The challenge confronting Zimbabwe today since the signing of the Global Political Agreement that gave birth to the inclusive government and the political transitional discourse obtaining in the country today is how to extricate the nation from a past that continues to weigh down and haunt the entire population. Many organisations and individuals in this country have made a call that to leave the past alone is the best possible panacea and the only way to avoid a delicate process of transition or to avoid a reversion to the horrendous past that was characterised by extensive repression and gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law.
As the political transition is unfolding in the country after a decade period of violence, our society is now confronted with a moribund legacy of abuse, which requires concerted efforts of all the stakeholders to map the best way to democratise the country and build sustainable peace. Questions are being raised with regards how best our nation can be healed. It is our view that society has to come together and deliberate on these issues. In order to promote justice, peace and reconciliation, government officials and non-governmental advocates alike should consider both judicial and non-judicial responses to violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that occurred during the preceding years. Such responses, inter alia, include prosecuting individual perpetrators, offering reparations to victims of state sponsored violence, establishing truth seeking initiatives about past abuses, reforming institutions like the police and the courts and also lustration, that is, removing perpetrators from positions of power.
It cannot be assailed that transitional justice is an essential ingredient for any society emerging from an abusive and repressive past tainted with a horrific and brutal human rights record to a democratic country imbued with principles that guarantee human rights respect. Surely victims and survivors need to know the truth as a means of bringing closure to their suffering.
The Oxford-based historian, Timothy Garton Ash, once reminded us that while victims are cursed by a good memory, perpetrators are blessed by an ability to forget. Thus the failure by the government to acknowledge the horrendous human rights violations it visited upon the Ndebele ethnic group in the early 1980s has to date increased the tensions and rift in our society. To date, many people in Matebeleland and Midlands provinces still lament that the then ZANU PF government has never done justice to them. Justice demands that perpetrators be brought to account for their heinous misdeeds in order to bring a measure of closure on the past and to be a kind deterrent that is needed to avoid the repeat of such sad chapters in the history of our country. Prosecution of those who violate people’s rights with impunity is a minimum ingredient for the rule of law and an essential requirement for the protection of human rights.
It is important that our country has, at this juncture, been given the opportunity to lay a firm and durable foundation for building sustainable peace and a culture of human rights respect. The transitional period has paved the way for the Constitution-making process- the much-venerated issue anticipated by the wide section of the society since independence from the colonial yoke. It must be underlined that the Constitution to be born out of this process must provide a historic bridge between the past of a deeply divided society, characterised by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice and a future founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence and development opportunities for all Zimbabweans regardless of political affiliation. South Africa is a classic example of a country that used a similar golden opportunity to instigate a smooth transition from the apartheid regime to a constitutional democracy that is obtaining today in that country. As a logical corollary, the lessons learnt from South Africa must also guide and inform us in our Constitution-making process but also taking into account our own national values and ethos.
The pursuit of national unity, the well being of all Zimbabweans and durable peace requires reconciliation amongst the people and reconstruction of society, which hitherto, has been damaged by the repressive and oppressive environment in the preceding years. Bust such reconciliation can only be attained, not by sweeping the past atrocious history under the carpet as mere aberration but by pursuing various profound processes of transitional justice mechanisms.
Undeniably, the adoption of a people driven constitution (the content of which must be agreed upon by all citizens) lays the secure foundation for all the people of Zimbabwe to transcend the divisions and strife of the past, which generated gross violations of human rights, the transgression of humanitarian principles and a legacy of hatred, fear, guilt and revenge. These challenges should now be addressed on the basis that there is need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation and not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu and not for tyrannical victimisation.
This invariably is a delicate process which essentially means that the Constitution as a supreme national document founded on the will and aspirations of Zimbabweans seeking to close a sad chapter and opening a new chapter in the history of our nation, must be imbued with the values, principles and aspirations that identify with Zimbabweans in accordance with international human rights norms. It is against this background then that Zimbabweans can enjoy durable peace established by the rule of law and supported by strong accountability systems.
Each and every one of us, individually and institutionally, has a responsibility therefore to establish processes for consensus building of our nation and to facilitate transitional justice and reconciliation in our nation that has been (and still is) extremely polarised and antagonised on political and ethnic lines to the detriment of international human rights norms and standards. In these we firmly believe that a prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe, where all people across the political divide and from different ethnic backgrounds can live peacefully and in harmony with each other, can be realised if the current transitional process is handled competently.
Innocent Mawire is the founding Director for the Peace and Justice Support Forum (Zimbabwe)