UNESCO’S theme for this year’s press freedom day: “Potential of media in fostering dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation” was applauded by analysts as timely for a Zimbabwe learning to deal with the politics of inclusivity.
While they agreed that the media has a role to play in promoting national healing, they criticised the government for trying to use the media as a driver of its agenda to gain public confidence. They said that it was trying to set the agenda for national healing while downplaying the ugly past and issues of transitional justice.
“It is not a matter of opinion that the government has not done anything regarding transitional justice. It is a fact and there is nothing on the ground to talk about,” said National Constitutional Assembly chair, Lovemore Madhuku in an interview last week.
“The government is downplaying the issue of political violence and human rights abuses. You cannot talk about national healing without talking first about justice,” he said.
The analysts said while the media had a role to play in national healing, it was difficult to draw the line between serving the current political setup and serving the public by exposing those accused of murder and human rights abuses.
They said without confronting the truth about what happened in the past, there could be no genuine national healing. It was the duty of the government, they said, to come up with mechanisms that recognise the victims.
Transitional justice expert Gladys Hlatshwayo said it was wrong to talk about national healing without getting perpetrators of violence and their victims to confess and forgive. She said national healing imposed by political leaders was liable to failure.
“Talking about national healing without a transitional justice mechanism in place amounts to rhetoric,” said Hlatswayo. “Asking the media to propagate such political rhetoric is unfortunate because the media has a duty to serve the public and not politicians.”
The government in April set up the organ on national healing and reconciliation headed by Zanu PF national chairman John Nkomo to spearhead the process. The other members of the organ are Minister of State in deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara’s office Gibson Sibanda and Minister of State in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office, Sekai Holland.
Transitional justice, Hlatshwayo said, is a way of addressing crimes, rehabilitating victims and putting in place measures to ensure that the same violations do not recur.
She said the process might involve truth commissions, official apologies, reparations, and criminal prosecutions.
She said the media had an important role to play in balancing the ugly past and the agenda of the new political dispensation. “Let the truth be known and then we can talk about national healing. Some families have no idea what happened to their relatives and remain in pain. When people know and accept the truth, that is the beginning of healing,” Hlatshwayo said.
A political analyst, Eldred Masunungure, said the current approach was rather narrow as it focused on national healing without spelling out the processes involved.
“Talking about national healing as a stand alone is based on the assumption that the people who are aggrieved suffered minimum loses when the damage is really heavy,” said Masunungure. “Transitional justice should come into play naturally and I am for transitional justice because it is more comprehensive. The media have a duty to maintain a delicate balance. While they are encouraged to write constructively to strengthen national healing, they also have a duty to write the truth about what happened. They cannot ignore the ugly past,” Masunungure said.
He however emphasised that the media needs to report what happened in a constructive manner and not incite retribution justice.
“I disagree with the overemphasis on national healing without going back to the people who were wronged and hear what they want because national healing is not about state building but nation building.
From the media front, it is important for them to appreciate that what they present and the way they do it has direct impact on public thinking and thus should be careful in balancing information about the dirty past without rabble rousing; it is a delicate balance,” Masunungure added.
The analysts said that national healing and transitional justice were cardinal issues in nation building and the media had to make a choice whether to play a constructive or destructive role.
“A constructive role does not mean being silent about ugly past. Let the media talk but the reports should be facts-based and the subject of transitional justice must be understood through these channels,” said Masunungure.
He said it was wrong to think that transitional justice was all about arresting and incarcerating each other. He said there were different ways compensating those who had been wronged either by perpetrators or by the state.
He said what was important was to recognise the victims and helping them put their lives back on track and move on.
Hlatshwayo said: “It is unfortunate that some people do not understand the subject of transitional justice.
It is more constructive than retributive. The truth heals, not vice versa. In countries like South Africa and Rwanda where transitional justice mechanisms have been employed they have done more good than harm.
I hope politicians in Zimbabwe will realise this. The media should help in directing their attention to these things and must play a big role in national healing.”Â Â
Analysts said the sincerity of a system is more evident in people’s eyes the moment the guarded secrets become more available to them. As long as long as they remain so, the aggrieved dwell on the past and thus making it difficult for national healing to materialise no matter how much the media try to set this agenda. The role of media as a driver of reconciliation can be used constructively by openly discussing the past.
BY MELODY MBIRA