HomeEditorial CommentEditor's Memo: Transitional justice is needed now!

Editor’s Memo: Transitional justice is needed now!

THE Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe, a grouping of non-governmental organisations, last Thursday launched a report –– Cries from Goromonzi: Inside Zimbabwe’s Torture Chambers –– which chronicles how 23 people were tortured and some even killed at the hands of state-security agents, war veterans and Zanu PF militia mainly before the disputed presidential election run-off in June 2008.

The victims of that brutality were suspected and known MDC members and civil society activists, critics of the government and journalists.
Various forms of violence and torture, among them simulated drowning, assault, inserting sticks in women’s private parts, squeezing men’s genitals, starving and solitary confinements were visited upon the victims, according to the report.
These dastardly acts were allegedly carried out by known Zanu PF members, war veterans and state security agents, but they were never arrested to atone for their crimes because their mission was sanctioned to secure Mugabe’s victory at all cost after he lost the first round of the presidential poll in March 2008 to Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T.
It is this culture of impunity that has seen violence against those opposed to Mugabe and Zanu PF becoming a permanent feature of our body politic since Independence. Zanu PF has become synonymous with violence and has used it systematically to retain power over the years.
Its foot soldiers have gone scot free despite perpetrating heinous acts from the countdown to the 1980 elections, the Matabeleland and Midlands massacres of the 1980s and subsequent violence before general and presidential elections.
Despite Mugabe setting up the Chihambakwe Commission in the 1980s to investigate the Matabeleland atrocities, the commission’s findings were never made public.
It was only the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace which in the early 1990s released a report: Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace –– which revealed how over 20 000 civilians were massacred by the red-bereted Fifth Brigade –– a North Korean-trained crack unit.
The CCJP and civil society’s call for the establishment of a truth commission to deal with these atrocities was ignored by Mugabe who, to date, is yet to apologise for the massacres.
It is this level of impunity which is worrying given the talk for polls next year. Reports from throughout the country are that Zanu PF is already in campaign mode, establishing bases to coerce people to toe the party line in the constitution-making process and also to prepare for the elections.
Just last week the MDC-T claimed that some Zanu PF members went on the rampage in Mudzi, Mashonaland East, forcibly taking livestock from its supporters because they wanted a people-driven constitution-making process, instead of merely adopting the Kariba Draft.
From this scenario it is evident that we cannot have free and fair elections next year.
We need to first deal decisively with this culture of impunity and the route is transitional justice.
It is a shame that despite having an organ on national healing, nothing tangible has been done towards the “setting up of a mechanism to properly advise on what measures might be necessary and are practicable to achieve national healing, cohesion and unity in respect of victims of pre- and post- Independence political conflicts”, as outlined in the global political agreement.
What we have witnessed from the organ are high-sounding but empty speeches at meetings across the country which have left citizens even more divided on political lines.
The organ must come up with a concrete framework for transitional justice such as instituting criminal prosecutions, establishing a truth commission, reparations programmes, gender justice, security reforms and memoritisation efforts.
Our transitional justice should be designed to strengthen democracy and peace and these goals are “more likely to be reached with active consultation  of, and participation by, victims groups and the public”.
According to the International Centre for Transitional Justice, a society’s choices are more likely to be effective if they are based on a serious examination of other societies’ experiences as they emerged from a period of abuse.
This reduces the likelihood of repeating avoidable errors, which transitional societies can rarely afford to make. Let’s take a leaf from South Africa’s transitional justice after apartheid.
It is incumbent upon us to conduct a serious investigation of violations when they occur, to impose suitable sanctions on those responsible for the violations, and to ensure reparation for the victims of the violations.
Brian Raftopoulos, a leading political analyst, in a paper on prospects for transitional justice in Zimbabwe made a number of interesting proposals which I subscribe to.
He said there was need for accountability, truth recovery, reconciliation, institutional reform and reparation. Those should be top of the agenda.


Constantine Chimakure

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