HomeOpinion & AnalysisWhat stands in the way of reconciliation commission?

What stands in the way of reconciliation commission?

Writing in National Healing and Reconciliation in Zimbabwe: Challenges and Opportunities (IJR, 2010), former deputy chairperson of the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG), Pamela Machakanje says, “Roads and bridges, for example, are given priority over issues of justice and national healing despite the fact that coming to terms with past injustices is an important foundation to sustainable peace, stability and development.”


She goes on to say that often leaders fail to recognise that for people to come to terms with a traumatic past, a process of acknowledgement, forgiveness, reconciliation and healing is required as stepping stones that lead to the rebuilding of a viable, legitimate democracy.

This is the debate that the policy-makers in Zimbabwe are currently having; no money to build peace.

The Hansard of October 21 2015 reports of an exchange that took place between Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Members of Parliament who needed to know whether the government was committed to operationalising the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC). The vice-president responded to say that he indeed was aware of the urgency of the NPRC and that government was in the process of making sure that all constitutional commissions were operational. He said they had already put in place five commissions which meant good progress. He, however, noted that shortage of resources was hampering the process. Innocent Gonese responded by making the vice-president aware that no money is needed to bring about the enabling law for the NPRC. Ellias Mudzuri told the vice-president that the executive risked being accused of choosing which commissions they wanted to operate and which commissions they do not. The vice-president said it was the simple mathematics of the economy.

The background to this exchange is as follows. On May 22 2013, President Robert Mugabe signed into law Zimbabwe’s new Constitution, put together by a select committee of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, and following public consultations and a referendum that approved the new charter. In this new charter, Section 251 establishes the NPRC and charges it with bringing about post-conflict justice, healing, and reconciliation. The NPRC is established for a period of 10 years. Seasoned draftsman and law lecturer Brian Crozier says that the 10 years ticking period for the NPRC started from the day the Constitution became operational. Speaking at one of the reconciliation workshops, Crozier said that by the operation of the 2013 Constitution, the NPRC is already in existence, except that “it has no members.” Now, to make the NPRC operational, the Constitution gives Parliament (through the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders — CSRO) the duty to solicit for nominations, carry out interviews and submit not less than 12 names to the president, who then makes the final nomination.

Speaking in the Narional Assembley, Gonese — who is a member of CSRO — said that Parliament had already done its role and submitted 16 names to the president from where the head of State is supposed to appoint eight members of the NPRC. This is where the deadlock is, with Mnangagwa arguing that they are doing everything possible within the available resources. This explanation has triggered an outcry from civil society organisations. On November 10 2015, the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (Zimcet), Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ), Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT) and the umbrella body for human rights NGOs, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, issued a statement threatening to take the government to court for violating section 324 of the Constitution by delaying the operationalisation of the commission.

Zimbabwe has in the past three decades, been struggling with a strong culture of violence. Civil society believes that the NPRC can help bring to an end the culture of violence. Noting that almost three years have passed without the NPRC being operational, civil society actors have become suspicious that the government may not be interested in operationalising the NPRC. What stands in the way of the NPRC? Is it resources, or political will?

There is a belief that the government is afraid of having the commission to investigate past human rights violations. This is because most serious human rights violations in Zimbabwe have been committed by the State, or agents acting with the grace or tolerance of the State. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum’s torture database reflects that 72% of reported torture violations are blamed on the politicians associated with the ruling party. There is no question regarding State involvement in the Gukurahundi atrocities, and the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina — both of which still need to be investigated.

Human rights organisations have documented such high profile individuals like Buhera South Member of Parliament Joseph Chinotimba, Joseph Mwale, Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere (Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, 2001:13), among others, as perpetrators of serious crimes in the past. Fear of prosecution for past crimes is thus very real and may be contributing to the delays in operationalising the NPRC. This is probably the reason Prosecutor-General Johannes Tomana, had to be threatened with incarceration before issuing a certificate for private prosecution of high-profile Zanu PF offenders. There is a real possibility that some influential individuals may soon face the wrath of justice when a process of investigating the past opens up. This fear was seen in the castration of the Human Rights Commission by making sure that its mandate for investigating human rights violations does not cover the period before 2009. It is a real fear.

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum director, Lloyd Kuveya has indicated there is an overwhelming will among development partners to fund the work of the NPRC, and there will be a lot of support from civil society organisations.

The second issue, which is linked to the first, is a lack of political will. Zimbabwe under the current administration has never been excited about issues to do with truth recovery and reconciliation. Following public pressure after the deployment of the Fifth Brigade in Midlands and Matabeleland provinces, then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe put together the Chihambakwe Committee of Inquiry headed by lawyer Simplicius Chihambakwe. The committee spent about four days hearing testimonies and collecting evidence, but no report saw the light of day, no reforms were put in place and no one was prosecuted for the Gukurahundi massacres. As if failing to investigate was not enough, the current administration has put in place measures to ensure that after every atrocious episode, those implicated are protected from justice. In some extreme instances, the president has had to grant a presidential pardon to such offenders, like the late senior spy Elias Kanengoni, after he was convicted of attempted murder by the High Court.

So, is there any future for the NPRC considering the state we find ourselves in? The chances are very slim. With sufficient advocacy, the NPRC may see the light of day, just as the administration has bowed to pressure and allowed such a constitutional provision. Another danger is the possibility of having compromised commissioners with loyalty to perpetrators.

Another important aspect is the law that governs the way the NPRC will work. A lot of work needs to be done in this area to ensure that the NPRC Act will give real power and sufficient autonomy to the NPRC. Whatever happens, civil society must stand ready with alternatives, just in case there is no NPRC, or there is a useless NPRC.

Dzikamai Bere is a human rights researcher for the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, writing for the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG). The NTJWG is a platform established by 46 organisations, representing various transitional justice stakeholders in Zimbabwe, to provide an interface between transitional justice stakeholders and the official transitional justice processes in Zimbabwe. For feedback, write to info@ntjwg.org

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