The reclusive North Korea –– the only country to accept an invitation to train in Zimbabwe –– is the same country that trained a military brigade that butchered thousands in Matabeleland and the Midlands in the 1980s.
What political leaders thought were old wounds have turned out to be fresh, largely because of the neglect victims have suffered from government, say pressure groups whose threats of protests forced the government to rethink using Bulawayo as North Korea’s training venue.
Groups and individuals that survived to narrate tales of how the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade wiped out whole families and decimated communities said the invitation was provocative.
Civil society organisations such as the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe say the backlog in justice for human rights abuses provides fertile breeding for political tensions.
Impunity and the continued use of state institutions like security organs in violence rendered the country’s latest attempt at reconciliation –– the national healing process initiated last year –– into a farce, the organisations said.
Take the example of Regis Chaunda, a 71-year-old former headman in Muzarabani, who still lives with the trauma of the 2008 violent election campaign allegedly led by state security agents on behalf of President Robert Mugabe.
Dragged by a mob from his hut in his home village to a Zanu PF campaign base at Hoya Business Centre at midnight, Chaunda met the worst nightmare of his life for supporting then opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Youths, whom he suspects were drunk or drugged, whipped him using barbed wire until flesh dripping with blood was ripped off his back.
Today, people who tortured Chaunda — most of them from his own community — still walk free.
Chaunda, carrying the scars of the 2008 electoral violence, has again become a victim of fresh political violence.
Last month, suspected Zanu PF supporters burnt a Pentecostal Holiness Church building that Chaunda and several villagers seen as anti-Zanu PF were worshiping from.
Angry and apprehensive, Chaunda says the coalition government leaders’ pledge to embark on an effective national healing programme was falling apart.
“We live in constant fear. The people who beat us seem untouchable,” said Chaunda, standing beside a heap of rubble which signifies the only remains of the church building.
“When the church was burnt I joined others fleeing to the mountain for safety. I struggled with the climb but my biggest fear was a repeat of what happened to me in 2008,” Chaunda told the Zimbabwe Independent on a recent visit to Muzarabani South.
Civic groups, ordinary people and political parties fear that the delayed constitution-making outreach programme will further entrench tensions.
The Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration that should deal with cases such as Chaunda’s is now viewed as a waste of taxpayers’ money.
John Nkomo, now Vice President, Sekai Holland and Gibson Sibanda, representing the three political parties in government chair the organ.
Holland told the Independent on Tuesday that the national healing organ was still working on plans to avoid a repeat of political violence during the constitutional outreach programme.
“The current issue that is emerging is how we assure safety of people during the constitution-making process. We are going to go into intensive dialogue with the security service about how they will implement the Citizens Protection Charter,” she said.
But villagers who daily live with the threat of more burnt houses and bodies say they can longer stand talk of plans that are still on paper.
Human rights organisations and some political parties have continued to file reports of politically-motivated violence and arrests on a regular basis, while noting the lack of justice.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), which records human rights violations, said politically-motivated violence, especially in the form of of abusive language and threats were on the increase.
ZPP latest figures show that recorded human rights violations, including violence, rose to 979 in February from 779 in January this year.
Analysts, however, noted that it was not only the lack of justice that has inflamed political tensions, but that community-based national healing has been lacking.
Mandla Nyathi, a senior lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University in the United Kingdom, said it was “mythical” to think that justice would lead to reconciliation and that this in turn would lead to national healing.
“Forgiveness is not conditional to justice. Co-operative national healing is bound to fail hence the need for an individualised approach to the subject of national healing — you and I doing something at a local level that will lead to an overall national healing success story,” Nyathi, who teaches Risk and Resilient Management, wrote in an online opinion piece.