Exhibition exposes human rights abuses

HARARE - With the 2018 elections just on the horizon, the photo  exhibition titled Reflections that commemorates victims of the 2008 political violence acts as a reminder to perpetrators of political violence to desist from such barbaric acts while at the same time it seeks to heal victims of violent intimidation, rape, torture, assault and arson.

This follows the inaugural ZimRights touring exhibition, Reflections which showcased 62 photographs in 2010 at the Gallery Delta in central Harare with strong resistance from the police who confiscated the photos before the  official launch by then prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The exhibition shows images of broken limbs, burnt buttocks and other gory photos of people maimed and attacked during the shammed run off presidential election.

Tsvangirai’s “famous” photograph in which he is nursing head injuries from an assault is part of the exhibition’s collection that also includes images of President Robert Mugabe praying, the police violently breaking up demonstrations, looting and destruction of opposition party members’ homes on a vast scale.

Reflections exposes a decade of human rights abuses which human rights organisations claim have been committed almost entirely by Mugabe’s security forces and party vigilantes.

A day before the exhibition launch, police had seized the photographs, saying the organisers should show proof that they got permission from all the people in the photos to exhibit them.

They also arrested ZimRights director Okay Machisa in connection with the staging of the exhibition only to release him the same day.

ZimRights later filed an urgent application in court through the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and won the right to go ahead with the exhibition as scheduled with the police only returning the photos about five minutes before the event was about to kick-off.

Machisa could not attend the official launch as he fled overseas after being advised that his life was in danger as suspicious people followed him at home and his work place.

At the official launch which was attended by diplomats and government officials, Tsvangirai urged more exhibitions of the same nature saying there can be no real forgiveness without knowledge and acceptance of what transpired.

“There can be no real forgiveness without justice and without forgiveness and justice there can be no healing. What these people don’t understand is that by showing these photographs you are not reopening wounds, you are trying to heal wounds,” Tsvangirai said.

Reflections’ run was cut short to only a few days because of continued intimidation.

Speaking to the Daily News this week, Machisa said since its launch in 2010 Reflections has toured around world.

“When I joined ZimRights in December 2008, my first task was to ensure that the organisation dealt with human rights abuses during the ended run-off. We then decided to compile information and images that we would share with the rest of the world on what really transpired towards and after the run-off.

“We compiled 72 pictures which were shot by different photographers, 40 of them taken by members of the civic society, including me.

“I tried to make sure the story which led to the National Government of Unity be told in pictures. That exhibition became an instant hit.”

Machisa said they took the exhibition to the provinces but had problems in Masvingo where it was stopped and members of ZimRights were arrested.

“In Bulawayo the authorities could not push us a lot because of the Gukurahundi experiences and they thought banning it would evoke such memories. In Chinhoyi we actually exhibited without the pictures because we had notified the police and they hadn’t responded.

“When we got to the venue the police had anticipated that we had brought the pictures and there was heavy police presence — the anti-riot police was everywhere.”

But the exhibition was to tour the world.

“That same set of pictures were exhibited at the Sadc heads of State in Namibia and there we made sure every head of State saw them as we placed them in all the newspapers in that country.

“We then took them to the World Cup that was happening in South Africa and we had a week long exhibition at a South African university where hundreds of people came to view them. While Africa was hosting this major event, we thought the world should know what was happening in Zimbabwe, South Africa’s neighbour.”

Machisa said they kept the momentum and took the same exhibition to the African Union summit and leaders there were shocked at the extent of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. “The regional and international community went crazy and the pictures were so bad, very bad. We wanted people to understand that Zimbabwe wanted external help.

“The same exhibition was shown at the United Nations Human rights Council in Geneva, New York and later toured Europe and showcased in 16 countries.”

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