Zimbabwe’s Unaddressed Trauma of War and Governance

Calls for Nationwide Psychological Support Amidst Unhealed Wounds

by Oluwatosin Alabi

In a poignant reflection on Zimbabwe’s political and social fabric, exiled former Cabinet Minister Walter Mzembi highlighted the urgent need for psychological support among the country’s leadership and citizenry. Speaking from a place of both historical insight and concern, Mzembi pointed out that a significant number of officials within President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, having transitioned directly from the bush war to governance roles, carry the heavy burden of untreated psychological trauma.

This discourse emerged amid discussions about the mental health of Job Sikhala, a former Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) Member of Parliament, after his prolonged pretrial detention. Sikhala spent 595 days in the harrowing conditions of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, raising concerns about the potential impact on his psychological well-being. Observers have called for Sikhala to undergo a mental health evaluation before diving back into the political arena, underscoring the broader issue of mental health neglect in Zimbabwe’s political landscape.

Mzembi’s remarks shed light on the deeper, systemic issues of mental health within the country’s leadership. He recalled the post-independence period when many current leaders claimed compensation for psychological and physical damages endured during the liberation struggle, led by Chenjerai Hunzvi. Despite receiving financial compensation, the treatment for their trauma was largely overlooked. “Those are the people governing us today,” Mzembi lamented, stressing the untreated psychological conditions that linger within the corridors of power.

Moreover, Mzembi broadened the scope of concern to the general populace, suggesting that the economic turmoil and political strife experienced since the early 2000s have inflicted widespread psychological distress. He pointed to the economic recession that obliterated the savings and pensions of ordinary Zimbabweans, leaving insurance and medical aid policies worthless and pushing the nation into a profound mental health crisis.

Zimbabwe’s ranking near the bottom of the World Economic Forum’s World Happiness Ranking underscores the severity of the challenges faced by its people. Mzembi argued that the repeated cycles of economic despair and electoral disillusionment have not only damaged the country’s economy but have also precipitated a crisis of psychological well-being among its citizens. He advocated for comprehensive psychological support services across all sectors of society to address the pervasive mental health issues stemming from Zimbabwe’s protracted crises.

The narrative that emerges from Mzembi’s observations is one of a nation grappling with the invisible scars of its past and present. The call for mental health support goes beyond individual cases like Sikhala’s, encompassing a broader, more systemic approach to healing and rehabilitation. As Zimbabwe continues to navigate its complex political and economic landscape, the acknowledgment and treatment of psychological trauma remain crucial for the country’s path toward recovery and stability.

Mzembi’s insights not only highlight the overlooked aspect of mental health in Zimbabwe’s governance and society but also pose a critical question about the future: How can Zimbabwe move forward if the wounds of its past and present remain unaddressed? The former minister’s comments serve as a sobering reminder of the importance of mental health support as a foundational element of national healing and progress.

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