Interview with Sekai Holland

UTS alumna Senator Sekai Holland visits from Zimbabwe's front line.

Senator Sekai Holland has been shot at, almost beaten to death and the subject of constant harassment. In the face of adversity, she has remained committed to the fight for human rights. On Tuesday 1 October, the 2012 Sydney Peace Prize winner and UTS luminary shared her insights on Zimbabwe's road to democracy with over 200 of her fellow UTS alumni and the extended UTS community.

Senator Holland’s lecture was couched in the University’s 25th Anniversary theme of “Creating Futures”. While Sen. Holland exclaimed her disappointment following Zimbabwe’s recent disrupted election which saw almost one million citizens prohibited from voting and President Robert Mugabe retain power, her overall message was one of hope. Hope for a future Zimbabwe created by the people, for the people. A Zimbabwe built on peace, justice and freedom.

Throughout the lecture Sen. Holland shared Zimbabwe’s journey from the bloody 2008 elections where almost 200 people were killed to the 2013 election which was “relatively” peaceful. Peaceful but not free.

When the Transitional Government was first established in 2009 and Sen. Holland was told she would be working with President Robert Mugabe’s party as Co-Minister of State for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration, she said she was shocked. She could never have imagined sharing a government with those responsible for her brutal torture in 2007.

However, eventually she recognised that working with the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU-PF) was the best chance the country had to move forward. Together, the joint-government worked hard to build the framework for peaceful elections – a partnership which made this year’s election rigging all the more shocking.

Sen. Holland and the entire Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) still cannot believe that while they had been focused on non-violent elections, ZANU-PF had been secretly plotting against them.

“Peace for us in Zimbabwe is a real accomplishment, one I am still basking in. For four and a half years we worked so hard towards this goal and we achieved it. But, because we were so naive, none of us ever thought “let’s put mechanisms in place for fair elections”. We never dreamt someone would be planning something so diabolical.”

Despite the betrayal, even on her worst day, Sen. Holland is still hopeful. “The mood at home is one of disgust. But, I think most Zimbabweans are ready to strengthen democracy and it’s up to us to take that challenge and move on.”

She is focused on the future of MDC - creating a strong opposition party and working with Zimbabweans to build democratic processes and institutions. Because, throughout history, Sen. Holland explains, “empires come and they fall”.

Sen. Holland places much of her hope in the hands of those who are not yet born and she had a special message for the Zimbabwean diaspora in the audience. “Everybody should be able to choose where they live but there is plenty you can do for Zimbabwe without going back.”

However, she does believe there will come a time when the diaspora will make the journey home. “It won’t be my cohorts, or my children’s cohorts, but it might be my grandchildren, or their children. I think one day, there will be enough young people who follow the process and say “we’re going home”. That is why in the constitution we clearly put citizenship several generations back.”

Sen. Holland believes “all Zimbabweans are survivors of violence,” yet she explained that violence is a foreign weapon and one that can be overcome by building a framework of peace. Because, despite their differences, “Zimbabweans are humans too,” reflected Sen. Holland.

The day after delivering her thought-provoking lecture, Sen. Holland was awarded an Honorary Doctorate: Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) from UTS Chancellor Vicki Sara.

Chancellor Sara expressed her pride in presenting Sen. Holland with this accolade. “I tell all UTS students at graduation, to go out and change the world. Sekai, I don’t know if anyone ever told you, but you certainly have gone and done just that.”