Attempts to move away from the dark era of gross human rights violations to an era of democracy have been accompanied by numerous challenges. There is the double challenge of developing new democratic structures, processes and culture on one hand and coming to terms with the countrys violent past on the other. It is clear that the search for equilibria that achieves justice whilst ensuring social stability and reconciliation will remain a major challenge. Most Zimbabweans are worried about the comprehensive movement from a legacy of widespread and systematic human rights abuses towards peace, democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights. The movement from oppressive and violent regimes to peaceful and democratic systems of governance is a worldwide phenomena and Zimbabwe has the privilege of learning from other inspiring experiences.
The case for national healing
At the national and societal level, human rights violations in Zimbabwe have had dire economic, political and social consequences. Economic repercussions include disruption of industrial and agricultural activities as well as loss of income generating activities. Political consequences include political zonation of the country into strongholds of political parties and government biased allocation of the national cake in terms of opportunities and development projects. Social consequences have to do with the disintegration of families, inter-ethnic and political tensions and the disruptions of childrens education. These abuses have yielded instructive lessons for us. Firstly, there has been an infringement of fundamental human rights which the countrys constitution articulates. Secondly, the wanton disregard of human rights orchestrates partisan and ethnic animosities in a nation that was once the jewel of Africa, eroding the economic base and social fabric. If not dealt with carefully, the subject might rewind the hands of the political clock to the dark days of barbarism. In attempting to heal the nation, the discourse among Zimbabweans should be directed towards responding to critical questions.
Who should lead the process?
The current process led by government has already been marred by controversy. Questions on the possibility to achieve credible legitimate justice and peace, the way the organ is structured have been raised. Fears are that it will compromise on a lot of issues resulting in a politically pre-arranged script. It is envisioned that the government will continue to try to manipulate this process and chances of its success are marginal. While a few believe that half a loaf is better than nothing, the majority of Zimbabweans contest that a process controlled by a compromise government that has limited political will to address injustices of the past will be a sham. In Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki set up a truth and reconciliation commission to determine the root causes of the 2008 election violence. Most Kenyans however continue to dismiss the commission as inadequately placed to meet the need for justice. Of the many processes around the world, none have proven as important in contributing to the national healing cascade as the South African experience. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has received near universal international acclaim. Its widespread publicity has made it the blueprint of subsequent discussions of national healing processes the world over. The lessons learnt are that for it to be credible and legitimate the national healing process needs to be led by qualified, well-trained, experienced and respected persons from diverse background that sufficiently reflect the different interests in society. The success of the process is dependant upon the credibility and efficiency of institutions and individuals leading it.
What Process Should Be Used
The national healing programme in Zimbabwe should not only stop on going human rights violations and identify those responsible but should also promote individual and national reconciliation as way of promoting sustainable development through peace. These objectives are usually met through many approaches. Approaches to national healing can be both judicial and nonjudicial and they include trials, truth commissions, lustrations, institutional reform, reparations and rehabilitations.
It should be noted that Zimbabwe is not a homogeneous group and hence the levels of suffering varies from one community to another. A one size fit all approach cannot be the solution. While one strategy may work in other communities, some communities may need to apply all strategies. The underlying principle is that each community should be allowed to determine its paths towards healing.
TIME FRAME FOR THE PROCESS
The various paradigms of thought on the time from which to interrogate atrocities all has this strong points and demerits. Suggestions include the pre-colonial era, the liberation war era and the post independence era. The latter has been the most favoured because of the availability of both the victims and the perpetrator and documentation that has been made available by organisations like the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.
Role of Civic Society
At much risk to themselves, Civic Society in Zimbabwe has worked flat out to publicize the evidence of abuses they have collected. In the current transitional arrangement, the role of civic society continues to be vital in ensuring justice is attained. As key players in the process of national healing, Civic Society will have to continue to pressure government to fully investigate past human rights and shape healing mechanisms. For instance human rights groups can bring legal expertise and dogged lawyers who can press judicial systems to act upon past human rights violations and influence the process by making sure that amnesty is excluded for gross human rights violations. If ever a truth commission is to be put, Civic Society should have a hand in its construction. In South Africa Civic Society helped draft the legislation that established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the selection process also involved representatives from the Civic Society while the nominees were widely debated amongst human rights and survivors groups. Civic Society can also help with investigations by turning over the information they might have collected. Civic society functionaries can also serve in the various commissions in different capacities. Civic Society in Zimbabwe has been and must continue providing crucial trauma- support services for victims of human rights violations. The process of national healing will rely largely on survivors, but seldom provide in the way of support to facilitate physical and psychological healing. For many victims, recalling their sufferings is a painful experience that induces post traumatic stress.
The role of SADC
Zimbabwe is a signatory to many regional and international treaties. If these treatises are to mean anything and parties in the government in Zimbabwe take the regional body seriously, SADC should make sure that Zimbabwe conforms to the dictates of these treatises. SADC should also continue in its role as a mediator but can help further through providing experienced adjudicators and judges and enforce warrants for fugitives running away from justice. SADC should also provide evidence and information of atrocities, taking into cognizance the entwined histories of liberation movements and their countries
The role of the International Community
The international community has been playing a vital role in pressurizing the government of Zimbabwe on the treatment of its citizens. In this transitional period, the international community should lend much support to local CSOs as well as fledging the government in attempts to bring back normalcy to the nation. The international community can provide lessons and expertise from other countries that have embarked on a similar process. Apart from putting pressure on the government, the international community should serve an important role in facilitating the pursuit of justice in other venues when domestic redress is unlikely.
As decimated as Zimbabwe is by its legacy of human rights abuses, a holistic and inclusive process is necessary to restore society. There is need for a balancing act dealing with issues of truth, justice, forgiveness, healing, reparations and building structures that will ensure that past abuses are never repeated if a modicum of peace and development that will meet the aspirations of Zimbabweans is to be achieved. Otherwise the ethnic, political and social dichotomy will intensify and increase the simmering and growing tensions. Ultimately, the future of Zimbabwe s delicate transition depends to a large extent on how well we can learn from errors from other countries and take steps to correct them. Many of the political problems in Zimbabwe have been caused by failure to adequately deal with problems of the past which continue to haunt present generations.
Rodrick Fayayo is the Coordinator of Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association, a community driven and membership based organisation. He can be contacted at [email protected], www.bprazim.orgPost published in: Opinions