In this chapter, I suggest that postcolonial Zimbabwe is frozen in a condition of continuous state terror, a condition nurtured in the terror imposed by the colonial state through the violence of dispossession and the (re)creation of its indigenous inhabitants as illegitimate, and nourished by a postcolonial elite determined on the maintenance of its position and power. I show that the present difficulties in Zimbabwe do not stand isolated from the past, rather they can only be deciphered by repositioning them in a violent history, a collective memory of invasion, betrayal, and suffering in which terror from above is naturalized as both political technique and cultural practice. Collective memory of violence, vulnerability and fear as a way of life for Zimbabweans is accretive, nurtured through the telling and retelling of private stories (Green 1994; Halbwachs 1992), yet silenced and denied public expression. Terror is remembered and internalized generation after generation, incorporated as integral to the sinews of social life (Ricoeur 2004: 123), its quiet narratives an essential condition for the repeated acts of state terror deployed by successive Rhodesian/Zimbabwean regimes. Private memories of past terror make possible the terror of the present. I further suggest that the examples of memories recuperated and reshaped into public narratives through truth (and reconciliation) commissions, such as in South Africa, or through the more
localized story-telling of the gacaca in Rwandan villages demonstrate the power (if not absolute) of memory and narrative exercised in public spaces in healing the terrorized; a power which, despite the efforts of NGOs and church organizations, has not yet been felt in Zimbabwe. In this, Zimbabweans continue to suffer the effects of rupture with their past (Werbner 1998: 15). Zimbabweans have lived in a condition of profound social suffering, a shared collective experience of the world (Kleinman et al. 1997) in which their voices are unheard, their pain is silenced, the violence against them so horrendous that its meanings become elusive and susceptible to our perception only through an unfathomable distance (Das 1997; Cavell 1997). In Henri Raczymow’s evocative phrase, their collective understanding of the past, their collective memory, is ‘shot through with holes’ (1994), ‘but as time elapses, the mind accepts some terrible things and forgets others’ (Elizabeth Ndebele in Staunton 1991: 192). In asking why it is that this state has chosen instrumental and seemingly arbitrary terror as a long-term political strategy, and what its enabling conditions have been, I focus on a series of memory snapshots, exemplary of convenient historical silences, beginning with the Matabeleland massacres of the 1980s (Catholic Commission 1999) as tactical deployment of the power of the state to eliminate potential opponents and create a state of terror in others; as iconic representation of continuities with the culture of violence of the colonial project which preceded them and with the enthusiasm with which the first Independence government adopted those practices of state terror. Different choices would have been possible but these emblematic moments peculiarly demonstrated the continuing power of state terror and its effects, from the colonial period of coercive domination to the current impossibility of political community in Zimbabwe, to the development of what Stephen Chan has called ‘unreconciled citizenship’ (2005) and of vulnerability and deprivation as practices and conditions of everyday life. In writing back to the past, I draw substantially on the ethnographic and historical research of others, without whose persistence in a difficult and troubling field, my own interrogation of the relationships between memory, silencing and the terror of the state would not be possible. When, in mid-2008, I originally drafted this interrogation of the cultures of violence that pervade early twenty-first-century Zimbabwe, I thought to begin with the devastation resulting from Operation Murambatsvina (‘Restore Order’) which Robert Mugabe’s government imposed in May 2005. Right at the onset of the southern hemisphere winter, the security forces targeted first street vendors, then informal and formal settlements, destroying stalls, shacks, houses and other property, much of it located in so-called ‘opposition’ areas. In less than six weeks, by the government’s own figures, nearly 600,000 people had been made homeless and nearly 100,000 had lost their livelihoods (cited in United Nations 2005). Its actions were vociferously condemned regionally and internationally by governments which found no means to act to prevent this wholesale devastation of the lives of ordinary people. But events overtook me, and now as I write I do so surrounded by reports of the horrors of a massive cholera epidemic, of dying people being carried across the border with South Africa, of hundreds
dying in urban, high-density areas, of unknown numbers of people dying unnoticed and unregistered in rural areas (World Health Organization 2008). The epidemic is a pathological symptom of the decade-long implosion of the Zimbabwean state, its immediate cause the recent collapse of previously efficient water supply and sanitation services, exacerbated by widespread food shortages, malnutrition, hyperinflation, 80 per cent unemployment, ongoing political crisis and increasing levels of public unrest by soldiers and police. More than the carelessness and incompetence of a state spiralling out of control, the current situation enacts the Mugabe government’s intention to continue to discipline and control an increasingly unruly population, seeking to impose conditions which force the majority of the population to focus almost entirely on the barest means of survival. To cling to power, the Zimbabwean state has located itself in a history of low-intensity conflicts punctuated by episodes of massive, systematic, arguably proto-genocidal, violence against the civilian populations of the region. It has systematically deployed the politics of difference, of marginalization and forgetting, silencing wherever possible the memories and dissonant voices of those who recalled different histories, forging and refining structural cultures of violence, ‘violence exerted systematically – that is, indirectly’ (Farmer 2004: 307), manufacturing ‘desocialisation’ (ibid.) and the destruction of community (and so diminishing individual agency and capacity for resistance). In choosing to exercise the state’s capacity both for the daily uncertainties of structural violence and for pathological, physical violence, the Zimbabwean state draws on its own versions of history to create a culture of terror in which ‘solitude, fear and silence’ (Taussig 1984: 470) become deliberate agents of state terror. Mired in crisis, it continues to enact these strategies of convenient silence and to deny the recuperation of contested memories which would permit moving beyond the cultures of violence that inscribe it and underpin it. ‘Let us understand’, the Geneva declaration on terrorism reminds us, ‘that the distinguishing feature of terrorism is fear and that this fear is stimulated by threats of indiscriminate and horrifying forms of violence directed against ordinary people everywhere’ (United Nations 1987). While state terror is most usually characterized by specific acts of physical violence by a government against a population, detention, torture, suppression of public demonstrations and private resistance (Blakeley this volume) ‘as a means of political intimidation and control’ (Sluka 2000: 2), here I extend that definition to suggest that the war of the Zimbabwean state against the majority of its own people is now conducted both through acts of physical violence and repression and through the structural violence of systematic neglect of the basic needs of human survival. Ultimately, the consequences are similar: the construction of a shared state of fear and apprehension, the continual and constant expectation of arbitrary and illegal acts by agents of government, the deprivation of means of life, the individual body reduced to an emaciated cipher, the loneliness of unnoticed death, through disease, through the batons, firearms or instruments of torture of the security forces.