/ 26 May 2011

‘Axe’ falls on Mugabe’s shame

'axe' Falls On Mugabe's Shame

“The axe will always forget but the tree that was chopped by the axe will never forget.”

These are words spoken by Moses Tsvangirai in The Axe and the Tree a new documentary that reveals the extent of the violence directed at opposition party supporters that erupted in Zimbabwe in the run-up to the 2008 presidential run-off elections.

The documentary was launched on Tuesday at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg. It comes amid calls by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to go to the polls again this year.

The film focuses on four families living on the periphery of Harare. They relive their experience of violence, rape and house burnings at the hands of violent Zanu-PF supporters young enough to be their children — all because they dared to support the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring Zimbabwean-born human rights activist Elinor Sisulu; Howard Varney, acting director of the International Centre for Transitional Justice which supported the making of the documentary; and Rumbi Katedza, the director of the documentary.

Tsvangirai’s face darkens as he tells of repeated beatings and how, later, he had to tell his child to accept the violence as a part of life — a statement that shocked the audience.

“When a father says to their child these things happen in life, it’s not right, it’s not normal and people shouldn’t expect that and almost have an optimistic approach to it,” said Sisulu, who is married to Max Sisulu, Parliament speaker and son of struggle royalty Walter and Albertina Sisulu.

Katedza said the documentary was shot under difficult circumstances. One of the perpetrators of the violence, who initially agreed to take part in the documentary, disappeared for a while. When he came back he wanted nothing to do with the documentary, said Katedza.

“There is a lot of fear [in the community], not only among the people who support MDC but also on Zanu-PF supporters,” she said.

The documentary comes on the back of fears of more political violence if Zimbabwe goes ahead with elections this year.

Elections in Zimbabwe have become synonymous with violence, said Varney.

Sisulu said Zimbabwe’s opposition parties and civil society needed a stronger push for media freedom as a matter of urgency rather that their currents focus on drafting the country’s new constitution.

But her stance on media freedom seems to contradict the South African government’s secrecy on Zimbabwe. First there was Mbeki’s controversial “quiet diplomacy” in the way he handled his Zimbabwean counterpart during his mediation mission, and currently President Jacob Zuma’s fight to keep a report on violence during Zimbabwe’s 2002 presidential elections under wraps.

The Mail & Guardian has been embroiled in a battle to gain access to the report, which the presidency has blocked at every opportunity.

Violence marred campaigning in the run-up to the elections in 2002, as Mugabe’s efforts to retain power through force intensified. Many detentions and 30 deaths were reported.
Before the election, Thabo Mbeki — then president of South Africa — sent judges Dikgang Moseneke and Sisi Khampepe to investigate constitutional and legal challenges leading up to election day.

A report was compiled by the two judges, but the South African government declined to make it public, despite the judges’ recommendation that it be released, leading to the M&G’s request of a copy through the Promotion of Access to Information Act in 2008.

While both the High and the Supreme Courts have ruled in the paper’s favour, the M&G has yet to see the report as the Presidency has taken the matter all the way to the Constitutional Court on appeal.

Katedza is hopeful that the documentary will raise more awareness about what happened in Zimbabwe and prevent similar incidents happening again.

‘The violence at the end at the day affects families and children who, like the characters in the film, just want to be able to build nice houses and live their lives and they should be able to do that.”