Thoughts on national healing

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. A strong argument can be made that Zimbabwe now conforms to the kind of situation currently termed a “complex emergency”. In the context of economic collapse, the collapse of all supportive services [health and social welfare], severe food shortages, and mass violence, Zimbabwe resembles a country at war, but without the obvious features of war. The types of trauma reported, especially in the past five years, conform in most respects to those seen in obvious times of war – the profiles for the pre-Independence period and Matabeleland in the period 1980 to 1987 are markedly similar to that seen nationally since 2000. Certainly, the mental health consequences seem wholly similar to what would be seen in other complex emergencies where there has been obvious war.

The most manifest effects are physical, seen in illnesses and injuries, which may be short-lived, but also may lead to long-term disability. However, the most persistent consequences will be psychological, and especially if the trauma was deliberately inflicted. Here four points should be emphasized:

 Firstly, the most probable long-term consequence of experiencing organized violence and torture is the development of a psychological disorder.
 Secondly, the probability of psychological disorder following organized violence and torture increases with the frequency of experiencing physical harm, such as torture.
 Thirdly, the probability of psychological disorder increases with the number of exposures to trauma such as organized violence and torture.
 Fourthly, whilst men are probably the most common primary victims of OVT, women and children are disproportionately the most common secondary victims, and certainly secondary victims are much more common than primary victims.

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