Analysts say the amnesty call, and inflammatory statements by war veteran leaders accused of leading past violence, could worsen already volatile and tense political relations.
In a televised Heroes’ Day commemorative speech, Mugabe said arresting perpetrators of past violence would upset the coalition government’s efforts at national healing and reconciliation.
Victims of Zimbabwe’s recurring state-sponsored violence and commentators say Mugabe’s statements are driven more by self-protection than a genuine desire for national healing.
Mugabe’s proposals, they said, would worsen Zimbabwe’s fragile stability because most perpetrators of past violence were still active in the security sector and militia that have helped prop up the former guerilla leader since independence in 1980.
The country is already on the edge of a repeat of widespread violence because of the strain surrounding the constitution-making process and a possible general election next year.
Civil society groups monitoring the situation say fresh cases of violence they are recording are closely linked to the impunity perpetrators enjoy.
“It is unfortunate that Mugabe has called for amnesty at a time when the perpetrators have not shown any remorse,” said Earnest Mudzengi, the director of the National Constitutional Assembly. “It is a disaster in the making if you tie this amnesty statement to war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda’s recent outbursts about crushing the Prime Minister (Morgan Tsvangirai) like a fly. How can we talk of amnesty when perpetrators are inflaming the situation?”
Reports coming in from civil society groups such as the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum show that Zimbabweans from diverse backgrounds want justice as a pre-condition for reconciliation.
These groups say it is unacceptable for Mugabe, whom they name as a potential candidate for prosecution because of his alleged role in past atrocities, to prescribe conditions for national healing.
“When Mugabe called for reconciliation in 1980, he did so as a survivor and victim, and he should leave that role to survivors and victims to articulate the way forward,” said Gabriel Shumba, a human rights lawyer and director of the Pretoria-based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum . “It doesn’t work to impose amnesty as this will lead to people taking the law into their own hands, or for impunity to thrive.” Shumba’s organisation works with exiled Zimbabweans who continue to flee economic and political turmoil.
“It is unconscionable that the president, who himself may be found guilty of some of the travesties that we have seen in Zimbabwe, should be the one calling for amnesty, forgiveness and reconciliation,” said Shumba, who fled Zimbabwe in 2003 after being tortured by state security agents who accused him of offering legal support to opposition MPs and supporters. Shumba has taken his case to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights after failing to get recourse locally.
Admore Tshuma, a former state media journalist now working on research on transitional justice mechanisms, said Mugabe was subordinating justice to political self-interest by calling for amnesty.
“Mr Mugabe is not fit to call for an amnesty because there is no doubt that he falls under the category of perpetrators of political violence in Zimbabwe. The whole idea of him suggesting an amnesty is flawed and problematic,” said Tshuma. “We cannot have perpetrators dictating to victims how they want to exonerate themselves.”
Zimbabwe has gone through multiple phases of state-backed atrocities and mayhem since 1980 without a meaningful reconciliation and national healing programme to rehabilitate survivors of such disturbances.
A report released this month by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum showed that victims of operations such as Gukurahundi in the 1980s, Murambatsvina in 2005 and the political violence of 2008 were still haunted by the turmoil.
Seeing perpetrators walk free and in some cases being rewarded with lofty military and government posts has deepened the trauma faced by these victims, the report noted.
Tshuma said such impunity complicated Zimbabwe’s reconciliation process.
“Mugabe’s amnesty rhetoric is unfortunate and is a mockery to the victims. Instead, Mr Mugabe must be calling for intensive investigations of political violence that has blighted Zimbabwe since he took office in 1980 as the only means of moving the troubled nation forward. Confronting head-on or dealing with past abuses is critical to building a tolerant nation torn apart by gross violations of human rights,” said Tshuma.