Not In My Community

Marlon a young activist living in Hatclif Extension some 23km out of Harare made a conscious decision to fight violence in his community. He took part in a campaign called ‘Not In My Community’ and part of this campaign included that he join other youth in mobilizing their community to declare Hatcliff Extension violence free. Together young people went on a door to door campaign conscientising men, women and children about the need to speak out against domestic and politically motivated violence. The activities were exciting and many families made commitments to ensure that they resist violence which comprised putting up certificates of commitment in their houses. In one of the community centers they engaged in a hands are not for hitting activity where people would come and sign on canvas, as a sign of their promise to promote and maintain peaceful relations. All this was done under the theme ‘Ending the Silence’.

Towards the end this week long campaign, certain party loyalist came in and started accusing Marlon as well as other youth of engaging in political activity and undermining the person hood of the president. Marlon was arrested with two other youth and whilst they were soon released without any formal charges he started facing harassment from the party loyalists in his community and the police. He was constantly called to the police station for questioning unnecessarily and the party loyalists started threatening his land lady that if she kept him as a tenant they would burn her house. Despite having a lawyer and despite efforts to talk to the party loyalist Marlon’s harassment continued and in the end he had to go into hiding. His crime: opening dialogue to end violence in his community. Young Voices Network, of which he is a member, then opened a protect Marlon campaign on face book and got in touch with Amnesty International to assist the network in guaranteeing the rights of their member. Amnesty International wrote a letter to the two Ministers of home affairs asking them to ensure the young men’s safety and alerted its members to put pressure on the ministry. The home affairs office was inundated with letters from Amnesty International members on Marlon’s case. Eventually the ministry ordered the officer in charge of Marlon’s case to apologize to Marlon and to charge the party loyalist with harassment of which they did. The minister then wrote to Amnesty International saying it should tell its members to stop writing because they had apologized to Marlon. The party loyalist also apologized to Marlon. Had the network lost the Marlon battle, it would have lost the community and any hope of getting communities to reclaim their community back.

Hatcliff Extension like so many other areas acrossZimbabweexperiences violence in all its different forms- from domestic to politically motivated violence.The Not in My Community campaign, spearheaded by Young Voices NetworkZimbabwe, aims to focus collective energies towards identifying and addressing some of the causes of violent behaviour, rather than treat only the symptoms. It is an avid attempt to prevent violence from happening at all especially in places where there hasn’t been a recurrence. Rather than resigning to the growing climate of fear and intimidation, the campaign encourages communities to take a stand in response to each incident, especially in places where there have been reports of violent attacks. Intolerance and hate come in many forms but the models of response and prevention share a common theme. The campaign’s aspirations are ambitious, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor which starts with individuals making decisions to end violence.

2008 became yet another sad era in Zimbabwean history. There was wide spread politically motivated violence, torture, abductions, internal and external displacements, death and rape. Most Zimbabweans are familiar with the story and would like to forget it ever happened. For most young people it was a lost year, education was disrupted as most young people and teachers were displaced. Many lost their loved ones to disease- the cholera pandemic- whilst others lost them to xenophobia in search of economic expediency on foreign lands. The trauma communities have faced is proving more difficult to deal with, because the perpetrators still live in close proximity to victims thereby providing vivid and constant reminders of the past, as well as the threat of further incidents.

Violence is a universal scourge that tears at the fabric of communities and threatens the life, health and happiness of us all. It is a disease, it is learned and it can be unlearned. Violence destroys communities and leaves society in monologue rather than in dialogue and destroys social capital.  Ultimately, violence impedes the emergence of the very conditions necessary for the successful implementation of development operations; even the pace to the accomplishment of Millennium Development goals is no exception. An experience of it is traumatic and causes fundamental changes not only in victims’ way of life, but also their psychological outlook.

In the face of such glaring and painful reality ordinary Zimbabweans today are hopeful that they will start on a new leaf. Article 7 of the Global Political Agreement states a straight forward road map to the promotion of equality, national healing, cohesion and unity yet that road has spanners all the way long. This article paves way for peace building in Zimbabwe. In the past political identities have opened avenues for sexual gender based violence, prostitution, crime and disease. Only one identity is desired, that of being peacefully and humbly Zimbabwean. A chance is in the limelight for the nation to re-build its education and health systems, to create job opportunities, a chance to see the true beauty of a Zimbabwean person when you see them smile because they are happy and because their peace surpasses all understanding.

This campaign is one of the proud innovations to create a collective identity. The Network believes that concerted and co-ordinated action involving every individual and organisation with a responsibility or interest in reducing violence will make communities in Zimbabwe safer places for everyone. Wearing and living the ‘Not in my Community Banner’ requires the teaching of peaceful behavior to the violent ones and to the young ones who are most likely untainted. According to the social learning theory by Albert Bandura violence is learnt through the process of socialization and through direct experience and observation from our social environment. The interaction of the Zimbabwean society has been violent filled with a lot of hate speech in the media, at national events, rallies and every aspect of our public life. Not in My Community is built on the premise of unlearning violent behavior and taking a stance to teach others peaceful behavior. It is built on unified action.

The campaign also took place in Macheke, led by an organization called Youth Development and Aids Trust, where it demonstrated the need for local authorities to take a stance against violence. This is a farming community which has been besieged by a scourge of domestic and politically motivated violence with high cases being of child abuse which in one year numbered to 63 child victims at one school. YODAT engaged in activities aimed at educating its community about the need to create peaceful environments at home and in public spheres. The people in Macheke spoke about the situation in their community for the first time and the transformation was seen in structures police, education, business and political structures. Today as one enters this community a wall stands out with a message ‘Let’s hold hands and shield our community against violence.’ This wall is a constant reminder to authorities that when they provided the land for this structure they made an anti-violence commitment, it is a sign of an enormous break through.

For people in a community to feel safe there needs to be a steady voice that says “no that’s not who we are, we are much stronger and better than that”. The young people who have been part of this campaign have stated this showing they are peaceful and keen to develop their communities. Maybe with this Young Voices Network innovation politicians in Zimbabwe will stop seeing young people as conduits of violence and start using them to build Zimbabwe anew.

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