No national healing without truth and reconciliation commission

HATRED and intolerance inevitably give rise to anger, bitterness and  resentment in both the victim and the perpetrator.

 

Zimbabwe is a nation in which most of the inhabitants are boiling with anger, resentment and bitterness across the political divide. This great country has had the singular misfortune of remaining in denial and choosing to pretend that everything in the country is going on just fine, and let us simply let bygones be bygones.

Although I am no expert in psychology, I can safely state that the majority of Zimbabweans living in the country and in the diaspora are in need of genuine and professional counselling to enable them to effectively heal from the post-traumatic stress disorder that was largely caused by years of a violent armed struggle that ultimately gave rise to our independence on April 18, 1980. Things didn’t get any better soon after independence because the Matabeleland and Midlands massacres, which can accurately be described as genocide, took place between 1983 and 1987.When the old Zanu PF and Zapu merged into one party after the signing of the Unity Accord on December 22,1987, no attempt was made by the government to formally heal the nation by adopting policies that would have helped in genuinely pacifying the nation, and also to ensure that the primitive culture of violence and political intolerance that was the hallmark of the Gukurahundi era was completely eradicated from our midst. After the signing of the Unity Accord, we all remained in denial and pretended that the country was now ‘’united’’ and bygones should be bygones. Put alternatively, as a nation we dismally failed to locate the real reasons behind the horror of Gukurahundi and also failed to interrogate the simmering hatred between both the victims and the perpetrators of the Gukurahundi genocidal massacres. That was a fatal mistake on the part of the government as later events would prove in the political history of Zimbabwe.
In this article, it is not my intention to open old wounds and thus seek to incite hate and retribution. If anything, I am motivated by the desire to escape from denialism and to confront, head-on, the problems that we are facing as we desperately clamour to heal our nation and forge a new dispensation of peace and harmony in our great motherland. I am mindful of the fact that there is a new Ministry of National Healing in the inclusive government. I am also acutely aware that this ministry is headed by three full-time ministers of state whose core mandate is to drive the National Healing Organ and also to ensure that the culture of political violence and intolerance is wholly eradicated from our national politics. I am also aware that July 24, 25 and 26 have been gazetted as the three days dedicated to national healing, reconciliation and integration. In fact, this was published in the Government Gazette Extraordinary dated July 15, 2009,General Notice 92 of 2009.
It is my respectful submission that these three days dedicated to national healing will not change much in terms of cultivating, nurturing and sustaining a new culture of tolerance and mutual respect in our political discourse. To me, the gazetting of these three days is a mere academic exercise that will do very little, if anything at all, in healing our hurting nation.
We certainly need to do more than just gazetting days of national healing. National healing is a very complex operation and I am afraid to say that the Ministry of National Healing has hardly done anything in spearheading the national healing process. A few workshops and conferences have been held in some posh hotels and holiday resorts here and there. To my knowledge, no concrete programme of action has been agreed upon and rolled out for the nation to appreciate the relevance and usefulness of the Ministry of National Healing.
The people of Zimbabwe are still hurting dating back from the days of the armed liberation struggle. I have talked to a few liberation war veterans and I was shocked to find out that none of them ever received professional counselling after the attainment of Independence in 1980. This despite the fact that these gallant sons and daughters were routinely subjected to extreme incidents of violence and rampant human rights abuses during the war. Some of them were severely tortured by the racist colonial military machine. Most, if not all these veterans of the struggle bear emotional, physical and psychological scars that may never heal.
The culture of politically motivated violence and intolerance has been allowed to thrive in post-Independent Zimbabwe. I still recall the violence and intolerance that was exhibited before and immediately after the 1985 general elections.
I was a young lodger living in Chitungwiza and I vividly remember seeing the household goods of perceived Zapu supporters lining the streets of Zengeza 2 after Zanu PF supporters had thrown out the items of household property onto the streets. I still remember being forced to attend Zanu PF meetings in Zengeza 3. My landlord would tell us to attend these meetings or else he would be victimised and his house might be destroyed. Today this culture unfortunately still obtains in Zimbabwe. We all remember what happened after Zanu PF was humiliated by the MDC during the harmonised elections held on March 29 last year. Between March 29 and June 27, 2008, Zimbabwe was under siege. Men, women, the elderly and even little children were force-marched to attend Zanu PF “pungwes’’ throughout the country. Even motorists were forced to display Zanu PF campaign materials inside their motor vehicles. Little wonder, therefore, that the Zanu PF candidate ‘’won’’ the June 27 one-man presidential election run-off by 85,5%!
My argument is that to date, we have not sought to scientifically manage the process of national healing. The mere creation of a Ministry of National Healing does not and will not help in genuinely and permanently healing the nation. Until such a time that we escape from our denialist approach to the issue of national healing, Zimbabwe will be gripped by another wave of political violence and intolerance come election time. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) commissioned a study into the Gukurahundi massacres. I have kept a copy of the CCJP report and it makes chilling reading. Nothing was done by the government as a follow-up to the CCJP report. The Chihambakwe Commission report into the Gukurahundi genocide was never made public.
We remain in denial. We cannot heal our nation by sweeping dirt under the carpet. What Zimbabwe urgently needs is a truth and reconciliation commission that will enable the perpetrators of genocide and political violence to come out in the open, confess and repent. This will definitely get a buy-in from the victims of genocide and political violence.
We should learn from the experience of our neighbour, South Africa. There is no denying the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa played a crucial role in moulding that rainbow nation. As I have already stated, I am not advocating revenge and retribution. I am simply stating that there can never be genuine national healing in Zimbabwe as long as the perpetrators of genocide and political violence are roaming the streets free to this day, with no one calling upon them to formally come forward, repent and ask for forgiveness.
Without the establishment of a properly constituted Truth and Reconcilation Commission, the Ministry of National Healing will remain a white elephant.
=Obert Gutu is MDC-T senator for Chisipite.

By Obert Gutu

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