Mugabe Calls for End to Political Violence

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe called for an end to political violence in the country as the nation celebrated its 30th anniversary of independence from Britain over the weekend.

Speaking to a crowd of nearly 30,000 at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on Sunday, Mugabe denounced the violence between militants from his ZANU-PF party and opposition group the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is headed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

"Your leadership in the inclusive government urges you to desist from any acts of violence that will cause harm to others and become a blight on our society," Mugabe told the crowd, according to Reuters.

"We need to foster an environment of tolerance and treating each other with dignity and respect irrespective of age, gender, race, ethnicity, tribe, political or religious affiliation," he said, adding that the country should instead focus on rebuilding its devastated economy.

Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, has been blamed for condoning much of the country's recent violence, which has been ongoing since 2008's controversial elections.

Along with violence, Zimbabweans have suffered from extreme poverty as well as outbreaks of HIV and other diseases under Mugabe's regime.

In 2008, inflation in the country reached a record 80 billion percent, reaching the highest mark in history behind Hungary's 1946 numbers. Current unemployment in the country is currently estimated at over 90 percent, with nearly half of the country's 12.5 million-population having relied on food aid last year.

The spread of HIV in the country has been rampant, with one in seven adults reportedly living with the disease, according to the U.N. The country also has the highest number of orphans, in proportion to its population, with nearly 25 percent of children having lost parents as a result of AIDS.

The Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe (SCMZ) has been vocal about the difficulties in the country, having recently released a booklet called "I" Stories: Students Experiences in Times of Governance Crisis.

"There are certain rights that some people enjoy in certain countries, like freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of media. They are not quite so prevalent in Zimbabwe' said Innocent Kasiyano, national coordinator of the SCMZ.

Kasiyano, who runs SCMZ programs such as providing voter education for young people, says that he has been arrested and beaten so many times he has lost count.

Another student, Melissa Greens, whose real name was omitted, told of how she was forced into prostitution because of the extreme poverty in the country.

"It is quite a painful experience, to see beautiful young girls resorting to using their bodies as a means of survival," Melissa said. "That is the only way we can survive because most of us we come from disadvantaged families and here at college you are supposed to pay fees, buy books, research and even for upkeep."

Despite the struggles, the SCMZ says that the booklet is not meant to direct hatred or violence at the government, but rather is purposed to help young people choose alternative, constructive and peaceful means to have their voice and opinions heard.

"In many times conflicts and violence begets long-standing cycles of hatred, internal bruises and a desire for revenge," a press release from SCMZ reads. "However it is our belief as SCMZ, that unveiling of the truth through first hand testimonies is a critical component in the process of healing."

"It is quite disturbing to note that there are a number of brilliant students who had promising lives, who have succumbed to HIV and AIDS simply as a result of bad governance which is being worsened by few power mongering individuals," the statement continues. "Therefore, the booklet will also give a platform for these students to enlighten each other through sharing of experiences."

On the web:

An audio slideslow of the "I" Stories booklet:

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