Peace watch – First stop the violence

The focus on stopping violence is especially important now as we are fast approaching elections and we have had little indication so far that they will be less violent than the 2008 elections.

We all want National Healing in the “repairing” sense – treatment, rehabilitation, integration, atonement, compensation, etc. When we see suffering there is an instinct to soothe and comfort and treat, but this is in essence “band aid” and misses the obvious point that any treatment done will be negated if more injury is still being caused. It is essential to stop the cause of the suffering and prevent more. Churches, civil society organisations, doctors, teachers, therapists have done their bit to promote healing. But no healing can be successful if the cause of injury and pain persists.

Identify, stop and prevent

It was clear from the GPA signed by the three main political parties that party- and state-sponsored violence was in mind when provisions were set out to promote

National Healing. It is likely that most people in the country agree that there was a need for National Healing, but not enough has been done about the violence causing the suffering. Recent surveys have indicated that the level of fear of violence in the general population is high.

Already, monitoring organisations, political parties, newspapers have been reporting ongoing “low-level” political and state-sponsored violence and, that as elections talk gathers momentum, this violence has been progressively escalating. No level of political or state violence is acceptable. It must stop and its escalation must stop, and measures must be put in place to prevent any more.

Political responsibility

There is no place for pretence and avoidance. All political parties and state actors have to acknowledge the violence of the past, that violence is still happening, and that unless something is done it will escalate towards the elections.

If politicians don’t stop the violence – it is this by which they will be judged by posterity. It is also in the immediate interest of politicians to stop violence now so that if a culture of impunity for political violence comes to an end they will not have to answer for not having stopped the violence.

Leaders, political parties, government ministers, state institutions, the security arms of government, have a duty to stop public avowals of peace while secretly justifying and condoning violence, political and state or state-sponsored violence, hate speech, threats by informal militia, youth militia terrorising potential voters, political harassment through selective detentions, selective immunity from prosecution for violence caused or instigated by any group or individual and using the state media and broadcasting services to inflame conflict. This list is not exhaustive.

The role of the president

President Robert Mugabe has a particular responsibility for stopping the violence and is in a unique position to do so – by virtue of his constitutional authority. Both as President and party leader his speeches condemning violence are to be applauded. But it is necessary for him to acknowledge and stop the speeches and activities of his party and followers in promoting violence and to give clear and public instructions for them to stop. It is also incumbent on him to give clear orders to

Ministers – especially to those responsible for Information, Youth, Home Affairs and Defence – to ensure that all under their jurisdiction avoid all activities that promote violence. These instructions to Ministers should also be made public to help ensure compliance from Ministries at all levels.

The Prime Minister must stop portraying himself as the innocent or helpless victim and take more responsibility for seeing that the Ministries more directly under his control do their part and, wearing his other hat as party leader, both acknowledge and stop the speeches and activities of his party and followers in promoting violence. Again orders to party and Ministries should be clear and public.

There is a role that the public, the private media, war veterans, unions, churches, etc., can play in stopping the violence. There is also a need for cohesive monitoring of violence and safe publication of reports; and to examine what sanctions there are or should be put in place against those promoting violence.

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