Over the years Zimbabwe has been identified as a peaceful society with an amicable and hard-working population. However, this national character is fading, and slowly giving way to something akin to what we see in South Africa which is considered one of the most violent and dangerous places in the world. Sociologists argue that the violent culture and moral decay of South Africa originated years ago when during apartheid colonialists used violence as a tool to repress and control black people.
The prevailing political and economic landscape is taking its toll on the social fabric of Zimbabwe. It is in the best interest of every citizen regardless of social status, profession, political affiliation, and location, to contribute towards steering society away from the current trajectory.
If you have been following local news, you might have noticed an increase in headlines such as: violent gun crimes on the rise in Zimbabwe, gang rapes of men by women on the rise, surge in drug abuse strains Zimbabwe's health system, child prostitution in Zimbabwe spikes, hunger and poverty make young girls sell their bodies. Headlines such as these should lead one to ask the question, what is happening? I have tried to highlight below some of the possible root causes of this degeneration that we are witnessing daily, and factors that could worsen the situation in the near future.
Firstly, when a country's leaders perform their duties, citizens will have a good education system, functioning hospitals and clinics, social grants to help the vulnerable members of society (children and the elderly), and income earning opportunities. Citizens will thrive and there will be peace, harmony, and few social problems.
Criminals will have low motivation to snatch purses, and children will be in school discovering what they would like to do with their lives as opposed to selling their bodies. The youth will not be depressed and needing drugs when receiving a pay check monthly, and with well-functioning institutions, prosecution rates will increase, and this will deter would-be offenders.
Unfortunately, elected officials due to misplaced priorities are failing to provide for basic rights, and this has led to a decline in the standard of living. As a result, citizens are not thriving, and this has created social problems which will most likely worsen if conditions in the country remain the same.
Secondly, Zimbabweans bring into the country many things from South Africa. Unfortunately, one of the readily available items in South Africa is unlicensed firearms. Gun violence is rampant next-door. It is possible that firearms will be smuggled into the country for use in robberies which are already on the rise. In addition, Zimbabweans have been among armed criminal syndicates that have been arrested in South Africa over the past years. One wonders what will happen when these individuals return home having been hardened by the notorious and non-rehabilitative prisons of Mzansi? The under-resourced Zimbabwe Republic Police will have a tough time bringing these outlaws to order.
Thirdly, there is a lesson to be learnt from the history of our neighbors. South Africa is a violent society. In the first three months of 2022, it is estimated that 2 268 people were murdered and 10 818 people were raped. As I mentioned above, sociologists argue that violence meted out against black people during Apartheid has been weaved into the social fabric of post-independence South Africa, leading to the current crisis of violence. Human beings are over time nurtured by the environment they reside in.
Zimbabweans have suffered violence. In fact, violence continues to be the order of the day. Some examples include the frequent victimisation of vendors by the city council authorities, the cruel destruction of private property through Operation Murambatsvina. There is also the unleashing of the army against protesting citizens, political violence during election season, and the mushrooming of machete-wielding gangs terrorising people in mining towns such as Kwekwe (Al Shabaab and Mabhudhi).
There is a generation of young people who are growing up in a Zimbabwe where they are often met with violence, or witness violence meted out against others. Socialisation takes place in homes and communities where this violence is prevalent, and it will not be shocking if young people grow up to think that violence is the default conflict resolution method. Such will be catastrophic for the country.
Lastly, mental health is a topical issue. Disorders such as depression and anxiety are becoming more prevalent, and the rate of suicide is on the rise. Sadly, there is limited mental health services in the country to meet the rising demand for them. People will turn to drugs and other self-destructive behaviors to cope.
A rise in social problems has not escaped the attention of government officials. Recently, minister Sithembiso Nyoni beseeched church leaders to lead the nation to God. She shared that during her time at Zimbabwe International Trade Fare (ZITF), she had witnessed young girls entering hotel rooms with men old enough to be their fathers and grandfathers. "We need the church to lead us so that the country is in order. The nation is as good as its spiritual leaders, so we need you to lead us so that God can intervene and help our children, especially in homes so that there is peace," Minister Nyoni Said.
The minister was not wrong in her assertions. Indeed, there is need for church elders that believe and are not ashamed of sound doctrine to intervene and convict the children of sin. However, even more pressing is that they speak against the abuse of power which is the root cause of developing social problems this article has pointed to. Some leaders are using their offices (in families, communities, church, government) for personal gain, and neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. There is a way to make things right again.
Provide health care for the sick. Provide education to those who thirst for intellectual development. Provide social protection to the less privileged and frail. Church leaders, preach sound doctrine so that people may be saved from the judgement to come, and desist from taking advantage of the poor.