WEDNESDAY’S meeting between the top organs of Zanu PF and the two MDC formations to discuss political violence and national reconciliation was a historical farce.
Ordinarily the meeting between the Zanu PF politburo and the national executives of the MDC formations would be celebrated as a milestone in Zimbabwe’s quest to end three decades of recurrent political violence. After all, this was the first time that these bitter political rivals — now trapped in a tense coalition government — have organised for their executive organs to meet face to face, discuss issues that have long divided them and push the national healing agenda. The meeting was tacit confirmation that the inter-party Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration, tasked with driving the national healing agenda at the formation of the coalition government, has failed. Similarly, Wednesday’s donor-driven efforts will fail if underlying issues continue to be ignored.
Delegates to the meeting agreed to nothing new. The Global Political Agreement signed on September 15 2008 binds President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara to a thorough national healing process. Article 18 of the GPA obliges the coalition government partners to end all forms of political violence, ensure the security of persons, ensure the safe return of people displaced by past violence and refrain from using hate language. All these remain paper commitments to date.
Zimbabwe is not the first country to grapple with issues of past injustices and human rights abuses, including state-sponsored killings.
Other countries such as Chile, South Africa, Uganda, Liberia, Burundi, Sierra Leone and Rwanda have dealt with issues of transitional justice arising from past conflicts using different models. In most of these cases, transitional justice has been used to end persistent violence to advance future stability. Security sector and judicial reforms, truth and reconciliation commissions, international tribunals, internal village tribunals and criminal prosecutions are some of the transitional justice mechanisms successfully used in other countries and can be applied to Zimbabwe’s case.
Zimbabwe’s process though, is tainted by a lack of political will and determination to break from the cycle of violence. Key elements lacking in the Zimbabwe process are justice, recognition, truth and political commitment.
Rights and media monitoring groups such as the Zimbabwe Peace Project, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe have continued reporting cases of violence, intimidation, selective application of the law and rampant use of hate language in the state media. The fact that some of the people attending Wednesday’s meeting are themselves perpetrators, sponsors and main beneficiaries of violence makes them reluctant to move beyond conference pledges.
In Zimbabwe the political elite has shunned all forms of transitional justice mechanisms, resulting in a pile up of abuse cases dating back to the early days of Independence when Mugabe sent a military brigade into Matabeleland and Midlands in an orgy of ethnic killings.
Mugabe has rejected calls to publicly apologise for the massacres, just as he has refused to acknowledge his role and that of government he led in subsequent political violence cycles, including the 2008 bloodshed that Tsvangirai claims left over 200 of his supporters dead. The ongoing constitution-making programme, a public process to gather views on a new governance charter, has re-opened old wounds. Reports that perpetrators of the 2008 violence are back to torment political rivals have left Zimbabwe’s coalition government with little chance of achieving national healing before the expiry of its term.
It is always difficult, if not impossible to achieve national healing where there is no will and where justice is failing. Emotions will continue running deep and underlying causes of violence will remain as long as perpetrators, no matter how well-connected, continue roaming free while victims struggle to cope with unhealed psychological trauma. With the passage of time, Wednesday’s meeting will count for nothing except providing an opportunity for Zanu PF and MDC politicians to mingle, heckle, exchange accusations and at the end of it all share snacks. For the real victims of political violence, the ones who are still to rebuild burnt homes and families, the journey has not yet even started. Not when perpetrators remain in power to determine the pace of reform.