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Chilonga Evictions: A spectacular panorama of historical trauma

By David Siampondo

The déjà vu l felt upon reading the Government of Zimbabwe’s Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021 pertaining to the forced relocation of Chilonga people in Chiredzi created a cognitive dissonance in me whether to add my views to it or to totally disregard the issue.

David Siampondo is a social scientist
David Siampondo is a social scientist

The urge to disregard the issue emanated from the understanding that the current government listens to no one and pays no attention to contributions of the citizenry, especially that which speak to their greed and curtails, the public humiliation and ridicule through incarceration of those who try to be good citizens and report crooked ways of doing business and leadership.

However for posterity and engagement of future governments l decided to give this synopsis on the dangers these forced relocations pose on social behaviors and cohesion in societies.

The history of forced relocations in Zimbabwe dates decades and centuries, some forced relocations are due to natural disasters whilst other are a result of blatant discriminatory corporate controlled land parcelling.

The Chiadzwa, Chisumbanje, and Chingwizi, among other forced evictions from tribal and ancestral land poses a threat of social dysfunction that if not addressed will mutate a society’s norms and values.

There is an array and a broad spectrum of resultant factors in which this phenomenon can be discussed but for the purposes of simplicity and resonation this note will confine itself to effects of historical trauma resulting from forced evictions.

Forced evictions or relocations triggers a number of traumas, and historical trauma is the most corrosive and pervasive one. Historical Trauma is a collective, cumulative emotional wounding across generations resulting from a cataclysmic event.

The insipid decision by the government to evict the Chilonga people from their ancestral land to pave way for a corporate to grow grass for its dairy cattle is an assault on them and a cataclysmic event. The government is about to upset fundamental social and traditional way of life and inflict a permanent wound which no amount of compensation can heal.

There is no contention from the vintage point of the Chilonga people that the future looks subfusc and aqueous. The move to forcefully evict them even if settled elsewhere as being promised triggers perennial trauma as it seeds fear in them that the government can uproot them anytime when it deems necessary. 

Historical Trauma if not treated manifest in post-traumatic disorders such as, anger, outburst, withdrawal, violence, kleptomania, among other social ills. A case in point is the untreated evils of the gukurahundi, this is a subject which has received political censure yet is at the pith of social cohesion in Zimbabwe.

Gukurahundi presents a typical historical trauma that have shaped the majority of Matabeleland and Midlands people’s attitude towards the government, Shona-Ndebele feud, and ZANU-ZAPU political settlement to the current calls of Mthwakazi for cessation.

Due to failure to acknowledge the gukurahundi massacres wounds remain fresh, animosity and distrust between major tribes Shonas and Ndebeles has been normalized and through social learning processes it has been handed from one generation to the other.

The danger of historical trauma is its collective nature. The trauma is held by more people (+12 000 households in the case of Chilonga people), this makes it sharable and easily transmittable across generations.

For more elucidation the note could have explained this transmission process through the Transmission theory and the Social Learning theory but to avoid a long and winding discourse it will suffice to know that there is a trans-generational handing of historical trauma through stories told, frustrations depicted and a generational worry on the cut and severing of the traditional umbilical code with ancestral land.

The imagination of their forefathers’ graves being desecrated is too much a thought to deal with or receive compensation for. The new generation as it comes and grow, discovers who their true selves are, when they learn that their fathers were kicked out of their land to allow a company to grow grass, they begin to renegotiate their reality and start asking questions.

Forced relocation creates a rift between the dead and the living, the dead may worry not for they are dead but the living who believe the dead plays a part in their life (social conditioning), will be traumatised by this separation and any misfortune real or perceived will be attached to the evictions. This creates a defeatist mentality in these people as they surrender to fate when they convince themselves that their protective wall has been taken down and are now vulnerable, they cease to take active role in ensuring their sustenance and protection.

Common behaviours include carefree attitude and negative health seeking behaviour. Economically they become inactive and less productive, poverty cycle becomes very difficult to break and they become a public charge. The old will teach the young the source of their misfortunes and the young will hold on to it and pass it to the next generation. The government will be perpetually held responsible and expected to extinguish the misery it started, how! Nobody knows.

The government should understand and uphold the efficacy of environmental impact assessments. The EIA should not be a lip service but a genuine process carried out without any political or economic manipulation.

In the case of Chilonga forced relocations evidently there wasn’t adequate social and cultural engagement with the affected people, if there was any such engagements it was treacherous and in bad faith. The government was injudicious in applying itself to the situation that resulted into its decision to evict these people.

Firstly the chasm between the proposed land use and projected benefits through resettlement and compensation for the people do not equate. Chilonga people barely use Dendairy products, theirs is a rural economy, they get their milk from their own cows, yoghurt and other dairy products are an unnecessary luxury which doesn’t even exist in most of the Chilonga kids’ daily cognitive schema.

Evicting them to pave way to grow grass for someone’s cattle to “feed the nation” only invites a counter question of their own cattle and families too which require feeding. Moreover, the racial card being waved points to a systematic destruction of black self-determination and an affront to the spirit of the liberation struggle. The last question probably will be why Chilonga and not somewhere else?

 The current government claim to be a liberation government and cannot be lectured on the importance of land, especially tribal and ancestral land. The government can allocate Dendairy another piece of land among those farms being underutilised, it is beneficial to evict a single absentee landlord who is sitting idle on state land than to uproot a whole village and trigger generational challenges.

The government cannot continue creating unnecessary trauma in people. Unless there is something beyond the lucerne grass in Chilonga the government should come out clean and abandon its planned evictions. Villainous, atrocious, fiendish should not be nomenclature for a government.

To the future governments! Never move your people from their ancestral and tribal lands when there is an alternative that can make them stay. For this current generation and government it’s a lost cause, they are equally victims of historical trauma they never got therapy when the liberation war ended.

Essentially we have people in government leadership suffering from PTSD which manifests in erratic and imprudent decisions they make.  Kleptomania is one disorder which we see among the current leaders in government. Their kleptomania can be historically traced to the colonial period, where they were starved of ownership and suddenly they now control access to resources….

the next article will discuss kleptomania and historical trauma.