National healing and reconciliation

A repetition of the same old tactics
truth_reconciliation_commissionReconciliation takes place in the broader context of post conflict peace building and reconstruction. (Pictured: Examples of post conflict peace building in other African countries

In essence it is a process within a process. This is a two part series that will be continued next Sunday looking at some of the challenges of reconciliation in Zimbabwe and why former processes have failed.

Reconciliation can be described as a process of finding a way to live alongside former enemies …… to develop the degree of cooperation necessary to share our society with them so that we all have better lives together than we have had separately. The process entails a number of activities like finding a way of life that permits a vision for the future, mending of broken relationships, coming to terms with the past, implementation of changes that have long term effects on the society, acknowledgment, remembering and learning from the past. Reconciliation is a voluntary process that can not be imposed. The activities highlighted above imply a long process that can be emotionally charged at some stages, which requires commitment and patience and mutual understanding on all parties involved.

Huyse identifies four elements necessary for reconciliation to take place.

The first element is that of healing the wounds of the survivors. The purpose of opening the wounds is for the victims to understand the truth, to accept the apology, seek justice and be reconciled with the perpetrator

Justice which is the second element makes perpetrators come to account for their actions and this contributes towards the rebuilding of relationships based on equity and respect. It also addresses issues of retribution and/or mercy.

The element of Truth telling gives a historical account of what happened. It also seeks to establish accuracy out of the past. Perpetrators take responsibility of their actions and victims are given an opportunity to tell their stories.

Reparation looks into activities and programmes aimed at compensating the victims for the damage inflicted on them. Psycho-social approaches are used to achieve this.

It can be observed that the above elements of reconciliation are inter-connected. One element builds onto the other. What it implies is that meaningful healing and reconciliation should seriously take into consideration all the four elements. Any approaches to reconciliation that do not encompass these four elements would be partially beneficial to the affected societies. The above can form the basis of reconciliation issues that communities want addressed. However, in Zimbabwe, communities were not involved and the issues that they want addressed remains obscure. Reconciliation issues need to be taken into consideration as well if Zimbabwe is to achieve national healing and reconciliation. Article VII of the GPA outlines some of the issues like equal and fair development of all regions, tolerance, respect, cohesion etc. While these are very important the lack of public voice in these issues can be drawback in their implementation.

The Zimbabwean experience

The call for reconciliation at national level is not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe. History has shown that Zimbabwe has experienced violent conflicts in various stages of its history. This paper cites examples of the war of liberation, the Gukurahundi atrocities in Matabeleland of the early 1980s and a spate of the pre and post election violence that characterises post independence Zimbabwe. Some kind of reconciliation has been attempted after each of the above violent conflicts. This include the call to reconcile with the Rhodesian colonialists made by the new Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe on the eve of the Independence Day in April 1980. A General Amnesty Ordinance of 1980 was issued and it pardoned both sides of the liberation war. In 1988 a Clemency Order pardoned all violations committed by both parties between 1982 and 1987. This period marked the period of the Gukurahundi . A presidential amnesty was given to the ZANU (PF) perpetrators of politically motivated violence during the 1995 elections. In October 2000 the president issued an amnesty to pardon politically motivated crimes committed during the election campaign.

In all these efforts a top down approach to reconciliation was used as the general public was not consulted for specific and general issues to be addressed in the process. In 1980 for example the need to forgive and forget was imposed on the general masses and it was not made clear to them how this was going to take place. Some action was taken by the Government with regard to the Gukurahundi atrocities. It set up the Chihambakwe Commission to look into the atrocities committed. It, however, proved to be a futile exercise as the report was not published. The government did not acknowledge its guilt and no formal apology was given to the affected communities and families.

Generally, the reconciliation efforts made by the government proved to be rhetoric given their failure to address the fundamental issues of healing and reconciliation. In the case of politically motivated election violence the amnesties served to maintain the status quo where the perpetrators continued to enjoy impunity at the expense of the victims. These efforts also indicate that victims were not part of the reconciliation agenda as they seek to exonerate the perpetrators of their crimes. The fundamental elements of healing, truth telling, justice and reparations were not taken into consideration. Huyse commented that reconciliation in Zimbabwe has remained hollow and unfinished precisely because one side of a previous divide refused, consciously or unintentionally to acknowledge the need for putting in place and reconsidering the essential codes of democracy like a climate conducive to human rights, economic justice and a willingness to accept responsibility for the past and the future.

Is there anything new?

In light of the past reconciliation experiences the major question to be asked is whether there is any point of departure in the approaches to national healing and reconciliation proposed in the GPA or is it a case of a history of failure repeating itself. Article VII of the GPA overlooks some of the important aspects of reconciliation just like the previous Ordinances. This Article does not make any reference to perpetrators of violence in terms of truth telling and justice. Though call for forgiveness can be heard on the state television, the Article does not articulate how the reconciliation process is to be implemented. The citizens are questioning the logic of forgiving and forgetting without some acknowledgement from perpetrators. The victims want some form of justice to be exercised and they expect government to give them some form of compensation for loses incurred. The parties to the GPA seem to ignore the fact that they were representing an enlightened citizenry that has knowledge on what the process should entail.

Examples of post conflict peace building in other African countries like Rwanda and South Africa have become useful points of reference as to how the Zimbabwean healing and reconciliation should be conducted. The time frame for achieving national healing, cohesion and unity is not specified. This aspect raises questions about the tenure of a ministry formed within the frameworks of the GNU. It is not guaranteed that the Ministry would be recognized or not after the GNU period.

The creation of a Ministry of National Healing and Reconciliation can be regarded as a new development in the reconciliation process in Zimbabwe. The Ministry was received with relief and great expectations of addressing injustices of political conflicts. The development is commendable as it assigns a ministry to attend to an issue which needs to be addressed as early as yesterday. The country carries a burden of unfinished and half-hearted reconciliation processes of events that date back to the colonial era. At face value, the fact that three ministers were appointed to this ministry gives one a sense of the great need to address the long standing issue of reconciliation in this country once and for all. A closer look at the appointment reveals a gloomy picture of what the appointment really aims to achieve. The composition of ministerial office brings to question the governments commitment to healing and reconciliation and the ministers ability to withstand political party biases and pressures since they were drawn from the three parties making up the GNU. The adage one cannot bite the hand that feeds him/her seem to hold true to this situation. The appointment of the three ministers did not take into account the effect of such an appointment the national fiscas.

The Ministry can be said to be running with one minister at the time of writing this paper. One of the ministers, John Nkomo has been appointed to the presidium to replace the late Vice President Joseph Msika. This was worsened by the passing away of the third minister Gibson Sibanda. The non-replacement of the two brings some kind of disillusionment on the importance attached to the ministry by the powers that be. The above scenario is an important pointer of the extent to which this new development will or will not bring about meaningful healing and reconciliation hoped for by victims and well meaning populace. Next week Mukundi will look at some other ways in which history may be repeating itself and will suggest some recommendations of how things could be different.

Post published in: Opinions
  1. Wilbert Mukori

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