GREASING THE WHEELS OF RECONCILIATION IN ZIMBABWE: CHASING A FADING SHADOW

SrebrenicaStoneIt must be realized however that a state of peace and security can only be achieved by our determination, all of us, to be bound by the explicit requirements of peace contained in the Lancaster House agreement, which express the general desire of the people of Zimbabwe. Surely this is now time to beat our swords into ploughshares, so we can attend to the problems of developing our economy and our society.

(Excerpt of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe’s speech in 1980)

Setting the tone for Peace and Reconciliation

In 2006 Jeffrey Kingston wrote about how East Timor was caught in what he termed the long Indonesian nightmare, of seeking to balance the agendas of justice and reconciliation. In contemporary Zimbabwe almost 32 years after Independence and black majority rule, Zimbabwe finds herself in the very same predicament and nightmare of trying to come to grips with her troubled past. Zimbabwe has had a sad experience of violent politics both in the distant and recent past. As much as she tries to set the tone of reconciliation and peace, the shadows of violence, acrimony and hate still haunts her, thus hindering her noble peace building efforts. What Zimbabwe is facing right now is what I can term as a twin dilemma of trying to strike a balance between seeking justice and reconciliation.

Twin Dilemma

Personally, I view the two (justice and reconciliation) as inseparable Siamese twins. The two go hand in glove. To this end, I submit that in order to enter into a new just, peaceful and caring Zimbabwe we all need to collectively deal with these issues in a holistic manner. Efforts to heal Zimbabwe should both be backward looking and forward looking. However, the major obstacle facing our generation is how far back we should go as we journey back in history. Should our quest to address past human rights abuses, injustices and conflicts stretch back to colonial days? Shall we close some chapters in history and just pretend nothing ever happened and continue with business as usual. Or shall we excavate the past; acknowledge it, no matter how painful and difficult it may be? Shall we just stand at the podium and echo these words ‘Never Again shall it happen in our Lifetime’.

Never Again

The question is how prepared as a nation are we able to bury the past and move forward? Shall we have public apologies without Truth, justice, restitution, healing and memorialization? How genuine can we believe the sorry/apology that comes from those who wronged us? Such difficult and yet tough questions forms part of the puzzle that surrounds the reconciliation discourse in Zimbabwe. Much has been said, but little has been done in healing and reconciling our society. Like any other nations that include but are not limited to South Africa, East Timor, Bosnia Herzegovina, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Mozambique, Zimbabwe is trying to come to terms with her past. But the journey has never been easy for her. To this effect the inclusive government has managed to establish an Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration as of February 2008.

Whilst, this is a commendable gesture towards building peace and nurturing reconciliation, many believe that this organ is good as dead. Firstly, the conceptualization, scope and mandate of the ONHRI (organ on national healing, reconciliation and integration) seem to be muddled in confusion. Ultimately, as to date the organ has done nothing tangible except donating shoes to victims of political violence. What an irony! One may be forgiven for asking what has donating shoes has to do with June 2008 victims of political violence. Are shoes a symbol of peace? How does donating shoes help in building peace and in bringing justice to our communities? Seriously, this is a farce and an insult to thousands of villagers who yearn for justice and peace to prevail. In my view the organ seem to have forgotten that some have lost their limbs, huts and feet during political violence in Zimbabwe as from 2000 to present. For starters, some will question the link between shoes and reconciliation. Is there a nexus between shoes, justice and reconciliation? Time is the greatest ironist. Maybe it’s too quick for us to extrapolate. Time will tell.

However, what I have found interesting and at the same time vexing is the romanticisation by both the international and local NGO community on issues that has to do with reconciliation and justice in Zimbabwe. It seems there is a perceived misconception that the establishment and constitutionalisation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Zimbabwe will serve as a magic bullet that will cure and solve all deep rooted peace and conflict related tensions that continue to haunt Zimbabweans. That is along the racial, ethnic and political divide. This is very wrong and false! A cut and paste approach from the South African, or East Timor model will not work in Zimbabwe. As a nation we should be conscious of the fact that each country has its own specific realities, history, challenges and specific context. Even in South Africa, Sierra Leone and East Timor there are diverging narrative genres about TRCs. Some argue that they did not bring much to the suffering and silent victims. The Gacaca system in Rwanda and the traditional conflict resolution mechanisms in Mozambique have also failed to reconcile fractured community relations after the genocide and civil war respectively.

It still remains difficult for Zimbabwe to deal with her past once and for all, so as to move towards reconciliation. Zimbabwe has emerged from various violent historical epochs namely the 2000 Land reform, colonialism, Gukurahundi and election violence amongst a host of other episodes. Despite the fact that, President Robert Mugabe preached the gospel of turning swords into ploughshares in 1980. Racial animosities later resurfaced during the years of land invasions. To this end, there seems to be a binary view amongst the whites and blacks (them versus us). The former are viewed as aliens whilst the latter view themselves as nativist (vana vevhu) as noted by Muzondidya (2004). More so due to the recent episodes of political violence, it may prove to be difficult to have an operational Organ on National Healing and Re-Intergration let alone a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. However, Zimbabwe seems to have failed in her reconciliation efforts. But there is still light that she will be able to initiate a sustainable reconciliation process in the near future. On the other hand, Zimbabweans seem to suffer from judicial romanticism.

Judicial Romanticism

Judicial romanticism is all about overestimating the capacity of courts to resolve issues of justice and accountability and taking a purely judicial approach to transitional justice. Ramesh Thakur, defines judicial romanticism as [t]he idea of always looking to courts for a solution to every problem. As Zimbabweans we seem to be falling under the same illusion. We all think that transitional justice in the form of reparation, restitution and criminal accountability will come through the courts of justice. Of which this is very rare in countries emerging from a conflict situation. Our insistence on prosecution, retribution, and reparations does not mean that justice will be delivered at all times. Justice may be delayed and ultimately denied. As Zimbabweans we first need to have faith in the rule of law and the institutions rendering such before talking about justice. We tend to forget that law is shaped by what socio-legal scholars’ term ‘living politics’. Looking at the expense and slow course of justice associated with the international tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda it will also be difficult for Zimbabwe to follow such footprints. There are many questions in the offing, is the law fair and just. Should reconciliation go hand in glove with justice? Or whether shall we sacrifice justice for reconciliation?

As we try to debate all these scenarios on reconciliation and justice as a nation, we are reminded of the fears of the East Timor, President Gusmao who argued that going down the path of seeking justice would lead to the opening of old wounds, dividing the people at a time when people need unity and thus engendering chaos. As for Zimbabwe, the choice is ours and the ball is squarely in our court. Given, all the above challenges and scenarios we seem to be chasing a fading and elusive shadow. But that should not stop us from greasing the wheels of reconciliation in our specific communities.

Written laws are like spiders’ webs; they will catch, it is true, the weak and
poor, but would be torn in pieces by the rich and powerful.”—Anarchis,
Sixth Century B.C.E.

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