Where does violence take us?

There’s not much point in debating where violence started in Zimbabwe. You can’t put all the blame on Cecil Rhodes and his gang, or on Mzilikazi. The Biblical story of Cain and Abel suggests the roots are very deep. Many peoples have a similar story of two brothers, one a farmer and the other a herdsman or a hunter; in Papua New Guinea many call them Manip and Kulabob, and the moral is different, but the story tells of the historic conflict of two cultures.

That happened here when the Bantu peoples, with their iron tools and weapons, overcame the San, hunters with stone tools and weapons. It didn’t start then, but the pattern has continued.The side with more advanced technology had the advantage – until the other side caught up.

The AK47 spelt the end of colonial power, and 60% of the whites who were here in 1964 left before the war ended in 1979. How many of them were refusing to fight for Ian Smith and how many just didn’t want to be on the losing side we can’t tell now, but the balance of power had turned against them.

And each new conqueror only stays on top till someone more powerful comes along. Force may be a short cut, but does it lead us in the right direction? If there’s going to be another round to the fight, it doesn’t matter whether it’s against the guy you beat in the last round or someone else, force hasn’t solved anything. All-in wrestling on TV is a staged version of the chaos that leads to.

The law of Moses tried to break that cycle: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” was meant to say “so much and no more”. Jesus said that it wasn’t good enough and Mahatma Gandhi pointed out that “an eye for an eye” leaves the whole world blind. Once we start fighting, we won’t be satisfied with getting back what we lost. We want to prove we have won and however little extra we win, that provides the driving force to keep the cycle of violence running.

We had our leaders who, like Gandhi, preferred making their opponent examine his justification for his actions rather than trying to beat reason into his head. Mzingeli may not have known about Gandhi, but some of their ideas were similar. Burombo didn’t set out to smash the railways; he just showed workers wouldn’t work there till the conditions were right.

Unfortunately the last 50 years have been dominated by two men, mirror images of each other, who had each to prove he was top dog, each “The Saviour” to his followers but the devil incarnate to his opponents: Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe. People got fed up with that endless dogfight, so “Chinja maitiro” sounded a hopeful message. Some of the people who repeated that slogan may not have known what they wanted to change to, but they knew the way we had been going would only lead us to ruin.

They missed a few opportunities for effective, active non-violence, but they seem to be learning. Leaders are learning to call the abuses of those who disregard the GPA by their proper names, and that’s a start. Some who talk like that are beginning to act as if they mean it; that’s the next step. But we need to plan carefully. There can be mis-steps. The outgoing party know they are on the way out; they have degrees in violence, that is true, but they’ve grown too specialised. They don’t know anything else and they don’t write the rules of the game anymore.

Most people are encouraged because they see some signs of change, however small and however slow. They are all agreed that we don’t want an election this year, when the “ruining party’ might still have a chance to ruin things. Don’t ask whether most of us would be ready for an election next year: we can’t answer that question yet. We live from day to day, opening up any crack we see, putting a foot in and waiting for the next opportunity.

We may all want to cheer when we hear some MDC youths have started hitting back, but we remember those who have the degrees in violence still have the big guns. They have those, but they don’t see their way forward. That’s cause for hope, but remember – Samson, though blinded and captive, was still dangerous.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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