History Monday: Gukurahundi – Organized Violence Part 2

Hi, this is from a 1997 Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace


There has been a series of studies into prevalence and effect of organized violence carried out at two small rural hospitals, at Mount Darwin and Karanga in the far north eastern corner of Zimbabwe. Although this area was completely unaffected by events in the 1980s, it is an area that suffered extreme violence in the 1970s, and is the only area where the long term consequences of organized violence for Zimbabweans have been studied. As no studies on the effects of the 1980s violence have yet been done, the Mount Darwin/Karanga study may provide some insight into the effects of organized violence in a Zimbabwean setting.

This suggestion is not made dogmatically, and one would expect cultural and historical differences to have made the 1980s experience discreet for its sufferers from the 1970s violence. Much of the data in the 1970s studies relates to war veterans, whereas in Matabeleland and the Midlands in the 1980s, it was civilians who were affected by the violence: there are problems in extrapolating from the former group to the latter. Even where Mount Darwin results relate to civilians, it must be remembered that in Matabeleland and the Midlands, people have now suffered two consecutive periods of violence, which has compounded the plight of survivors in these regions.

Interested readers are therefore referred to the list of references for this chapter, if they wish to pursue what is already known from the Mount Darwin/Karanga studies. As has been mentioned before in this report, the techniques of torture used by government agencies in the 1980s were nothing new in this country: such abuse was widespread in the 1970s.


The term “organized violence” derives from an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), and, in Southern Africa, has been given a definition that both includes and extends the original definition given by the WHO. An International Conference, and a subsequent Regional Meeting, both held in Harare, gave the following definition:

“Organized violence is the inter human infliction of significant avoidable pain and suffering by an organized group according to a declared or implied strategy and/or system of ideas and attitudes. It comprises any violent action which is unacceptable by general human standards, and relates to the victims’ feelings. Organized violence includes inter alia “torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” as mentioned in Article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1948).

Imprisonment without trial, mock executions, hostage taking or any other form of violent deprivation of liberty also fall under the heading of organized violence. The effects of apartheid, destabilisation, civil war, the forced displacement of people, and political violence constitute organized violence. Violence which occurs in these situations as a direct consequence of political repression, although it may appear random, is of a structural nature, involves violation of basic human rights and can only disappear when human, social and political relationships are profoundly changed.” (PAZ.1991)

As can be seen from this definition, the terms covers a very wide range of effects, from torture to displacement, from deliberate infliction of bodily harm to economic hardship. This may seem to some to be an unduly wide definition, but it does bear some relation to reality. It can also be seen, that the events of the 1980s fall well within the definition of what constitutes organized violence.

There are other more restrictive definitions, mostly indicated in international conventions, declarations, and principles.

The United Nations Convention against Torture gives a very formal legal definition, as does the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The African Charter of Human and People’s Rights gives a very simple and clearly understandable definition.

These legal definitions are mirrored in the definitions given by medical and forensic scientists, all of which emphasize the element of deliberate harm and violations of humanitarian principles. It is with these forensic perspectives that we examined the reports of violence in Zimbabwe in the 1980s.

In our review of the research and clinical studies, it became apparent that some clear categories emerge, both for types of violence and types of effects. We will describe these categories below in some detail.


1. Nehanda Radio (2013) ‘Gukurahundi Massacres: Types of Physical Torture (Part 14)’

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