The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) has been in the spotlight in recent days over its role in government’s attempt to address grievances emanating from the Gukurahundi era, where about 20 000 civilians were killed by the Zimbabwe National Army’s Fifth Brigade in the 1980s. There have also been concerns that the commission does not have resources or capacity to handle national healing issues. Zimbabwe Independent correspondent Nkululeko Sibanda (NS) spoke to NPRC chairperson Retired Justice Sello Nare (JSN) on Gukurahundi and the challenges facing the commission, among other issues. Below are excerpts of the interview:
NS: Justice Nare, you are the chairperson of the NPRC. How has life been at the helm of this institution?
JSN: I was personally appointed by His Excellency, the President on the 17th of March 2017 and the other commissioners were appointed in February 2016. I found them doing the job and working on some strategies that were going to be useful to the commission. You will remember that the former commission chairperson (Cyril Ndebele) passed away in February 2016 before I was appointed. On the 5th of January 2018, that is when the NPRC Act was brought into being. It has not been an easy thing to do to lead the commission but I am happy we are on it and forging ahead with the work that lies ahead of us.
NS: What have you achieved, as the NPRC, since you assumed office?
JSN: I believe we have achieved much. We have been able to go out on outreaches, where we have conducted dialogue among stakeholders. We have been able to go out to almost all the corners of the country engaging communities there. We have used the provisions of the NPRC Act to engage stakeholders like churches to come through and talk to us on issues that affect them and the people they live with on a daily basis. Government departments such as the police and other commissions have also been engaged to talk to us about peace and the challenges they encounter.
We were tasked with outreach to the provinces to explain what the NPRC is and what we do. We have had challenges where some stakeholders have said they do not understand what we are doing and who we are. I am glad to note that we have managed to fully explain what we really stand for and they have come to be in the clear of the NPRC’s status.
NS: What have been the commission’s major challenges?
JSN: To a larger extent, we have faced resource challenges. You will remember that we did not have offices of our own. We used rented space. We have since managed to acquire those offices and we are happy that we now have our home as a commission. We did not have the back-up staff and we have since engaged some staff members who started on the first of April 2019. We now have an executive secretary to the commission who is in charge of running the office.
We had transport challenges. We have recently taken ownership of a couple of vehicles to enable us to be mobile and reach out to those areas where we would want to go. We are hopeful that, with the staff, we should be able to do our work as expected.
NS: Most of your stakeholders argue that your commission is ill-equipped and has staffers who are not equal to the task at hand. What would be your response?
JSN: We are happy with the arrival of the executive secretary. She has been with the National Healing Commission, which was established and run during the time of the late vice-president John Nkomo and Sekai Holland, among others. We are happy that there are other staff members who have come in because, in the past, we have had to rely on staff from the Office of the President and Cabinet. Now that we have staff who belong to the commission, we are hoping that we shall be able to operate smoothly.
NS: What tasks does the commission look forward to fulfilling this year?
JSN: Well, we will try to do a lot of things. Firstly, we will deal with the low-hanging fruits, which include assisting those that are in need of birth certificates and death certificates, in cases where there are victims of the conflict of the 1983-1987 period, now called Gukurahundi.
We have approached the Registrar-General’s office and the Ministry of Home Affairs and we have reached an understanding with them on that matter. We will also be involved in the re-burial of victims of the Gukurahundi era because people have indicated they need to be allowed to re-bury their loved ones.
NS: Gukurahundi has been a talking point in Zimbabwe of late. Do you have any personal experiences that you can share from that time?
JSN: The issue of Gukurahundi, I think, was an unfortunate conflict insofar as the nation is concerned. It has been sticking for a long time and I think that the nation needs some healing on this issue.
NS: I had asked you, honourable Judge, to give us your personal experience with regard to Gukurahundi . . . What were your experiences?
JSN: (Sigh of relief and laughs) . . . Yes, I had personal encounter during the Gukurahundi era in that there were relatives that were lost during that time. I come from Matabeleland South province, where there were disappearances of people and, yes, some of my relatives were lost at the time.
NS: What has been the commission’s role with regard to the Gukurahundi discussions taking place?
JSN: Our commission’s role has been to encourage the people to come out and tell us the truth about their experiences. We have been working on encouraging the people to come forward and be able to relate their stories in terms of Gukurahundi. We encourage people to be open with regards to the issues that relate to Gukurahundi without any fear of retribution or victimisation tomorrow. I think that the President himself led the way in that regard when he visited Matabeleland and opened that chapter around dialogue on this issue. If there is any legislation that will be required, as a commission we will play our role in encouraging that legislation be established in Parliament.
NS: Would you agree, using legal terminology, that Gukurahundi can be termed a genocide?
JSN: I am yet to study around such an issue and how it is dealt with internationally. Until I do that, it would be remiss of me to give a description or answer to your question.
NS: There has been talk of re-burial of victims of the Gukurahundi massacres. Have you had experience of such a process as yet?
JSN: Yes, I have had an encounter with a re-burial of one victim. The process has already started in areas such as the Matabeleland South province. We are working with churches and organisations such as Ukuthula Foundationin areas where there have been exhumations. It is encouraging to note that the community and the traditional leadership have also come together to ensure that the bones of those that were killed at that time are buried among their kith and kin in a decent manner.
NS: What are the commission’s views on the formation of a Gukurahundi Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)?
JSN: I believe that we are a commission that was established by an Act of Parliament and this is what we should be doing as part of our mandate. There are issues to do with how we would tackle this TRC and other proposals on how some people would do it, but I would hasten to say that what we are doing now is exactly what that TRC would do were it to be established.
NS: Would you, therefore, say that in the event that you are given that task of being establishing a TRC on Gukurahundi, you would need new terms of reference on what you are to do?
JSN: What is necessary is that we get a buy-in from other stakeholders such as the church to strengthen this process that we are seized with. Some organisations have tried establishing that TRC and they have failed, solely because their bid has not been founded on the provisions of the constitution.
If they have expertise they think can be valuable towards achieving that truth and reconciliation commission, they should come with it to us and we see how we can infuse that to what we are doing.
NS: Out of the TRC process, how does the commission propose to deal with those found guilty of being behind the Gukurahundi massacres?
JSN: Suggestions have come to us from the outreach programme and various quarters that people should be prosecuted for having played a role in Gukurahundi. Some have suggested that those found guilty should be dragged to The Hague. Let me highlight that as a commission, we are still going through those submissions and we will then table a report on these suggestions. Parliament and other stakeholders will also be briefed on what the people have said and I think that is when finality on this matter can be reached.
NS: Compensation remains a key talking point in the Gukurahundi issue. What have the people said out there and what have been the commission’s proposals?
JSN: We have noted that down. There was a paper from Zimbabweans in South Africa and some other proposals that have come through. Some people feel in order to, in isiNdebele it’s called ukwesula inyembezi (wipe the tears) from the Gukurahundi disturbances, there should be compensation. We have noted that. We are still consulting and analysing what form this would take. Once we are done, we will also put in our proposals to the authorities and suggest what we see as a way of dealing with this matter.
NS: Lastly, former president Robert Mugabe is accused of engineering the Gukurahundi genocide. He has called it a moment of madness. Has your commission been able to meet with Mugabe?
JSN: Sadly, we have not been able to have a discussion with the former president. Our hope is that, should our programming allow, we will definitely make time to talk to him and hear what he has to say about the issue of Gukurahundi. We will be glad to have that discussion with him.