Organised Violence and Torture in Zimbabwe & the Liberation War


This short report is one section from a forthcoming monograph. The monograph is a detailed overview of the organised violence and torture that has afflicted Zimbabwe from 1980, as well as the violations that took place in the country known during the time as Rhodesia from 1972 to 1980 when independence finally came. The rationale for including the pre-independence period, and a restricted one at that, is to illuminate the fact that some things never change: governments under threat have a propensity for resorting to coercive control. Obviously, war is one of those threats in which governments adopt coercive strategies, and the civil war that escalated in 1972 provides a graphic example of the way in which human rights violations escalate, but it is not only civil war that prompts the committing of gross human rights violations. As will be seen, the history of the past 49 years contains multiple periods in which Organised Violence and Torture (OVT) has proliferated. The issue is not so much the absence of OVT in some periods, but the frequency found overall in the past five decades.

The use of the term “Organised Violence and Torture”, or in short, OVT, may puzzle some readers. The term was coined in the late 1980s at a ground breaking regional conference in Zimbabwe. Whilst the UN Conventions Against Torture (UNCAT) had earlier profiled the need to consider torture a very serious crime, the 1990 Conference on the Consequences of Organised Violence in Southern Africa, took place in a very violent region where torture was only one of a range of serious violations of human rights. There was civil war in Angola and Mozambique, Namibia just becoming independent after many years of bitter struggle, and the last days of apartheid in South Africa. Zimbabwe had not escaped the violence itself, with the serious violence during Gukurahandi(1982 to 1987), as well the violence on the border with Mozambique and the destabilisation activities within Zimbabwe by the South African government.


Hopefully the point made earlier, about not excluding the pre-independence period from any general history of OVT in Zimbabwe, is now apparent. The OVT, and the facilitation of this by formal impunity, led to very large numbers suffering, and, continuing to suffer decades after the horrible events. It is also worth pointing out that this OVT was not inflicted by only the security forces of the Rhodesian regime: most was, but the studies from Mount Darwin show that at least 10% of the violations were committed by the freedom fighters. There are no angels during modern wars, just devils of more or less frequency.It was such a short and brutal war that one might have expected a very strong commitment to eschew OVT in the new state of Zimbabwe, as was explicit in the address by Prime Minister,Robert Mugabe, on the assumption of office and the new Zimbabwe government taking power. However, the promise lasted no more than two years before Zimbabwe was embroiled once again in extensive OVT in the southern half of the country.

Read the full report here(833KB PDF)

Source: Research & Advocacy Unit

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