Peace Watch 1/2012 New Series


This new series of Peace Watch will provide some ideas which people can think about, share and debate, on topics such as National Healing, Ubuntu [as applied to the nation], Transition, National Cohesion and Unity, Equality and Social Justice. All are prerequisites for moving forward from a situation of divisiveness and conflict to a united and peaceful nation.

The first issue which will be examined will be that of National Healing. It is a subject that has been talked about for several years and many individuals and organisations have contributed towards what they think necessary to achieve this. But have we had a real consensus on what is meant by National Healing? Have we “unpacked” what is necessary for it and do we know whether what has been done is working? The duty of National Healing has been recognised at the political level, but the question remains: was it a “look-good” token recognition or was it a statement of intention?

Recognition of the Need for National Healing in the GPA

There was a recognition of the need for National Healing in the Global Political Agreement [GPA]. Although it was the three major parties with seats in Parliament that put their signatures to the GPA, the other parties, even though left out of the process would find it difficult not to resonate with this:


The Parties hereby agree that the new Government:

a) will ensure equal treatment of all regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, place of origin and will work towards equal access to development for all;

b) will ensure equal and fair development of all regions of the country and in particular to correct historical imbalances in the development of regions;

c) shall give consideration to the setting up of a mechanism to properly advise on what measures might be necessary and practicable to achieve national healing, cohesion and unity in respect of victims of pre and post independence political conflicts; and

d) will strive to create an environment of tolerance and respect among Zimbabweans and that all citizens are treated with dignity and decency irrespective of age, gender, race, ethnicity, place of origin or political affiliation.

e) will formulate policies and put measures in place to attract the return and repatriation of all Zimbabweans in the Diaspora and in particular will work towards the return of all skilled personnel.


First we will look at healing in its broadest sense. Healing literally means to make whole. The Old English word from which it comes is in essence the same as the Bantu word “ubuntu”.

Healing may be physical, psychological, social and spiritual.

The word healing assumes:

• That there has been the infliction of some sort of hurt, injury, pain, damage, unbalance – whether this be physical, psychological, social or spiritual or a combination of these. This infliction can be the result of a sudden, quick traumatic event, violence or accident – in which case it is often labelled trauma – such as a rape, injury or loss of loved one in a fire. Or it can be long drawn out such as the hurt inflicted to the dignity of black people in years of colonialism, or the constant repetitious hurt of an abusive relationship.

• That healing involves some process of ‘repairing’, cure, restitution – whether this be medical attention, psychological therapy or counselling, spiritual healing, or compensation/restitution to a family or whole community.

Healing requires: identifying injury and pain, stopping whatever is immediately causing injury and pain, preventing the causes from restarting and repairing the injury and pain [more on this below]

National Healing

In the context of talking about national healing in Zimbabwe, the focus is on political and social causes of injury and pain, whether inflicted on individuals or communities, and on various forms of political and social remedies that will repair the individual or community and ultimately the nation in all respects – physically, psychologically, socially and spiritually.

There are multiple aspects of injury and pain, its causes, and options for remedies. In the immediate context of Zimbabwe, the focus must be on state-sponsored and political party activities – for the simple reason that these are the single biggest cause of injury and pain. This focus does not suggest that other forms of violence are not important [such as criminal and domestic violence], but the goal here is to stress the political responsibility for national healing.

Healing the nation requires:

i. identifying injury and pain

ii. stopping whatever is immediately causing injury and pain

iii. preventing the causes from restarting

iv. repairing injury and pain.

A great deal can be said about each of these steps in healing. But first a key point needs to be emphasised – that healing cannot start while more injury is being caused. Healing a burnt hand cannot start if the hand is still in the fire.

Sequential Steps

The steps for healing should be taken sequentially. Many might focus on the fourth [repairing], but this would miss the obvious point that more injury is still being caused. Counselling a woman who has been raped will not do much good if she is raped again the following week. Healing a divided community cannot start if one side is still beating the other.

For the short term, we should concentrate on the first three in the sequence – identifying the cause of the pain, stopping it continuing and preventing it from recurring. [Each will be looked at in more detail] Only when the nation has identified, admitted and stopped the immediate and ongoing injury and pain and has taken steps to ensure it will not recur, can society concentrate on the fourth stage, i.e. the more common view of ‘healing’, summarised in the word “repairing”.

Tackling the first three is not complicated, and visible progress would be dramatic if it were done at a national level of political responsibility. Individuals and civic organisations can and have done their bit, but political and state organised violence and the healing of its wounds require the involvement of political-party leadership and government institutions and policy makers. But before anything effective can be done, there has to be a first stage, at a political and governmental level, of acknowledging the problem exists and the extent of the problem, and of taking responsibility for the problem.

Acknowledgement of Responsibility

To even start the process of nation-wide healing it first requires our political-party leadership, government institutions and policy makers and the Organ for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration [the “Organ”] set up by government to face facts and publicly acknowledge that sectors of our nation have been subjected to state-sponsored and political violence. There should be no place for pretence and avoidance. The saying “adding insult to injury” applies to the brutality of the violence and suffering that has occurred and in many areas of the country is still ongoing, but is not acknowledged. Nor can the prospect of repetition of this suffering be evaded. Already, as we approach the next elections, violence is escalating; and, fear of a repeat of the killings and beatings, displacement and destruction of property that occurred in the 2008 elections is being expressed throughout the country.

Acknowledgement is not only morally right, it is important for political leaders, not only in terms of their potential legal liability, but also in terms of their reputations in political, community and personal terms. What will be the answers, if their grandchildren ask “‘what did you do about the violence being carried out by the state or your political party?”

As regards potential criminal liability, many examples throughout the world show that if people in positions of authority take no action in the face of clear evidence of state-sponsored mass violence or, worse still, find ways actively to hide such evidence, they risk being complicit in criminal behaviour.

Hence, denying the evidence, refusing to do anything and obfuscating, carries great risks to political parties, to the government as an institution and for the individuals in it and to the Organ [again as an institution and for the individuals in it]. If these institutions, both collectively and as individuals, do not publicly and consistently state their position on state and political violence, they run the risk of irreparable damage to their reputations both now and in posterity. At the criminal responsibility and liability end of the scale, denial, etc., is effectively condoning and even authorising, the conduct in question.

To be continued

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