May 24, 2011 – The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Curious Pictures and Pivot Pictures hosted the premier of The Axe and the Tree: Zimbabwe’s Legacy of Political Violence at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, South Africa.
The film confronts the themes of political persecution and violence in Zimbabwe. It focuses on the experiences of four individuals living in the high density, peri-urban settlements around Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, during the violence brought on by the 2008 elections.
A panel discussion followed the screening with director Rumbi Katedza, Eleanor Sisulu, human rights activist and daughter of the late anti-apartheid hero Walter Sisulu, and ICTJ’s Howard Varney.
The discussion following the screening brought up the issues of conflict, freedom of the media, trauma, healing and a host of political insights.
Filmmaker Katedza said giving voice to those oppressed by violence is an important part of the healing process. “It’s a unique opportunity to tell a story,” she said. She also warned against thinking such stories were rare in a politically turbulent Zimbabwe. “It’s happened to many people in Zimbabwe,” she said.
When asked about filming children for the documentary, she said children are a part of this story, and they too have a voice. “Children are saying, ‘I don’t want to live with this anymore,’” she said. Sisulu commended Katedza for having the courage to make such a film in a climate where the media are strictly controlled, and people are often punished for producing controversial content. “I must commend your own courage,” said Sisulu. “We need to be aware of the risks you’ve taken.”
She said giving voice to the victims of Zimbabwe’s political violence shows the value of media freedom. “Media freedom is not a liberal democratic thing; it’s a matter of life and death. For these people to show their faces on camera shows the value of a public platform.”
Varney also praised Katedza’s film: “I found it inspiring,” he said. “The voices of Zimbabweans have been suppressed by relentless state propaganda.” He commended the courage of those that chose to appear in the film. “They wanted to share their pain with the rest of Zimbabwe and the world,” he said. He added that "the film called for urgent steps to be taken to stop organized violence and torture in Zimbabwe; and to create the proper conditions for participatory constitution making as well as free and fair elections."
Although the film deals with trauma, the message behind it is positive. “We wanted to focus on healing,” said Katedza. “[The victims] need to speak, to be seen, to be validated.” She said the film creates a kind of support network for those that appear in it. By watching the film, and simply listening to their stories, you become a part of this network.