Zimbabwe in transition: not yet

The title of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s new edited collection on Zimbabwe is something of a misnomer.

Zimbabwe in Transition assembles work from 11 lawyers, development experts, and academics, with the stated aim of “preparing the ground for enhanced national reconstruction”. That much is admirably accomplished. The book provides a nuanced overview of the political, social, and economic dynamics shaping contemporary Zimbabwe. But, though the Zimbabwe described in these 300 pages is populated with many brave and willing figures, it is not yet a nation in transition; rather, it is a nation desperately in need of the political closure that precedes transition, and, eventually, healing.

There are nine chapters in the book; six focus on variations of community, two on political processes, and one on the media. The chapters on media and politics best encapsulate the reasons for Zimbabwe’s current stasis. Despite the Global Political Agreement and power-sharing Government of National Unity formed after the violent 2008 elections, Zimbabweans are still under the thumb of a brutal dictatorial regime.

Hands tied

The Zanu (PF) leadership, erstwhile liberators and vocal proponents of single-party government, are ensconced with the military. Though ostensibly a unity government, the junior MDC-T party has its hands tied, able to do little more than arrest a precipitous economic decline and foster development in a few areas such as education and the media.

The piecemeal liberalisation of the media since the GPA was signed is promising, but both James Muzondidya and Juliet Thondhlana identify the establishment of an effective free press as key to Zimbabwe’s future.

The essence of this book is the importance of honest communication. Zimbabweans have many wrongs to right; the tricky bit is accounting for different viewpoints, particularly when so much of the violence is undocumented. In the 30 years since independence victims have become perpetrators, and perpetrators have become victims. In one story, a young man who was brutally beaten by a group of Zanu (PF) supporters almost poisoned the thugs’ village well in retaliation. Confronting this past requires acknowledgment that history contains multiple truths. The crimes of confessed murderers will need to be proved, complicity will need to be determined, and metaphysical guilt – why did I do nothing? – will need to be confronted. All of this is impossible without honest communication, and the media will be tasked with communicating honestly between millions of people.

Women’s rights

Kudakwashe Chitsike laments the plight of women, who have been consistently marginalized, despite bearing the brunt of repression. Women housed and fed rebel soldiers fighting Ian Smith’s settler regime, women do most of the caring for the sick and abused today, and groups such as Women of Zimbabwe Arise lead thousand-strong protests. The “culture of impunity” surrounding gender-based abuse in Zimbabwe violates women’s human rights; unless this is stamped out in the courts, Chitsike argues, attitudes towards women will not shift.

The authors in this book urge unity, arguing for a restorative justice that addresses past wrongs but emphasises the need for healing. This will take time, and it will take communication between and within different communities. Mbofana Wellington’s chapter on community healing best encapsulates the collective path the authors want Zimbabweans to take. Community healing, we learn, is “a process which aims to help communities deal and come to terms with a divided and violent past…. [It] suggests processes that come after an end to, or at least cessation of, the violence or abuses.”

Unfortunately, the violence and abuses have not stopped; there is new evidence the securocrats’ enforcers are being regrouped and sent to the villages as another election campaign approaches. Some fear a military coup. It is encouraging, then, to see the SADC increasing pressure on Zimbabwe’s politicians to adhere to the terms of the GPA; particularly after the regional-association’s ineffectual “quiet diplomacy” under Thabo Mbeki.

Political rhetoric must give way to careful construction of a constitution that benefits all Zimbabweans; egos and personal interest must take the backseat, and building the capacity of local leaders to create spaces in which Zimbabweans can openly share their stories must be a priority. The nation must be allowed to pull in the same direction. Community healing will begin when the securocrats are removed, but in the meantime this collection provides crucial reading for anyone concerned with helping Zimbabwe’s future transition.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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