An open letter to Major General Martin Chedondo.

This letter was written in response to our post on Patriotism dated 6th June 2012:

Dear General,

Some 65 years ago, observing the men in the dock at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, an American journalist coined the enduring phrase “the banality of evil”.

In a month, during which Patrick Chinamasa has been busy applying lipstick to the toad of Zimbabwe’s human rights record for the benefit of the UN Human Rights Commissioner, and you and a fellow General have hinted at army preparations to redeploy the tactic of intimidation and violence utilised during the 2008 elections, that phrase has often come to mind.

Throughout the inter-election period in 2008, the Zimbabwean Association Doctor’s for Human Rights (ZADHR) produced a series of reports documenting the atrocities which were taking place. To ensure the credibility of these reports, only objective information, detailing the injuries sustained by the victims of violence, was included. As one of those involved in their documentation, I was acutely aware that much of the harrowing detail and personal stories behind those injuries was never published.  However, with the spectre of a return to violent intimidation in the upcoming elections, I would like to draw the following to your attention:

Firstly, to place this letter in context and for the benefit of our perfidious Minister of Justice and his ilk, who seem to have air-brushed the events of 2008 from their memories, what follows is an excerpt from a human rights report for the first week of May 2008:

“One hospital in Harare has treated an average of 23 victims a day over the last week. On the 8th of May, there were a total of 53 more seriously injured patients (13 females and 40 males) admitted to wards in three Harare hospitals. These included one 30 year old man on life support in the intensive care unit with severe, irreversible head injuries and a 30 year old man with severe soft tissue injuries to the buttocks and secondary renal failure, also on life support. Both of these patients died later that day. Also admitted was a 3yr old boy with trauma to his right eye from being struck with a rock and a 78 year old man with a fractured lower leg from blunt trauma.   One young breast-feeding mother had bilateral fractures of her hands and was unable to hold her baby to feed her. Among the other patients, 20 had defensive, forearm or hand fractures, 5 had leg fractures and 1 fractured ribs.  Fourteen patients had severe injuries to the buttocks from blunt trauma which required surgery for the removal of necrotic (dead) tissue.  The perpetrators in all cases were alleged by the victims to be war veterans and Zanu PF supporters. Similar patterns of injuries are being reported from other hospitals”

In April of 2008, as a member of a local NGO, I was tasked with interviewing hospitalised victims of political violence. Over a period of several days, I interviewed 52 men and women, ranging in age from 18 to 68 years. All of them resided in communal areas and most were ordinary villagers. They were not political activists and none admitted membership of a political party.  It seems their only crime was to have been suspected of voting “incorrectly”.  They had injuries similar to those of the victims described in the press release above. The vast majority stated that they had been beaten by gangs of youths led and directed by men in army uniforms or known war veterans.

It is not possible to recount their individual stories here, but one story stands out in my memory and will serve to illustrate the point I wish to make. It was that of an 18 year old village boy who told me of how a group of militia came to his village in the night and gathered all the young men. They conducted a pungwe (an all-night vigil), accompanied by alcohol, political speeches, slogans, songs and dancing. At around midnight, the leader announced they were all to proceed to the next village where they were to beat up the occupants who were deemed to be “sellouts”. This young man had refused and saying that he had known those people all of his life and that some of them were his friends. He couldn’t do it. So the thugs had beaten him instead. I recorded that he had a fractured arm and leg and had welts and bruises over his buttocks and back. However his spirit was very much intact and at the end of the interview, he told me with a sardonic smile that he had actually voted voluntarily for ZanuPF in the first round of the elections. He had recounted his story proudly and bristling with defiance which left me with no doubt that given the choice, he would make the same decision again.

And that, General, is the point of this letter. You must agree with me that the purpose of this carefully planned and methodical campaign of unrestrained and merciless brutality was not to punish, but to instil fear; sufficient fear to guarantee that the rural population would vote “correctly” in the run-off election.  But here is the rub, just like that brave village lad, none of the 52 people I interviewed, showed any sign of fear. They were not, as you may have imagined, a broken, cowering and pliable rural peasantry. They told their stories with dignity, stoicism and courage. The one emotion they had in common was anger; a deep and abiding anger at the affront to their human dignity.

This was for me a profoundly humbling and inspiring experience but one I have no wish to repeat. I came away convinced that your strategy had failed and that none of the victims, their relatives or fellow villagers would ever vote for your party again.

Therefore, General, if you and your comrades are seriously contemplating a return to the tactics of 2008, I beg you to consider the following:

Firstly, dwell on the law of unintended consequences. Do not underestimate the dignity, resilience and courage ordinary Zimbabweans.

Then have regard for the thousands of innocent young men whose minds you will fill with hatred and distorted history and then cause to do evil things, for this will rank as your greatest crime.

And finally, you should study the lessons of history, recent and past, perhaps remembering the eventual fate of the once smug, arrogant men who sat in that Nuremberg dock 65 years ago.

Yours sincerely

Dr Greg Powell


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