Genocide in Zimbabwe

2008-12-01 00:00

Many years ago, Didymus Mutasa said that Zanu-PF would be happy if the population fell to six million people who would then support the party. At the time the population was just over 12 million and most people thought these were remarks made by someone who did not have any idea of what he was talking about.

Today we are rapidly moving towards that figure. Some people say that Zimbabwe’s population is no more than eight million. In 1980, when Zimbabwe gained its independence, the population growth was about 3,4% per annum and expected to double in 17 to 18 years. It should therefore have stood at 17 million in 1997 when the madness that has gripped the country since then was initiated by the government.

So what has happened to the other eight or nine million people? At least four million now reside in South Africa and a further one million live in other parts of the world. This leaves an unexplained gap of three to four million people.

In the 10 years that have followed 1997, the population should have grown naturally by another eight million. So we are talking about unnatural deaths in the order of 12 million people.

All data are estimates as official statistics are either unavailable or just plainly dishonest.

It started with Gukurahundi — a six-year campaign to destroy Zapu and entrench Zanu-PF hegemony over the whole country. This campaign was kept secret until the Legal Resources Foundation and the Catholic Bishops Conference published a partial report on the atrocities. Their conclusion was that over 20 000 people had been murdered and hundreds of thousands displaced. What is not appreciated is that many people elected to move to South Africa.

Between 1987, when Zapu succumbed, and 2000 there was no official campaign of dislocation and intimidation, but the war against any form of opposition continued.

Then came the defeat in the 2000 referendum and the near defeat in the election that year. In fury, Zanu-PF turned on its perceived enemies. When the votes were counted, it was discovered that the two million people on commercial farms had in fact swung the vote. The state turned on this community, savagely beating and killing any who opposed its will. Thousands of farms were illegally confiscated and at least 1,5 million people were displaced.

When it became clear that a majority of the population now lived in the urban areas, the core of the Movement for Democratic Change support, the state launched Murambatsvina (operation clean out the rubbish). A United Nations special investigator said that 700 000 people were displaced and 1,4 million people lost their livelihood and shelter over a period of three months.

Again an understated effect of these state-managed interventions was the flight of millions to the nearby states. Completely understated is the number of people who died in these campaigns.

Despite these massive manipulations of the population and the complete disregard for the welfare of the people, the population of the urban areas still expanded. The flight of people to South Africa and other destinations accelerated.

This meant that the objective of the ruling party still eluded it. The MDC became stronger and Zanu-PF was faced with a steady escalation of pressure from the global and regional community. In desperation, the state turned on the MDC and its structures in a manner that resembled the Zapu campaign 20 years before. Hundreds were killed or disappeared.

But Zanu-PF was up against a very different antagonist in the form of the MDC. Its leadership understood what the Zanu-PF strategies were and used every means to publicise what was going on. The MDC refused to give the regime the excuse to use its military power. It maintained a strong political base in the urban areas and managed to penetrate the rural areas. In consequence, when minor reforms of the electoral system were adopted in 2008, Zanu-PF went into the elections in March and lost.

There was, without a doubt, widespread rigging on top of intimidation, let alone total distortion by the national media and the control of food and traditional leaders. Despite desperate efforts to overturn the result, Zanu-PF eventually admitted that it had lost control of Parliament and that Morgan Tsvangirai had won the presidential contest. What it did not do was to publish the results of the poll. With the deliberate connivance of the then South African president, Zanu-PF published a fictional result that gave Tsvangirai less than the required 50%.

Even so, Zanu-PF launched a campaign called Mavhoterapapi (where did you vote?). Two thousand militia camps were established. Thousands of people were beaten and tortured. Hundreds died.

Can anyone describe what I have set out above as anything other than a form of genocide? A lot of publicity is being given to the eastern Congo, but the death toll there is tiny in comparison with the death toll here. There can be few situations in the world where a small country like Zimbabwe can go through a period of its history during which a third of its population dies in state-sponsored violence. Where else in the world has a state overseen a crisis during which half of its population has died in three decades and under conditions where there was no civil war or conflict? During the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, the number of people who died in both those countries is fewer than the number of people who died in Zimbabwe during the past 28 years. But because the camera was not present and because it was the state killing its people, our genocide has not been understood or lamented.

• Eddie Cross is an MP for Bulawayo South, a Zimbabwean economist and a founder member of the MDC.

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