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Genocide: Zimbabwe

Genocide in Zimbabwe: 1982-1983

An Annotated Bibliography Compiled by Katie McKee

Historical Overview

Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, after nearly 15 years of civil war. The first elections of this newly democratic country saw Robert Mugabe, leader of the ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) party, elected as president. Although the beginning of his term saw him appoint members of other political parties as governmental leaders, many of these parties began to split from their leaders and grow dissatisfied with Mugabe's government. Then, the leader of the ZAPU (Zimbabwe African Peoples Union) party, Joshua Nkomo, then appointed cabinet member, was suspected of plotting to overthrow Mugabe. Nkomo and his closest aides were then thrown out of the government.

As a result, ZAPU members and other dissenters formed a loose campaign against the government, which lasted until 1987. This campaign included attacks on government officials and buildings, harrassment of ZANU officials, and armed banditry in rural areas with a goal of general unrest and insufficient security.

Mugabe fought against these dissenters in several ways. He kept in place a declaration of a "state of emergency," enacted during the civil war, which allowed the military more power and to detain citizens without cause. In 1983, he declared a curfew and sent the in the army to enforce it as well as suppress dissenters.

The next two years saw a massive extermination of the Zimbabwean people, with credible reports of more than 20,000 dead bodies. This "pacification campaign" known as the Gukurahundi (strong wind) by Mugabe was later renamed "Mugabe's Massacre" by human rights activists.

In 1989 the ZAPU and ZANU-PF parties merged as a result of the ZANU-PF's resounding victories in the 1987 elections. In 1990, Mugabe's party again won outstanding victories, now holding 117 of 120 available seats. This election caused many to object, as voter turnout was only 54% and the campaign was not free and fair.

The state of emergency was finally lifted in 1990, but the early 90's saw Mugabe's government enact several amendments to the constitution that were hotly contested by human rights activists alongside Zimbabwe's other political parties. These amendments restored corporal and capital punishment and allowed for the compulsory purchase of land by the government.

Beginning in 1999, political unrest sprung up again based on worsening economic and human rights conditions. The MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), a new political party established in 1999, led these oppositions. The MDC succeeded in defeating a referendum led by Mugabe in 2000, which would have allowed government seizure of land and granted immunity to government officials. In response, Mugabe enacted an aggressive and often violent land redistribution program.

The parliamentary elections in June 2000 saw a huge victory for the MDC, as they secured 57 of the 120 seats in the general assembly. However, the presidential elections of 2002 did not go as planned by the MDC. These elections were preceded by months of violence and intimidation against MDC supporters, and resulted in another win for Mugabe. International observers condemned Mugabe, and thus imposed restrictions on the Zimbabwean government.

The Commonwealth, a coalition of 53 states that work together to promote development, democracy, and peace for their citizens, suspended Zimbabwe's membership. As a result of this suspension, Mugabe withdrew Zimbabwe permanently.

Beginning with the 2002 elections and continuing to this day, violence has escalated, especially in rural areas. The government has ostensibly attempted to make elections free and fair, but has enacted repressive legislation that limits free speech and assembly.

The US State Department explains, "In May 2005, the government began Operation Murambatsvina (also known as Operation Restore Order), ostensibly to rid urban areas of illegal structures, illegal business enterprises, and criminal activities. A UN Special Envoy sent to Zimbabwe to assess the scope and impact of operation estimated that some 700,000 people nationwide lost their homes, their source of livelihood, or both. Families and traders, especially at the beginning of the operation, were often given no notice before police destroyed their homes and businesses. Others were able to salvage some possessions and building materials but often had nowhere to go, despite the government's statement that people should be returning to their rural homes. Thousands of families were left unprotected in the open in the middle of Zimbabwe's winter. The government interfered with non-governmental organization (NGO) efforts to provide emergency assistance to the displaced in many instances. Some families were removed to transit camps, where they had no shelter or cooking facilities and minimal food, supplies, and sanitary facilities. The operation continued into July 2005, when the government began a program to provide housing for the newly displaced. As of September 2007, housing construction fell far short of demand, and there were reports that beneficiaries were mostly civil servants and ruling party loyalists, not those displaced. The government campaign of forced evictions continued in 2006, 2007, and 2008 albeit on a lesser scale."

March of 2008 saw another presidential election, with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai winning 47% of the vote, and Mugabe falling in short with 43%. Since no candidate secured the needed 51% of the vote to win, a runoff election was scheduled for June.

Post-campaign violence erupted, including state-sponsored violence, causing the injury or displacement of more than 32,000 Zimbabweans. Tsvangirai withdrew in an attempt to curtail the violence against MDC supporters, allowing Mugabe to claim another victory and remain president.

Following domestic and international protests of this election, the MDC and ZANU-PF parties held negotiations and eventually reached an agreement to govern alongside each other. Tsvangirai was appointed prime minister, and many other MDC leaders entered parliament and the newly created National Security Council.

Since February 2009, the new government has failed to reach a unified leadership. Mugabe continues to work independently, while the MDC and ZANU-PF fight for control. Violence continues to be an everyday occurrence for the people of Zimbabwe, while their quality of life has continued to fall. Starvation, fear of attack, food and land shortages, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic are constant companions of the Zimbabwean people.


The genocide in Zimbabwe has been overlooked for many years, consequently, it is difficult to find reputable sources for information. Amnesty International's website would be a good starting place for anyone wishing to know more about the subject of human rights, while the US State Department and Central Intelligence Agency websites contain verifiable historical and political information.

Amnesty International

  • Amnesty International is a worldwide organization that champions human rights for every person in every country in the world. They have many links and resources concerning human rights violations and advocates on their site, as well as some historical and political information.

Fein, Helen PhD., Stanton, Gregory H. PhD. "Letter to the editor" New York Times, December 26, 2008.

  • This letter is a plea from Professor Gregory H. Stanton, J.D., Ph.D., president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars and president of Genocide Watch and Dr. Helen Fein, Ph.D., executive director of the Institute for the Study of Genocide at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. These scholars attempt to persuade the United Nations Security Council to take a closer look at the ongoing genocide committed by Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe.

Gosling, Melanie. "Mugabe's regime raging a campaign of genocide, activist warns." Cape Times, July 01, 2005.

  • This article covers Operation Murambatsvina from a human rights activist's point of view. Cape Times is an independent newspaper that subscribes to the South African Press Code.

The United States Department of State

  • This governmental organization has historical and political information about Zimbabwe, as well as links to other resources.

The United States Central Intelligence Agency

  • This independent governmental organization publishes The World Factbook, which provides information "on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 266 world entities."

Whiting, Alex. "Crisis profile: zimbabwe's humanitarian situation" Reuter's Foundation Alert Net, July 26, 2005.

  • This article looks at Zimbabwe's current situation from a human rights perspective explaining briefly the fallout since the 1983 warfare, focusing on governmental decisions, food shortages, and displaced persons. Other links to research studies and aid organizations are included at the end of this article.


Katie McKee is a graduate student in Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University. She is getting a Master's in Teaching with an endorsement in English/Language Arts. She welcomes any questions or comments about the genocide in Zimbabwe, or any others that may relate.

To contact Katie, send an email to NWCHE@wwu.edu.