Hilton Chironga’s demeanour changes when he mentions June 28 2008, and recounts the day his brother Gibbs was shot while his mother and sister watched in horror.
NEWS IN DEPTH BY JOHN MOKWETSI
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On that fateful day, Chironga of Chiweshe in Mashonaland Central — a hotbed of political violence — describes how his brother, who had won local government elections and was set to become a councillor, woke him up amid a blaze of gunfire.
“We had won as the MDC in that March presidential election,” he recounted last week.
“It was a peaceful election and we saw no reason to be afraid.
“There was a run off thereafter after our candidate, president Morgan Tsvangirai was said to have won but without enough votes for an outright win.
“On discovering that we had grown [popular], political violence was the only way. Zanu PF was determined to scare us into submission, and they did.”
Chironga, who consistently wiped his watery eyes which he blamed on paraquat poisoning, spoke with a tinge of emotional pain that explained the scars criss-crossing his body, including a shattered femur [thigh bone] from a gunshot and a surgically inserted metal plate in one of his arms.
Paraquat is a toxic chemical that is widely used as a herbicide, primarily for weed and grass control.
“Amid gunshots and singing, we rushed to take our own weapons to defend ourselves,” said Chironga as he recalled the events of that tragic night.
“But what became apparent was that the militia had the support of uniformed forces and we had to surrender in the hope that they would spare our lives.
“The face of the man who shot my brother is vivid in my mind and I see him in the news and I know he is comfortable at his farm.
“There was no soul in those eyes. They killed him like his life was worthless and my mother wailed for the son she lost.”
Chironga said it was by the grace of God that his sister and mother survived the ordeal on that night. If the shooting of his brother was the worst that could have happened, what followed was heart-rending.
“I saw my mother, in her 80s, being beaten up by people too young even to be her grandsons. It was traumatic.
“As my brother lay in a pool of blood, we were taken to a bushy area where I was forced to drink that herbicide, paraquat.
“Look at the state of my tongue. I survived because God felt I still needed to be here. Chiweshe was not for the faint-hearted.
Neighbour was turned against neighbour,” he says with a grimace.
These reasons and a fear of the upcoming 2018 presidential election year is why Chironga and many others who spoke to The Standard at great risk, are following closely the fate of Local Government minister and Zanu PF’s national political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere and his brother Dickson Mafios.
Mafios is Zanu PF’s Mashonaland Central chairperson.
“People do not understand how much we fear “Tyson” and how many people are hoping he will be kicked out of Zanu PF. The reign of terror from his youths here is a scar that will never go away,” Chitonga explains.
Until recently, Kasukuwere led a vicious G40 faction campaign for first lady Grace Mugabe to succeed her husband, but his relationship with her and the then women’s league’s top brass of Eunice Sandi Moyo (Grace’s deputy) and treasurer Sarah Mahoka, hit a political tidal wave in the last few weeks, amid allegations he was clandestinely plotting Mugabe’s ouster.
Kasukuwere and Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, among others, are reportedly the G40 kingpins in the Zanu PF succession matrix.
Kasukuwere might survive the nationwide demonstrations organised to force his ouster, but there is no doubt about the feelings of most people of Mashonaland Central about the man nick-named Tyson after the American boxer because of his fierce temper.
It is a sentiment shared by Tawanda Mbiswa, the former MDC councillor of Ward 12 in the Mazowe district in 2008, who said: “You needed to have been here in 2008 to understand what a Kasukuwere ouster means to us. We know that he was heavily involved in the establishment of bases where people were tortured and killed like animals.”
The MDC-T initially claimed that the bloody June 2008 presidential election violence caused the death of over 200 of its supporters.
However, in 2009 the MDC-T said a new compilation of victims of the 2008 post-election violence showed as many as 500 of its members lost their lives during that turbulent period.
The MDC had established a follow-up team to document all cases of political violence that went unreported at the time.
Mbiswa, who fled his home at the height of political violence, has harrowing tales to tell.
He looked emptily into space as if to reflect on something he made a mental note of: “I fled home to live in the mountains. I saw dead bodies and I used the longest route to get to Harare, dodging those who had my name on a hit list. I had to run away. I had to survive.
“Gibbs, who was a friend, died three days after he had visited me. He was unfortunate, like many others who were raped and some who died at the hands of armed militia.
“It is better for Mafios and Kasukuwere to leave because the terror they unleashed in this area was unheard of and inhumane.”
The area near Howard High school and under chief Gweshe bears all the remnants of a fractured community.
Even as the Standard crew stopped at the shopping centre, the fear and unwillingness to chat up strangers was apparent.
“I do not think the bases will be back in their old form. People are tired and Zanu PF supporters here are as fatigued as everyone else.
Ours is a community that is healing and we all know that in 2008 we were being used to hate each other. The coin has flipped and we are one.”
Zimbabwe as a country is traumatised by elections and for people like Chironga who tried without success to approach the courts for justice, there is need for the nation to confront its past.
The latest attempt to tackle the legacy of past human rights violations in Zimbabwe was through the 2008 Global Political Agreement which established the Organ on National Healing Reconciliation and Integration (ONHRI).
The ONHRI can be credited for commencing the conversations on what mechanisms are required to address past violations.
Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT) in a report published last year says: “Beyond that conversation, the record of the ONHRI is unsatisfactory.
“HZT notes that any process that seeks to deal with Zimbabwe’s past history of human rights violations will have to be comprehensive, inclusive of all stakeholders and should address key transitional justice issues namely; truth telling, reconciliation, justice and restoration.”
On December 18 2015, the government gazetted the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) Bill which sought to set up the NPRC as per the provisions of sections 251 to 253 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
A key element of the new Constitution is Chapter 12, which provides for the establishment of independent commissions, among them the NPRC whose tasks are to “ensure post-conflict justice, healing and reconciliation” among other functions that foster national unity and cohesion.
While this came as good news for traumatised people, justice and healing is yet to come as the commission is yet to be functional, two years into its 10-year lifespan.
Government has continued to dither in realignment of several laws affected by the new Constitution and this has delayed the full implementation of several provisions and liberties provided by the new supreme law.
“Maybe there will be justice one day,” Chironga said wiping his watery eyes. “The only way we can heal is to get closure and I hope it happens in my lifetime.”