Political Violence Victims Need Justice

THE intention of the new inclusive government in Zimbabwe to direct resources towards what they have termed national healing is, by some measure, quite welcome.


To date the government has established a special ministerial task force drawn from the three major political parties.

However, sincerity and not nobility of intent will serve as the barometer of this exercise. Hence, there is a pressing need for the inclusive government to note that healing is but an element within a programme.

Healing cannot be viewed in isolation but requires specific elements as essential prerequisites and a programme to promote national healing is best administered by a body drawn from civil society. Economic growth, social and political stability are dependent on the success of this programme.

The adoption and implementation of a viable transitional justice strategy is critical for the inclusive government in the restoration of functional and sustainable economic and socio-political systems.

This not only in the eyes of the Zimbabwe populace, but also those of the international community. Our Independence from Britain came via a protracted liberation struggle that saw many sons and daughters of Zimbabwe paying with their lives for, amongst other virtues, equity and the right to be masters of our souls and captains of our destinies. Sadly though, 29 years on we find ourselves in a situation where we kill each other, in defiance of the same virtues for which we fought the British.

In reaching  a new political dispensation, there exists a range of transitional justice options. Most modern responses to large scale violations tend –– mainly for reasons of internal political expediency, with occasional international pressure –– to adopt a position somewhere between the two extremes of comprehensive criminal prosecutions and blanket amnesty or collective amnesia. Strategies include selective criminal trials and truth-for-amnesty commissions. Civil society from home and abroad has been clamouring for a truth commission as far back as August 2003.

A Human Rights Commission was established by Cabinet in March 2006, but due to a chronic penury of human compassion within the rank and file of Zanu PF this ended up as a mere political gimmick. There is a convergence of sentiment on the need to adopt a truth commission as a transitional justice strategy, reasons for which are given below:

 

  • High level of state intimidation and brutality
  • The use of legislative instruments to sanction violence — Posa, Aippa
  • Political interference with judicial and prosecution service
  • Large number of low level perpetrators –– youth militia
  • Culture of secrecy and denial by state
  •  Culture of impunity reinforced by pardons and blanket amnesties

For its part, the MDC should not be complicit in the endeavour by Zanu PF to deny victims of political violence recourse to judicial due process.

The MDC needs to realise that national healing is a necessary  condition towards the democratisation of Zimbabwe.  The party and Zimbabweans at large could end up paying dearly for prioritising political expediency over democratic due processes.

There is a need to be careful that transitional justice options and institutional models ( such as a Truth and Justice Commission) are not selected for reasons that have more to do with appeasing international expectations.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Zimbabwe has played into the hands of the international community due to failure to accept and respect the March 29 poll results, and gross human rights abuses.

We need to realise and accept that for now our economy is on a lease and policy formulations will invariably have to toe the line of our benefactors. The resuscitation of our economy requires direct foreign currency injection; the international community thus becomes an inherent stakeholder.  

Our constitution provides for protection of the right to life,  the right to personal liberty and freedom of expression. However, these rights have always been at the discretion of Zanu PF.

In 18 months we will once again be casting our ballots and can the MDC afford to have renegade militias who operate with impunity on the prowl?  How will they convince their supporters, some of whom have lost loved ones, had their houses torched that it is safe to belong to the MDC and that they have a right to vote?

The issue of a Truth and Justice Commission is highly subjective in terms of its scope and timing; this not only in Zimbabwe, but in numerous political hotspots across the world.

Depending on its timing and tone and the prevailing political balance, a Truth and Justice Commission (and the process of designing it) could actually create a new venue of dispute and itself become a source of focus of renewed conflict, fragmentation and disintegration.

A Truth and Justice Commission could be used as apolitical tool to disproportionately allocate blame on one side; it could threaten powerful influential persons upon whose co-operation a fragile national unity depends.

As alluded, Zimbabwe has had a long history of gross human rights violations and with it a culture of impunity. Should justice be stayed for the murderers, rapists and arsonists, who went about terrorising vulnerable and innocent civilians whose only crime was to vote for Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC?

We believe that time is now ripe for the MDC to set up a Truth and Justice Commission in partial fulfilment of the mandate it was given by the people on March 29.  

Tonderai Mthembu,
Bulawayo.