Trapped in our own victimhood 

Trapped in our own victimhood

18 May marked the one year anniversary of the start of Operation Murambatsvina (“Sweep out the rubbish”), the Zimbabwean government’s programme of evictions and destruction last year under the claim of “cleaning up” the cities, but which in actuality left over 700,000 people displaced.

Several civil society organisations, including the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, have decided to use this one-year mark to “commemorate” the suffering and destruction of Murambatsvina, and to pressure government to follow through on the commitments it made to build houses for those displaced, and new market stalls for those vendors who were evicted from their markets.

There are many painful memories around Murambatsvina, and using it as a rallying point is not necessarily a bad idea. It was condemned by the international community, including the UN in a report by Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka, and people both inside and outside Zimbabwe recognize it as one of the most horrific practises in recent years.

However, marking the “one year” anniversary of this destruction ignores the fact that Murambatsvina is on going. It’s become a verb, a noun, and a state of being for both the people and the government of Zimbabwe. In the past four weeks alone, Murambatsvina-style evictions have been carried out in cities like Masvingo and Ruwa. Operation Round Up has seen police in Harare “sweep up” over 10,000 homeless people and dump them on a farm outside Harare. I spoke with a woman last week who works with street children. She says she has heard many stories from different people, all reporting the same dreadful conditions at Melford Farm, the lack of food, water, sanitation or assistance, and saying that, after spending two weeks there, people are left to find their own way back to town.

The government isn’t pursuing any long-term development or assistance project here. But sadly, by not integrating an element of resistance and defiance into the “commemorations,” civil society also will not move towards the long term programme it needs to see genuine democratic change in Zimbabwe. On the weekend, I read [link=,,1773284,00.html]The Great Catastrophe[/link], an article about the Palestinian resistance. They call 16 May, the anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, Nakba Day. Nakba means catastrophe, and they mark that day as the start of the evictions and displacement that they have faced over the past 58 years. But, as Karma Nabulsi, author of the piece and former PLO representative says, unlike in Zimbabwe with the Operation Murambatsvina commemoration, “Nakba day has now become a profoundly political event because it is all about resistance to the current Palestinian situation rather than enshrining past memories of victimhood.” She goes on to describe how Palestinians use the day to recognise the various ways in which Nakba continues, rallying around current injustices, not simply rolling over and mourning the losses of the past.

It seems like Zimbabweans are more and more trapped in our own victimhood. We say that things will change when the old man dies. Or that God is watching, and won’t let our suffering continue forever. But there is not the spirit of defiance that is essential if things like collective non violent action are ever to succeed here. As a friend of mine said the other day, “we’re missing the belief that we deserve better. And that we have the right to demand it.” It is this “victim mentality” that makes it easier for dictatorship to take root. We all get trapped in it in our own ways. But this is what we have to counter if we are ever to see a truly free Zimbabwe. All the public meetings, rallies, and even planned mass action in the world won’t take off until we start challenging this victim psychology, individually and collectively. Like Mail and Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee was saying this week in her comment, The Politics of Demagogy, "the meak only inherit a scorched earth."

[i]For more information on Operation Murambatsvina visit also the Evictions Index on[/i]

Tags: Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Blogs, Resistance, Activism, Operation Murambatsvina

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Comment Nakba day is commemorated on the same day as Israeli independence day. It is fascinating to me how the same events can be read so differently by different populations. In Israel, however, independence day tends to be one big party, plus some speeches by politicians about how wonderful Israel is (did Mugabe make any reference to Operation Murambatsvina on its anniversary?). As you day, in the West Bank and Gaza, Nakba day is seen not just as a day for somber reflection, but also as one of the central days of resistance, I hope that in the future, when Zimbabwe is once again free and prosperous (which will happen, never lose hope of that), this day will be commemorated not just by remembrance, but also by political activism and continued resistance to oppression in all its forms. To a Free Zimbabwe, a Free Palestine and a Free World!

Wed May 31, 2006 11:25 am MST by Rann

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