More action needed to prevent violence

Date: January 1, 1970
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Recent photos in the media off a woman carrying a baby on her back crawling under a barbed wire in the hope of a better future in South Africa brought home the reality of what is facing people in Zimbabwe. Though this was a photo of one woman, braving the crocodile infested Limpopo River is a daily reality for the increasing numbers of Zimbabweans fleeing the country.

Surely, the leaders of Zimbabwe should not hold their heads up high when their citizenry have to resort to those kinds of survival tactics, especially at a time when there is no war! Or maybe Zimbabwe is a country at war with itself.
After many years of prosperity, Zimbabweans recent history is one of suffering, a laughing stock of the region and international community. The country has become the subject of analyses and documentaries all for the wrong reasons. 
Added to  the economic crisis in the country, there is growing fear that the tense situation in Zimbabwe will deteriorate to the level of post-election Kenya, where close to 1000 lives were lost senselessly and half a million people displaced. There are many critical lessons for Zimbabwe to learn from the Kenya situation.
In a press release issued 22 April, the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance, a coalition of sixteen Southern African Development Community (SADC) based organisations, added their voices to the growing call for resolute action on Zimbabwe. The gender activists have called on leaders and the international community to “act decisively” in ending the Zimbabwean crisis, which threatens all peace-loving citizens, especially women and children.
At least, it appears that the SADC is taking note of the potential escalation of problems. In South Africa, citizen action led to the refusal of a shipment of arms headed for Zimbabwe from China. Media reports indicate that countries such as Angola and Namibia also refused entry, and SADC chairperson, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, called on countries not to allow the ship to unload on SADC territory.
Arms by their very nature maim people and at the worst kill them.  What will they be used for and by who? Zimbabweans have displayed a level of maturity not seen in many parts of the African continent but their patience must be running thin.
Political parties in Zimbabwe are busy blame shifting with no concrete action except for delaying tactics playing out in the political landscape while the citizens begin to butcher each other day in and day out.
The country’s leadership continues to be in denial on many fronts, yet the citizenry continue to suffer.  Inflation is reportedly close to 200 000 percent. The poverty cycle worsens as public health care becomes almost non-existent and education suffers as teachers migrate to neighbouring countries.  
Except for the three weekly newspaper titles, there is a glaring absence of local independent daily media outlets. So, the story comes from media run outside the Zimbabwe boarders for alternative news and views to that of the government of the day, sometimes by exiled Zimbabweans, but rarely by the people who are in the middle.
When the brave women and men dared speak out for themselves by making a mark for their preferred candidates in the recent elections, even that did not count. They continue to wait with baited breath for the announcement of the outcome.
Even before the announcing presidential results, a recount has ensued casting doubt on the transparency and legitimacy of the whole process.  Officials defied a court order barring a recount of the ballots on the basis that it is illegal according to the Electoral Regulations.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has not helped matters by offering many contradictory statements on why they have not been released results. ZEC has not had the decency to explain the irregularities that have stalled the announcement of results.
 It has been asked many times “what will it take to get decisive action” from fellow African leaders and bodies such as African Union, Southern African Development Community,  international bodies such as the United Nations?  Do we have to see another Rwanda, Burundi or Kenya for action to begin?
Remarks by progressive world leaders during or on the sidelines of major meetings are welcome but these can only do so much for the country to ease the situation.  Refusing arms is good, but not enough.
It will take more than a statement passed in Lusaka or New York to break the impasse. 
Moreover, the impasse can only be broken when the problem is clear for all.  The question is, where did the seemingly peaceful and orderly voting period go wrong?  The stakes are high and there is no relenting; a lasting solution requires all stakeholders to identify the problems in an honest and transparent manner.
If stories being reported outside the Zimbabwe boarders are to go by, Shortwave Radio Africa (20 April) reported, “400 MDC activists have been arrested since the elections, 500 have been taken to hospital with injuries and 3,000 families had been forced from their homes.” Zanu also reported violence at the hands of the MDC supporters according to reports in the local media. 
Political violence disproportionately affects women and children. Children miss school until calm prevails, while displaced women struggle to feed and clothe their families.
Apart from lamenting the late announcement of presidential elections, the Gender Protocol Alliance expressed concern for the reversal of fragile gains made for gender equality in Zimbabwe. In election results announced so far, the proportion of women in the national assembly has declined from 16% to 13%. The target set in the draft Protocol on Gender and Development that will go before heads of state at their August summit in South Africa is 50% women in all areas of decision-making by 2015.
Zimbabweans deserve better.  It is time African leaders begin to walk the talk given the many regional commitments on issues of governance and accountability to its citizenry. Why wait until photos of increased violence and thousands more displaced people start appearing ? The time for decisive action is now.

Loveness Jambaya Nyakujarah is the Gender Justice Manager & Assistant Director of Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news

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