A traumatized nation: RAU report

The wounds of the liberation struggle through to the Gukurahundi phase and contemporary acts of violence and torture have seen Zimbabwe increasingly becoming a traumatized nation, with large sections of the community suffering from mental disorders.

A report by the Research and Advocacy Unit released on Friday says at least one in every 10 Zimbabweans suffers from a mental health disorder.

The research, in graphic and empirical terms, details the cases of violence and torture in Zimbabwe, mainly drawing on statistics from the 2001-2009 period, but in some cases going back further.

“Zimbabweans have suffered during this period of complex emergency, when the infrastructure of the country has collapsed around them,” said the report.

Damage to the psychological well-being of the population, according to the report, is likely to have enduring effects on the populace as evidenced by war veterans who participated in the 1970s war of liberation but are still suffering mentally 31 years on after independence.

Government sponsored programmes such as Gukurahundi of the 1980 when a estimated 20 000 people were killed by the government army and also operation Murambatsvina which saw the displacement of close to a million people have heightened mental suffering of many.

In addition, many thousands of Zimbabweans have been affected by torture and organized violence. The prevailing situation, where national healing and reconciliation is proving difficult to establish, has made it difficult to collect accurate figures of people who are suffering from mental health problems.

“The true scale of the problem will not be known until an enabling political and legal infrastructure is in place to facilitate the research needed to generate accurate figures. The most obvious effects are physical, seen in illnesses and injuries, which may be short-lived, but also may lead to long-term disability. However, the most persistent consequences will be psychological, and especially if the trauma was deliberately inflicted, as in torture,” said the report.

“There clearly are people who need individual treatment and provision has to be made for this through development of mental health services within the existing health system. At the same time, it is argued here that healing interventions of quite a different kind, focusing on communities and the social/political context, will constitute the majority of the work that needs to be done.

“One small study, in Gwanda district, indicated that five adults in 10 over the age of 18 were suffering from significant psychological disorders, with over 90% of the sample reporting an experience with organized violence and torture,” noted RAU.

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