The Program on Human Rights at the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) in partnership with the Stanford Humanities Center, kicked off the first public event of the Human Well-Being and Human Rights Collaboratory series on November 30th to mark the debut of the book, Hope Deferred: Narratives of Zimbabwean Lives. Director of the CDDRL Human Rights Program, Helen Stacy, introduced this event as part of a larger interdisciplinary research effort at Stanford University to examine the condition of human-well being and universal values from the bottom-up. Stacy explained that the language of human rights is often dominated by government actors and lawyers, who rarely hear the voices of victims and grassroots leaders in the policymaking environment. This event focused on the human rights crisis in Zimbabwe, providing a platform for stories of human tragedy that put a face to victims who are often grouped together in anonymity.
Stanford was the first venue for editors Peter Orner, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco University and Annie Holmes, Zimbabwean writer, editor, and filmmaker, to introduce their book to the public. Hope Deferred is the culmination of over 50 interviews the editors conducted in Zimbabwe and neighboring countries to capture the individual testimonies and document the lives of a diverse group of Zimbabweans devastated by the reign of terror that engulfed their country in 2000. Zimbabwe is one of the most well documented human rights crises in the world, but personal accounts of murder, rape, economic ruin, and human tragedy are missing from the mainstream dialogue. Orner and Holmes conveyed the magnitude of these events by providing first-person accounts of victims, culminating in an oral history of a crisis that has engulfed a nation of over 12 million people in economic and social ruin.
The editors read passages from their book and engaged in dialogue with Dr. Stacy, recounting the heartbreaking tales of opposition activists whose families were brutalized by the ZANU-PF, young women raped by soldiers, farmers evicted from their land, and soldiers who perpetuated these crimes at the hands of the government. All of these individuals shared the common language of pain but sought to provide their personal testimony to begin the healing process. The editors' hope that the emotional narratives of Hope Deferred will stir the attention of the international community and open up dialogue around the current crisis in Zimbabwe. The audience was clearly moved by these stories, directing poignant questions to Orner and Holmes about the Zimbabwean crisis, Mugabe's grip on power, and the impact of the refugee population on South Africa.
While, the situation in Zimbabwe remains unsolved, this event and the series supporting it seeks to elevate the human narratives at the core of human-well being, and to place deeper humanistic understandings at the heart of the policy and legal responses to human rights crises.