Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

An Exploration of the Impact of Zimbabwe's 2005 Operation Murambatsvina on Women and Children

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

An Exploration of the Impact of Zimbabwe's 2005 Operation Murambatsvina on Women and Children

Article excerpt

The use of violence as an instrument of governance predates independence in Zimbabwe. Its use towards specific groups is equally not a new phenomenon. Thus violence must be analysed not as episodic but rather a continuum which was perpetuated by the various administrations since the formation of modern day Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe was colonised through the use of violence, colonial Zimbabwe was ruled by violence and the threat of violence, the country was liberated through violence and continues to be ruled through violence. Hence it can be argued that, in Zimbabwe, the preferred method of governing is through violence. Episodes of state violence can be enumerated as follows: First Chimurenga (War of Primary Resistance 1896-1897), Second Chimurenga

(War of Independence 1965-1980), Hondo Yeminda (land reform programme 2000), Operation Gukurahundi (genocide in the two regions of Matabeleland and Midlands 1983-1984),and Operation Mavhotera Papi? (election-related violence, meaning literally 'where did you place your vote?' 2008) (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2010: 281-295; Sadomba 2011: 229).

If, broadly, the use of violence is part of the statecraft, then many episodes of violence in Zimbabwe which the state considers an instrument of governance may be construed as human rights abuse elsewhere. This raises the very contentious notion of sovereignty. Whose sovereignty matters? Is it that of the individual or that of the state? Closely linked to this is the notion of independence. Whose independence is it? Is it the independence of the state so that it can behave as it likes, that is like a sovereign, or is it the independence of the individuals in the state? This analysis enables one to understand the two divergent interpretations of Operation Murambatsvina. However, an exploration of police operations that specifically targeted women will first be undertaken in the following paragraphs as a precursor to the contextualisation of Operation Murambatsvina.

Police operations targeting women in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean police have a long history of running operations that have targeted women. The Solidarity Peace Trust (2010: 16) records that as far back as October 1983 'unaccompanied women in urban areas were suddenly deemed to be prostitutes and were routinely arrested, in another version of "operation clean up"'. Specific episodes of violence which have targeted women include Operation Chipo Chiroorwa (ladies, get married) of 2 March 2007. Operation Chinyavada (Scorpion) of 2 June 1983 specifically targeted hundreds of women found walking on the streets after 6pm; they were taken to detention centres. During the operation, any women found walking alone in the urban areas was deemed to be a prostitute soliciting for sex, hence contravening Section 8 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Law) Act, Chapter 9:23. Operation Chinyavada of 1983, also known as Operation Clean-up, was meant to clean the streets of 'pfambi/mahure' (prostitutes) and force them to the rural areas where they 'belonged' (Harris 2008). The government of Zimbabwe wants Zimbabweans and the rest of the world to believe that 'there is no Zimbabwean without a rural home'. This observation is affirmed by the police officer commanding Harare Province, who told journalists that 'no one in Zimbabwe comes from nowhere. Everybody belongs somewhere' (in the Daily Mirror 21 June 2005).

Musiyiwa (2008: 65) also notes that another operation that specifically targeted women was conducted by the City of Harare in 1991, which was justified as a preparation for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Vambe (2008: 137) concur with this observation and notes that the operation was 'conducted just before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Harare to give the impression to the visiting Queen of England that Zimbabwe was a clean country', albeit that this operation was targeted at people, particularly women, in Mbare, one of Harare's oldest high-density suburbs. …

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