HomePoliticsHurdles lie in Wait for National Healing Process

Hurdles lie in Wait for National Healing Process

THE national healing process being spearheaded by the inclusive government is a noble idea that was long overdue. But it will face several hurdles as there is no consensus on what underlies it or the appropriate transitional justice to follow, analysts have said.

The analysts said the major obstacle was that the process is driven by political figures bent on fostering a cover-up to political crimes committed before and after the liberation struggle — hence it lacked credibility.

In line with the global political agreement (GPA) signed last September, the inclusive government set up an organ to “properly advise on what measures might be necessary and practicable to achieve national healing, cohesion and unity” in respect of victims of pre- and post-Independence political conflict.

The Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration is co-managed by three ministers –– John Nkomo (Zanu PF), Sekai Holland (MDC-T) and consultant Gibson Sibanda (MDC-M).

Sibanda lost his ministerial post after failing to secure a parliamentary seat within the prescribed three months of his appointment. He is now doing consultancy work for the organ.

But since the organ was formed there is no general agreement on an array of issues — will victims be compensated, should perpetrators face prosecution or be pardoned and will a truth and reconciliation commission be set up?

There are also questions on who should really lead the national healing between politicians, the church and civil society.

Religious groupings are of the opinion that the church should lead the process as Zanu PF and the two MDC formations “lack the morality to conduct it as they are the originators” of this conflict.

Other civic groups have called for the process to be modelled along the lines of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, amid suspicion that the government wanted to grant a blanket amnesty to perpetrators of violence, intimidation and abductions during the country’s political chaos.

Academic and human rights activist based at the University of Westminster in London, Brilliant Mhlanga, said there are dangers associated with a national healing process spearheaded by politicians.

“It is very difficult to clearly state who should qualify to spearhead the process of national healing without being understood as being divisive in a state that suffers so much of polarity like Zimbabwe,” Mhlanga said.

“Further, the problem arises when the process is headed by political figures that are merely bent on fostering a cover-up of the crimes committed so as to post finality to whatever issue is at hand, thereby creating a farce which has a way of haunting future generations. It becomes a good case of national healing process which is conjured and managed by politicians as a niche for elite transition.”

Speaking at the launch of the three days of national dedication to national healing last Friday, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said for the process to achieve its goals the people of Zimbabwe should take ownership of it.

“The methods that will be employed for this essential process cannot be prescriptive or imposed upon the people, but must be chosen and endorsed by the people if we are going to achieve the goal of truly healing our nation,” Tsvangirai said.

Though this might be a noble move, analysts warned politicians with a guilty conscience of past deeds might still control the process.

“Another point which is worth emphasising is that as much as politicians might be involved from the sidelines and behind the curtain to the puppet theatre, people who are fronted here are those characters with some kind of stature in society,” Mhlanga said. “In Zimbabwe, the situation is completely different.

Robert Mugabe is still in power, and he remains the main perpetrator of all these crimes and most of his criminals who are answerable for the Gukurahundi genocide, for example, are still in control of various structures of the state. This makes the whole notion of national healing a farce.”

Paul Siwela of Zapu said national healing could only be achieved if victims and perpetrators of violence since 1980 were identified.

“All efforts should be made to identify the victim and the perpetrators for a face to face meeting. A majority of both victims and perpetrators are still alive. The perpetrators should explain why they undertook violence as that would help heal the wounds,” he said.

Siwela said it was of no use if the perpetrators were unmasked as victims would continue to carry grudges.
Tsvangirai called for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to look at atrocities that go back to the pre-Independence era, but President Robert Mugabe is yet to make a pronouncement on the issue.

The premier said Zimbabweans had suffered many phases of trauma, upheaval and conflict and that any attempt at national healing should go beyond the 2008 atrocities and stretch as far back as before the country’s Independence in 1980.

He said: “We must look back resolutely to the pre-Independence era, the post-Independence Matabeleland massacres and the more recent political violence that has torn at the fabric of our society. Many of our people have suffered under each of the phases of our evolution to the Zimbabwe that exists today.”

He said “as leaders we must ensure that there is no cover-up” of past wrongs.

Though human right groups support Tsvangirai, he might face stumbling blocks from his partner in the inclusive government — Mugabe, who some say personally ordered deployment of the army’s North Korean-trained 5th Brigade in Matabeleland and the Midlands, ostensibly to stop an armed insurrection against his rule.

Mugabe has since called the killings in the provinces a “moment of madness” but he has never personally accepted responsibility for the civilian murders or formally apologised.

The political violence that characterised last year’s elections has been an emotive issue since Tsvangirai joined Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara in the coalition government in February.

Security chiefs and Zanu PF chefs have tried to derail the unity government unless they are guaranteed immunity from prosecution.

They do not want to face the courts and fear that exposure of their crimes could threaten ill-gotten gains such as farms.

The Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association said in addressing past injustices in the national healing process “women must be actively involved in transitional justice mechanism at all levels”.

“Transitional justice must effectively address the core underlying reasons for gender-based violence; violence can simply be transported into the home in post-conflict situations. Government must create domestic courts and tribunals that are fully capacitated to prosecute gender-based crimes to prevent impunity for gender based-crimes,” it said.

On compensation, there are sentiments from some quarters that there will be no forgiveness as long as perpetrators of violence have not been made to account for their actions and victims compensated.

Siwela said compensation should not be monetary only, but can be through empowering the area where the atrocities were committed by providing basic infrastructure.

“Government should provide free education, medication and create more job opportunities for people in marginalised areas. This might help in reconciliation,” said Siwela.

He added that government should handle national healing carefully as the situation in some areas was still tense.

 “Whoever is leading the process should be serious and careful about this issue, it is a potentially explosive case if not handled properly. Some people are still bitter with the current leadership and they should be aware of that,” he said.

BY NQOBILE BHEBHE
 

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