa, Senegal being the latest wave of change, the more I think it is a possibility for us.
Change will mean being able to freely support a political party of my choice, to wear my party regalia as and when I choose without being beaten for doing so. Change will be sleeping without fearing that in the middle of the night someone will come and drag me out of bed and force me to attend a rally or beat or rape me because I refuse. Change will mean that on election-day no one will be forced to write down the serial number of my ballot paper and hand it over to a police detail or have to say that they cannot read and write. It will mean that anyone who attempts to hinder anyone’s right to free of association and assembly will be investigated and prosecuted and sentenced under a non partisan judicial system. Ah, how I long for such change!