Political miracle unfolds through Zimbabwe’s “peace committees”

HARARE - With portraits of President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai emblazoned on their respective T-shirts, Tazvizwa Mugovo and George Makaro, are strange bedfellows.
But the two have literally beaten their swords into plowshares in what can only be described as a later d

ay “miracle” that is slowly unfolding at Tongogara Camp, a dusty settlement on the outskirts of the capital Harare.
Amid a cacophony of noises from patrons, the two appear happily at peace taking turns to quench their thirst as they share a mug of opaque beer at a run-down beer garden at the dusty camp.
“Political violence is now a thing of the past at this camp. We are now working for peace and co-existence,” said Mugovo, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation war and fierce Mugabe supporter.
The 58-year old Mugovo once boasted of masterminding violent attacks on Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters about six years ago.
Tongogara Camp is home to hundreds of war veterans who participated in the country’s anti-settler liberation war, a section of society that also acquired notoriety for spearheading a violent campaign against MDC supporters.
However things appear to have changed here – thanks to an initiative by a local non-governmental organisation, the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (ZIMCET), that set up “peace committees” to foster tolerance among political groups in the country.
ZIMCET executive director David Chimhini says the peace committees were targeted at low ranking supporters of ZANU PF and the MDC as well as representatives of churches, war veterans and women’s organisations to dissuade Zimbabweans from using violence to settle political scores.
“We started the concept in 2000 after we realised that youths were being used by selfish politicians to beat up supporters of rival parties. After six years of hard work, we are happy to say we are beginning to reap the fruits of our hard labour,” said Chimhini.
Zimbabwe has been rocked by serious political violence over the past six years that left several hundreds dead with human rights groups accusing Mugabe of using violence against political opponents to hold on to power.
But Mugabe, who once boasted in 2000 that he “holds degrees in violence,” has rejected the charge accusing the MDC of being cry babies who rush to complain after provoking his party’s supporters.
Political violence particularly at election time, has left the country polarised with rural areas backing Mugabe while urban areas have thrown their support behind the opposition.
Several hundreds of MDC supporters have died in politically motivated violence since 2000 most of which was blamed on ZANU PF supporters.
A 2001 report by the internationally respected human rights organisation, Amnesty International, said more than 30 people mostly MDC supporters died as a result of political violence during the 2000 parliamentary election campaign alone.
Cecilia Mangoro, a ZANU PF district Committee in Harare’s Highfield low income suburb said the concept of peace committees had helped reduce tension between supporters of the ruling party and the MDC in the area.
“Things have changed now. We are now able to sit together as supporters of two different political parties and discuss issues that relate to the development of our community,” Mangoro said.
“What is now needed is to convince everyone in the neighbourhood that violence does not pay. We need to co-exist regardless of political affiliation,” she added.
Chimhini said the organisation had already established 72 peace committees countrywide.
“Each committee has recorded its own successes but on the whole, politically-motivated violence has declined as a direct result of these efforts. Who would have thought MDC and ZANU PF supporters would one day sit together and share some beer,” said Chimhini.
“Real physical violence has declined. What we are witnessing is subtle violence – the use of hate language and partly intimidation by politicians,” Chimhini said.
But ZIMCET says while their goal is to reduce political violence, they are also involved in matters such as human rights, leadership and accountability.
“After achieving peace, we need development in these areas so we also teach them to be responsible citizens,” added Chimhini.
While Machovo and Mugovo guzzle their beer at Tongogara, it still remains to be seen whether the concept of peace committees will be embraced by the top leaders from both sides of the political divide – a key requirement if political violence is to be a thing of the past in Zimbabwe. – ZimOnline

Post published in: Opinions

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