BlackFacts Details

guest column

guest column:Keith Silika ONE of my earliest memories is of violence and death. It happened in Harare in 1984 when I was about seven years old. I was supposed to meet a friend to play at a dump site together. He got there before me and started playing with what turned out to be a hand grenade. The bomb exploded in his hands. He died. I was lucky to survive, but I have no doubt that the incident shaped who I was to become. The device, from my understanding now, had been left by either Rhodesian soldiers or guerrilla fighters during the war of liberation which raged between 1966 and 1979. Death from grenades and landmines was commonplace in Zimbabwe during and after the struggle against colonial rule. My next exposure to serious violence came when I joined the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) as a constable in 1998. I was trained by former liberation war fighters and soldiers whom we suspected had been redeployed from the notorious “Fifth Brigade”. This army unit was responsible for the murder of thousands of Ndebele-speaking people and supporters of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union in the 1980s. I joined the police partly due to the lack of employment opportunities and the influence from my stepfather who was a police sergeant. The police trainers would subject recruits like me to various forms of torture, including water boarding and battering the soles of our feet with rifle butts and sticks. There were other “endurance exercises” that went way over the top. For example, recruits would be ordered to lie down and forced to roll over repeatedly until we were dizzy and throwing up. Apparently, this was done to strengthen us — both physically and mentally — and to get rid of “civilian weaknesses”, as one trainer put it. I spent most of my post-probation period with the Police Protection Unit — the agency responsible for the protection of State ministers, judges and other VIPs. But I only really began to realise the extent of the systemic violence in my home country when I left Zimbabwe and started looking up texts, documentaries and meeting surviving victims of atrocities. In the last 50 years, five main conflicts have taken place in Zimbabwe. The liberation war (1966-1979), political violence (1980-present day) and the Matabeleland democides (1983-1987) — this is also known as Gukurahundi which is a Shona word meaning “early rain that washes the spring chaff”. Finally there were the violent farm invasions and the Marange diamond massacre. Hundreds of thousands of people who were caught up in these conflicts have been killed and gone missing — their deaths covered up and brushed under the carpet by the State. By 2005, I had joined the police in the United Kingdom. But despite my new life, I couldn’t stop thinking about how, when and where people were being kidnapped, killed and concealed back home. This had a profound influence on what I chose to do with the next chapter of my life in academia and research. I enrolled for a degree in forensics and criminology, pursued a master’s degree in crime scene investigation and

Science Facts