Zimbabweans mentally ill after Mugabe's tyrannical 37-year rule

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FORMER President Robert Mugabe’s 37-year-rule left most Zimbabweans emotionally and psychologically fractured and in urgent need of healing through national dialogue, a report has indicated.

Mugabe, critics charge, ruled the country with an iron-fist from independence in 1980 until he was toppled by a military revolt last November.

The notoriously defiant autocrat tried to cling-on to power even as Zimbabweans massed onto to the streets in Harare threatening a march on his Blue Roof Mansion.

The now 93-year-old however, capitulated after his Zanu PF party recalled him as its leaders and initiated impeachment proceedings with the support of the opposition.

A report published last week in health journal, Global Health, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda said the euphoria which greeted the end of Mugabe’s autocratic rule was now giving way to a realisation of the need to heal the trauma Zimbabweans have gone through.

“I have seen first-hand how the horrors of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe haunt our people,” writes Chibanda who works at the psychiatric unit at the State-run Harare Central Hospital.

“As a psychiatrist in Zimbabwe, I’ve witnessed the mental scars caused by years of death, deprivation and struggle. Post-Mugabe, we need a psychological salve. The events of the past four decades have had a severe impact.”

He added; “Four generations have had their lives marked by chronic fear.

“They have endured the liberation war, the Matabeleland massacres, enforced land redistribution, the destruction of homes, and a general atmosphere of violent suppression and economic struggle.

“We are an emotionally and psychologically fractured people.”

Chibanda feared that; “History will repeat itself until we open a national dialogue to heal”.

Highest suicide rate in SADC

The trauma haunting Zimbabweans across racial, social and cultural divide, he said, had resulted in Zimbabwe recording one of the highest suicide rates in the SADC region.

“I’m one of the only 12 psychiatrists in the country and, during my work, I am constantly reminded of how trauma haunts Zimbabweans. The experiences of just a few of the countless patients I have seen over the past 10 years demonstrate the wider problems, huge impact of politics on the lives of four generations.”

He gave examples of how, Simbarashe* a 74-year-old war veteran was brought to hospital handcuffed to two police officers.

“They want to kill me,” Simbarashe yelled in Chibanda’s consultation room. According to Simbarashe’s wife, he had been saying this all week and it was getting worse.

“He talks to himself half the time and it’s always about the war. Sometimes when we are walking down the road he will suddenly scream, ‘Take cover’ and drop to the ground, and everybody laughs at him,” Simbarashe’s told Chibanda.

Chibanda also gave another example of Koos Von Tonder*, a white farmer who, in 2003, lost his farm to black settlers during the controversial land reform exercise.

“Koos sat quietly next to his wife as he struggles to articulate the pain. ‘My farm was the best in the whole district,’ he said softly. ‘I had a school, a health clinic and accommodation with electricity and running water for all my staff. I paid for university fees for my staff’s kids. They betrayed me after all I had done for them. Why? A shit government,” Chibanda explained during his meeting with Koos last year.

Koss committed suicide last October.

Again, when 82-year-old Gogo Ncube* from Silobela in Midlands also spoke to Chibanda last year, she told him how she continued to have visions of soldiers raping young women during the Gukurahundi period in the early 1980s.

“They came. They rounded us up. They put the men in a hut, closed it and set it alight. The young women were raped in front of us. Some were bayonetted. I have not stopped seeing those visions. How can I move on when I have the ghosts of my entire village crying out for justice?” Gogo Ncube narrated.

Substance abuse

“Komich*, 19, was brought to the psychiatric hospital in handcuffs, screaming at the top of his voice, actively hallucinating. He recovered after five days of anti-psychotic medication.”

After recovering, Komich told Chibanda that he could not stop taking drugs.

“I can’t function without them. All young people in my neighbourhood are taking these things. This is our only way to survive another day,” Komich told the doctor.

Reports indicate that 80% of all submissions to psychiatric facilities in the country are due to substance misuse.

“The collective trauma of four generations, often marked by rape and domestic violence, continues to be a characteristic feature of Zimbabwean families and society. There is need for a national call to action: peace and reconciliation effort driven by those affected, both within and outside Zimbabwe, but facilitated by the highest office in the country,” recommended Chibanda.

*Chibanda changed the names in his report to protect identities.

– New Zimbabwe


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