Their Words Condemn Them: The Language of Violence, Intolerance, and Despotism in Zimbabwe

The utterances of political leaders can be very revealing. Their commitment to democracy and human rights is most tested when there is a serious challenge to their continued hold on power or when they attract heavy criticism. At such times, the leaders either display political tolerance or they lash out at their critics and opponents. Leaders with repressive tendencies will turn to repression; leaders who respect democracy will not.

Over the years, and particularly in the past seven years, leaders of the ruling party in Zimbabwe (ZANU PF) have made many statements, often at times when the ruling party has been under attack or has faced serious challenge. It has used its control over the broadcast media to disseminate a constant stream of hate speech.

A selection and analysis of these statements is the centre of this report. The analysis of these statements discloses the following characteristics of the ruling party:

  • It is deeply antagonistic to all opposition and dissent.
  • It is prepared to incite violence and vengeful action against its political opponents and critics.
  • It uses virulent language to condemn its opponents and critics; not infrequently stooping to racial and ethnic abuse, and the vituperation is aimed intimidating and silencing these persons.
  • It persistently attempts to suppress independent media.

These statements constitute various types of hate speech. They were made at times when gross human rights violations were being perpetrated. Many of the statements incited these violations or sought to justify or condone them.

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Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.