Editor’s Memo: Truth Commission Key to National Healing

THE inclusive government’s Organ on National Healing and Reconciliation chaired by Minister John Nkomo commenced its work last week with its main mandate having been clearly spelt out in last September’s global political agreement (GPA).

Under the GPA the parties to the unity government agreed to promote equality, national healing, cohesion and unity and this would be done through, among other things, “the setting up of a mechanism to properly advise on what measures might be necessary and practicable” to achieve the intended goals “in respect of victims of pre- and post-Independence political conflicts”.

This resulted in the inception of the Organ on National Healing and Reconciliation –– a tripartite platform with representatives at ministerial level drawn from the three political parties in the inclusive government. Nkomo and his organ’s main challenge is to deal with the level of impunity the country tolerated after Independence if genuine national healing and reconciliation is to be achieved.

Numerous media reports since the formation of the inclusive government on February 13 claimed that Zanu PF hardliners and generals who were in charge of President Robert Mugabe’s bloody June 27 2008 presidential run-off campaign were angling for amnesty for their evil deeds.

Like perpetrators of atrocities in the Midlands and Matabeleland in the early 1980s, the hardliners, the media reports suggested, wanted a blanket amnesty –– no truth revealed, no questions asked!  

But if Zimbabwe is to have national healing and reconciliation the truth must come out and this can only be achieved through a process underpinned by the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

It must be a multi-stakeholder- driven approach with an independent panel to ensure impartiality and public confidence.

The first step in national healing is the establishment of the truth through a TRC, followed by justice discharged by an independent tribunal consistent with the constitution of the country.

Amnesty should be considered as an incentive to revelation of the truth. In some areas there would be need for restorative justice where damages (quantifiable) have been inflicted.  

In other cases, you may need retributive justice to discourage other people from engaging in similar activities. 

The basic thing is that a victim wants to identify who committed the wrongs; the victim also wants to know that the person admits and accepts that what they did was wrong.

Then, of course there are issues about what to do with the perpetrator of the wrongs. Some victims will be keen to ensure that the person is punished which can be desirable because it deters others from doing the same things in future. Others may want to be compensated for loss of life or limb.

Retributive and restorative justices have their merits and demerits and there has to be proper consideration with a view to moving the country forward amidst the specific circumstances that the nation finds itself in.

The state should belong to citizens and should not be used to oppress and undermine the rights of citizens. 

Where it is established that the state has erred then it is important that the state makes good on the injury caused. 

Nothing can ever change the past and, therefore, it is important to adopt a positive attitude to progress. The three parties to the unity government should be hailed for agreeing that the national healing and reconciliation process should deal with pre- and post-Independence conflicts.

The Matabeleland atrocities –– which claimed over 20 000 lives –– should be revisited because memory is a critical factor in national healing.

You cannot sweep things under the carpet. People will never forget and because of that they will always feel the pain unless their problem has been given adequate attention.

The Matabeleland atrocities are a sore point in the national memory and things can never be properly settled until that deep wound is healed.

But having said that, some will suggest Nkomo’s organ should go back and deal with other outstanding issues –– like the many atrocities committed by all sides during the liberation struggle.

They will argue you have to consider the wrongs committed against various groups of people during the colonial era because, as we have seen with the land issue, this memory continues to spur others in the direction of recovery but when mixed with politics it becomes injurious to otherwise innocent souls.

In a paper titled “Justice and peace in Zimbabwe ––transitional justice options” published last year by the Institute for Security Studies, international lawyers Max du Plessis and Jolyon Ford argued that if a TRC is established in Zimbabwe, the commission ought to be given power to grant conditional amnesty from prosecution according to fixed criteria, albeit avoiding blanket amnesties and not precluding criminal prosecutions.

The two authors said the commission would need to confront the difficult political and legal issues of the past amnesties and pardons given at various periods in post-Independence Zimbabwe.

“Amnesty from prosecution is often, as in South Africa’s TRC, the main incentive for revealing the truth,” the document read.

“It is a legitimate option in transitional societies and may be a political necessity. Considered waiver of punishment can also be a powerful signal of the authority of a new dispensation.”

However, amnesty in my view, should be limited to individuals who make full disclosure of their wrong-doings, show visible remorse that serves the interests of people affected, such as community service, reparation, a public apology, or other signs of contrition.

BY CONSTANTINE CHIMAKURE

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