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Repentance, reconciliation and reunification

By Trudy Stevenson

THE homily at last Saturday night’s mass in Mt Pleasant, being the second Sunday of Advent, was on the need to recognise the wrongs we have done

to others if we wish to be reconciled with them and live together in harmony as a united family, community and nation.

This struck a deep chord within me, all the more so since we have two ongoing national efforts at reconciliation and reunification at present: the draft National Vision document called The Zimbabwe We Want, and pressure around possible reunification of the two MDCs.

The priest was at pains to insist that each one of us needs to recognise the wrongs we have done to those closest to us, both members of our own family and members of our local community, and to ask those people to forgive us if we are even to think of national reconciliation and unity. It is no use simply asking God to forgive us, he insisted, we need to reconcile with individual people, especially our nearest and dearest.

Interestingly, he referred to the draft National Vision document presented to Robert Mugabe and the nation a few weeks ago, and revealed what some of us had already worked out, that the document presented was not the version signed by the Catholic bishops. Indeed, the bishops have written a letter stating that this was not the document they signed, and complaining that “the teeth have been taken out”, in other words, that the document has been severely toned down and important sections left out altogether.

He pointed out that in order to build the Zimbabwe we want and to come together as a nation, we all need to say out the wrongs we have done to others and we need to say out the wrongs that others have done to us. It is true that only such recognition can start to heal our wounds, and we all have wounds of some sort, whether still smarting from pre-Independence wrongs or more recent wrongs which are fresh in our minds.

We may believe that we have not done any wrong to anyone, but we will be surprised when someone says that we have done them wrong. We should then try to see from their perspective in an effort to reconcile with them if that is what we really want to do. To refuse to recognise our possible guilt is to admit that we are not really interested in reconciliation. Truth commissions, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, are based on this premise.

Thus, coming to the draft National Vision document, the fact that certain passages have been removed and others severely toned down by “government” without the approval of at least one of the churches which authored it is an admission by the Zanu PF government that it is not really interested in reconciliation or building true unity within our nation. Government intends to sweep certain issues under the carpet in the forlorn hope that people will forget about them and start to believe that government is really serious about starting again and building a united Zimbabwe where every person counts.

Zanu PF is very badly mistaken because people do not forget the wrongs done to them. Surely the regime knows this. Therefore one is forced to deduce that their objective is simply to paint over the unpalatable past with a thin veneer so that gullible foreigners believe their empty noise about democracy, human rights and national unity.

No veneer, however, will be thick enough to hide Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina, bad governance or the severe economic decline of our country with the resultant poverty, hunger, rampant HIV/Aids and the suffering of the majority of our citizens.

Until those issues are stated clearly and openly recognised by this government, and until government genuinely asks the people for their forgiveness, we cannot even begin to build the Zimbabwe we want, at least not with them as part of the solution. I believe the other church authors should take up the Catholic bishops’ lead, highlight the duplicity of government over their draft National Vision document and insist on reverting to the version they agreed to present to the nation. Accepting the bastardised version as theirs is hypocritical in the extreme — and they will fast lose credibility, both as true Christians and as church leaders.

As for reunification efforts between the two MDCs, the same principle applies. The wrongs that have been done need to be recognised and forgiveness sought. Indeed, after the fateful meeting on October 12 2005, my own group, then led by Vice-President Gibson Sibanda, seeking reconciliation, insisted that Morgan Tsvangirai admit that he did wrong by contravening the party constitution, both in overturning the result of the vote and in lying to the international community, and ask the national council for forgiveness. Had he done so soon after that meeting, I believe that we would now be a united MDC which could hold up its head as a genuine principled and democratic party which the people trust to bring the positive change our nation so badly needs.

Sadly, Tsvangirai could not bring himself to take this vital step. Indeed, his reason: “I know what the people want, and I am doing what they want” (that is, refusing to take part in the senate election) is the classic excuse of those who do not really believe in democracy.

Nor is it even true that the people, at least the people in Harare, wanted the MDC to boycott the senate election. The anti-senate sentiment, which built up to an aggressive publicity campaign by early October, was driven by a number of civil society organisations whose core business is not to take part in elections, in any event, so they have a different agenda and perspective.

Yet there is also another fact which has been little-publicised. In September 2005, two months before the senate election, the Mass Public Opinion Institute, which was preparing the “Democracy Barometer” poll in Zimbabwe, conducted a snap survey in Harare to find out whether people thought the MDC should participate in the senate election or not. Eldred Masunungure informed me in February this year that around 75% of respondents said the MDC should participate in that election. Therefore it is certainly not true that the majority of people in Harare wanted the MDC to boycott the election.

Be that as it may, the chances of reconciliation and reunification of the two MDC groups is most unlikely until these and other wrongs have been properly recognised and dealt with by both sides.

For both The Zimbabwe We Want and the MDC, attempting to sweep issues under the carpet in the hope that people will forget and move forward together will simply not work. But for both the party and the nation, if we can recognise our wrongs and seek forgiveness from each other, then reconciliation and reunification can occur. Then, like Jerusalem in the Book of Baruch, we will be able to “take off our dress of sorrow and distress, and put on the beauty of the glory of God!”

Stevenson is the MDC secretary for policy and research and MP for Harare North.

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