Since the promulgation of the new Constitution in 2013, Zimbabweans who are concerned with justice, peace and reconciliation have impatiently waited for a legislation to give effect to the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC). In 2015, nearly three years later, and in advance of the enabling legislation, the government appointed the commissioners.
BY TONY REELER
Most observers were not impressed by the calibre of the appointees, and many wondered how the Bill would look, given that a number of the Commissioners had explicit political connections and few seemed to have any experience that could be called relevant. But this lack of experience could, we hoped, be remedied by legislation that would empower and direct the NPRC to give full expression to the constitutional basis for the NPRC.
Well, now we have a Bill, and a very ugly beast it is. It will result in endless acrimony and conflict, but this is hardly surprising and probably anticipated. The unconstitutional nature of the Bill will be subjected to rigorous legal analysis and criticism without any doubt, but it is equally important to examine the political thinking behind the Bill.
In fact, this is one of the most important pieces of legislation and one of the most important commissions, but also deals with the most contentious problem that the constitution attempts to solve. It is the legacy of organised violence and torture that has afflicted Zimbabwe for over four decades that is the deep problem that must be addressed; the endless recourse by governments to violent political problem solving; and the endless recourse by governments to impunity. This has been the reality since at least 1965, and yet the Bill is without any preamble to suggest the problems that it purports to solve: it merely conveys the impression that we are looking forward, will address all violence and disruption to peace in the future, and ignores our history entirely.
At the outset, no-one reading the Bill will have any idea why we need such a Bill to ensure peace and reconciliation if there is no reason given for such a commission. Is there a problem to be addressed here, and, if so, what is it? Or is it that our government thought it was just a good idea and because the constitution forces it to set up this commission? And why did the Constitution contain sections requiring such a commission?
Obviously because we are not at peace and the country requires a solution for this “unpeace”. And what is this “unpeace”? Well, every single Zimbabwean knows what this is. It is the legacy of the violence in the war to free the country from settler rule. It is the legacy of the violence to deal with “dissidents” in the 1980s. It is the legacy of the extreme violence that has accompanied elections in 2000, 2002 and 2008, and the lesser violence in the elections in 1985, 1990, 1995, 2005 and 2013. It is the legacy of the violent displacement of nearly a million citizens during Operation Murambatsvina. And it is the legacy of the violence that has emerged whenever the authority of the government has been challenged, whether by political parties, civil society organisations, trade unions, or even individuals.
So, every citizen knows that this is what lies behind the need for a commission to deal with justice, peace and reconciliation, and exactly why the government cannot make any reference to this in the Bill. To do so, will raise the spectre of justice in any form you like. Actually, the constitution requires this of the commission and its enabling legislation: Section 252 (a) has as one of the explicit functions of the NPRC “to ensure post-conflict justice, healing and reconciliation.”
So, it is that little word with a huge footprint, justice, that the government will avoid by every means at its disposal, for justice means accountability, and accountability means having to know for what there must be accountability. Was all that dreadful history tersely summarised above merely a cumulative series of “moments of madness”, or was there design and purpose behind all the violence, and who designed and implemented this? The understanding of our history is critical to peace and reconciliation, and attempts at fostering peace and reconciliation without facing our history, or requiring justice, is pure farce.
The critical problem that part 6 of the Constitution addresses is the ending of violent political problem solving by the government of Zimbabwe; the frequent resort to violence using the resources of the state; the creation of fear in the citizens; and the consequent inhibition to full participation in the political life of the country. Peace is not the mere absence of war and violence: it is much more than that, and we all know that, and have done for centuries. Thomas Hobbes put this so clearly 400 years ago:
“For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.” Thomas Hobbes. (Leviathan. 1667)
Thus, it is clear from this cynical draft Bill that yet another government will not hold itself accountable and will not give up the possibility of holding on to power through violent means. Therefore, we need to reject this Bill in its entirety, never mind the obvious violations of the constitution. We need to reject it because it does not face the problems it is supposed to solve in any way, and, worse than that, it insults the intelligence of every citizen. So, start again please.
Tony Reeler is a Senior Researcher with the Research and Advocacy Unit, and a member of the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG). In the NTJWG, he leads the thematic area on Institutional Reform. Feedback on this article can be send to firstname.lastname@example.org