In 2013, Zimbabwe enacted a new Constitution, including strong gender equality provisions that outlaw discrimination against women. The new Constitution promotes women’s full participation in all aspects of society and abolishes all “laws, customs, traditions, and practices” that infringe upon women’s rights and equality with men. But the Constitution’s mandate for gender equality is not necessarily reflected in Zimbabwe’s existing laws or practices.

Whilst there is continual reference to the suffering of those affected by the Zimbabwe crisis, particularly in reference to Operation Murambatsvina and the burgeoning food crisis, insufficient attention has been given to the mental health consequences, both psychological and social, of the massive social upheaval and organized violence and torture that has accompanied the crisis.This paper seeks to begin to fill this gap.

The article explores the effectiveness of the use of an empowerment workshop, called the Tree of Life, in the treatment of torture survivors. The approach is based on a survivor-to-survivor model of assistance. The Tree of Life is a group-based approach to the healing and empowerment of survivors of organized violence and torture. It is facilitated by survivors themselves who have been trained and supervised in the methodology.

Civil society has long anticipated the current dynamics and questions facing those concerned with transitional justice in Zimbabwe. In 2003, against the background of inter-party talks about possible transition, a Symposium was held in Johannesburg, which made comprehensive recommendations on the ways to manage the consequences of organized violence and torture, including ways in which truth, accountability and healing should take place. However, it is apparent that the national situation has changed (and deteriorated) considerably since 2003.

This paper falls into two main sections. The first section provides a brief overview of organised violence and torture in Zimbabwe, mainly drawing on statistics from the 2001-2009 period, but in some cases going back further. Figures showing the kinds of abuse inflicted and its frequency provide evidence of the extent to which Zimbabweans have suffered during this period of complex emergency, when the infrastructure of the country has collapsed around them.