Healing demands truth, not mere legislation

ZIMBABWE has been experiencing bloody conflicts dating back from the pre-colonial era as political and ethnic differences spurred violent clashes.

The worst conflict after independence in 1980 was Gukurahundi in Matabeleland and Midlands where thousands of civilians were killed when the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade launched a crackdown against perceived dissident elements.

According to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, over 20 000 people were butchered between 1983 and 1987 before the signing of the unity accord between President Robert Mugabe and Zapu leader the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo.

Taken From Newsday

Successive elections in post-independence Zimbabwe have been marred by violence. Even to this day, the word election has become synonymous with violence and sends cold shivers to the generally peace-loving citizens.

Tyrone Savage summarised Zimbabwe’s dilemma in his book- A Hundred Years, IJR Africa Profile Project: “The current conflict in Zimbabwe is the product of an incomplete and corrupted transition from colonial rule.”

To buttress Savage’s observation, Paul Juru, co-chair of the Church and Civil Society Forum (CCSF), a non-governmental organisation spearheading a national healing campaign, said Zimbabwe’s predicament is that for years, it has not attempted to heal its past wounds.

He said the only way the country can break from its sad past was through a comprehensive national healing and reconciliation programme that would unite both the victims and the perpetrators of past violations.

“As Zimbabweans, we might differ in everything, but not on peace,” Juru told delegates attending national healing workshops organised by the CCSF.

The workshops, which came after CCSF meeting with parliamentarians in Harare last week, were held in Gweru, Gwanda and Masvingo. They will spread to Mutare and other parts of the country.

The meetings targeted women and were meant to urge citizens to demand from government the full operationalisation of the constitution, particularly the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), which is a constitutional provision under Chapter 12(6) of the country’s supreme law.

It falls under the Organ of National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration that is headed by Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko.

Juru said conflicts posed a serious threat to national development.

He said there was need for the country to heal from its painful past in order to open a new chapter that focuses on national development.

“We are all related, we should forgive each other and focus on national development,” Juru told delegates at all the meetings which came a week before March 24, International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.

Juru said the outreach programmes revealed that the country haboured wounds which needed urgent attention and healing.

“The sentiments are similar across the country; the people have wounds and are crying for healing. The people lacked knowledge of the existence of the NPRC. They are now delighted that it exists in the new Constitution and the women are prepared to move with the baton of peace.”

The NPRC, unlike the other commissions which are permanent, has a life span of 10 years from the swearing in of a new president after the new constitution came into effect. Already, two years have gone by since Mugabe was inaugurated in 2013 and yet, the commission has not been operationalised.

Tafadzwa Christmas, senior projects lawyer with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Non-Governmental Organisation Forum, said Zimbabwe needed a comprehensive national healing exercise that ensures that people completely forgive each other.

This, Christmas said, can be achieved by incorporating traditional ways of conflict resolution rather than rely on courts only as the law cannot guarantee forgiveness.

“People cannot legislate forgiveness,” Christmas said.

Last week, CCSF hosted a workshop with legislators from three portfolio committees –the human rights, justice and local government committees to push them to immediately operationalise the NPRC and come up with a comprehensive supporting Act that will ensure peace and national healing.

“In order to fully comprehend why we need the NPRC and the work which it is cut out to do, we need to discuss the historical and legal context surrounding the setting up of the NPRC in Zimbabwe,” Christmas said.

The Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration (ONHRI) was set up in 2009 when Zanu PF and the two MDCs joined hands in a unity government.

This followed Mugabe’s controversial victory in the June 2008 presidential run-off after he was trounced by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the March first-round of polls whose results the Zimbabwe Election Commission took six weeks to announce.

Headed by the late Vice-President John Nkomo, the late MDC vice-president Gibson Sibanda and then MDC-T’s Sekai Holland, the organ embarked on outreach programmes with the CCSF to create awareness on the need for peace after the wave of the 2008 state-sponsored violence.

Tsvangirai and civil society organisations claim over 300 of
MDC-T supporters were killed in the run up to the 2008 presidential run-off and thousands displaced as Mugabe battled to overturn a first round poll defeat.

Addressing MPs attending the CCSF meeting in Harare last Friday, Zimbabwe Council of Chiefs president Fortune Charumbira said there was need for the commission to be operationalised urgently and encouraged the legislators to come up with a comprehensive Act of Parliament that incorporated traditional ways of conflict resolution.

He said as traditional chiefs, they were keen to act as torchbearers of peace but would need the support of NPRC, civil society, churches and legislators in order to achieve it. He thanked Holland for the role she played in building peace.

“You (Holland) are unique. Everyone knows that you were once beaten up by police and hospitalised. How you forgot all that and started to preach unity is everyone’s question.

“When I heard that that you are now president of a political party, I said that party will succeed because it is led by someone who loves peace,” Charumbira said.

Holland is currently the leader of the United Movement for Democratic Change that brought together MDC-T deserters Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti.

Holland urged ONHRI and CCSF to focus on educating people on traditional ways of resolving conflicts rather than embark on a euro-centric approach as Zimbabwe had its own tradition and ways of resolving disputes of any nature in a way that promotes forgiveness.

But chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on Justice Jessie Majome said she was worried that the ruling Zanu PF was contemplating amending the Constitution before some provisions are implemented.

“We could be wasting our effort. How do we know that NPRC is not one of the commissions to be repealed?

“I am totally shocked that the Constitution that gobbled millions of dollars is about to be amended before it is even implemented.”

Recently, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa proposed that the ruling party would take advantage of its two thirds majority in Parliament to amend the Constitution and target some commission for repeal in order to bring down the country’s wage bill.

But Parliament last Wednesday released names of people shortlisted to be commissioners of the various commissions under Chapter 12 of the new constitution and interviews of candidates to fill in the commissions are currently underway.

Transitional Justice Working Group however last week raised alarm claiming some world practices in the shortlisting of commissioners were not used.

Some delegates who attended the CCSF meeting in Gweru, Gwanda and Bulawayo however expressed reservation on whether the operationalisation of the NPRC would ensure national reconciliation and healing saying as long as Zanu PF was not willing to openly admit its role in Gukurahundi and the 2008 election violence, no progress would be made.

“We are harassed every day and as we approach the 2018 elections, our fears are mounting. We know some MPs were perpetrators in the past violation and as long as they still want to sek re-election, they would never confess to ensure proper healing. Healing will only come if the truth is told,” Lindiwe Maphosa, from Gwanda said.

To buttress Maphosa’s sentiments, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon once said: “The right to truth is both individual and collective. Each victim has the right to know the truth and how violations affect him or her.

“Informing broader society about fundamental freedoms and how they have been violated is a vital safeguard against abuses recurring.”

But Dewa Mavhinga, a Human Rights Watch senior researcher with Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, Africa Division said: “Demanding the establishment and operationalisation of the NPRC is important, but not because the NPRC will be effective, but is a site of the democratisation struggle.”

He added: “It is clear that the NPRC has a very limited mandate that will undermine its effectiveness but its establishment will be a welcome and positive development. Democracy is not achieved overnight; it is a product of small, incremental steps that move Zimbabwe forward.”

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a consortium of over 20 peace and pro-democracy civic organisations, is also holding similar meeting across the country urging people to demand operationalisation of the NPRC.

They have so far covered Binga and most parts of the Matabeleland region.

“We continue to implore our government to make firm commitments to truth beyond mere legislation,” ZHR NGO Forum said.

“The right to truth is yet to be realised in Zimbabwe despite the various episodes of violations characterising our history, such as Gukurahundi, Operation Murambatsvina and pre and post-election violence, among others.”

Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.