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Can Zim make a commitment to say, never again?

“In World War II,” writes Johan Galtung (celebrated the world over as the father of peace studies), “I was 13 when the Nazis invaded and occupied Norway. My father, vice mayor of Oslo, was on the right side of history: he helped resistance against the Nazis. They found out and locked him up in a concentration camp in Grini. He survived. I swore: Never again!”

By Dzikamai Bere

Experiencing, witnessing and surviving violence can have a transformative effect on a society. The tragedies that we go through as a society can spur us to put in place measures to ensure that we never go back to such tragedies.

Zimbabwe has gone through various episodes of large-scale violence that has wiped out thousands. 

Currently, the Montlanthe Commission is hearing evidence on the August 1 killings in the 2018 post-election violence. The commission heard  from families of victims who yearn for justice so that perpetrators never offend again. By speaking bravely against violence, the families are saying: Never again!

The commission also heard from a police commissioner who did not seem to regret the behaviour of the military on that day. 

Year after year, families are confronted by tragedies that are preventable, and yet there never seems to be a concerted approach to genuinely say: never again!  

Like Galtung, those who have gone through these episodes of violence, and those who witnessed them, know that the commitment to never again allow such atrocities to visit the land is more than just a religious hymn or a political slogan.  It must be a programme of action with the potential to make a great impact on generations to come.

In our generation, today we ask: What is the biggest question of our time in Zimbabwe? As a country, what is it that must keep us awake and troubled? What memories in our past are shaping our commitments today?

We must never forget that these memories, the tragic memories of the past, are a perpetual reality for so many, and a very probable future for our children, unless we do something about it.

Zimbabwe gained her independence from colonial rule in 1980 following a bloody liberation war. 

An estimated 35 000 people were killed in that war. But before our independence honeymoon was over, a bloody conflict erupted between 1982 and 1987, leaving over 20 000 people dead and thousands more victims of rape in Midlands and Matabeleland. In 2005, the state launched a clean-up campaign called Operation Murambatsvina. 

The UN Special Envoy estimated that over 700 000 people lost their homes and / or source of livelihood and about 2,4 million were affected by the campaign. 

In 2008, over 84 people were killed within a space of 30 days in the runup to the June 27 Presidential election run-off.  These are not just numbers.  These are people, with names, homes and families. 

They are human lives being lost, families deprived and humanity being decimated by violence that is driven by men.

But how many of us are worried that this tragic story keeps unfolding, with the state as the main actor?  How many of us are worried that this will become our children’s future? How many of us think that this is a conversation that we must have? HB Danesh puts the sad story of our universe in very simple terms:

“Peace is the most urgent item on humanity’s agenda.”

I think this is a conversation that we must have in Zimbabwe. Those who cannot shout about it, somehow must find ways to still talk about it.  Those who can’t shout, at least they can whisper into the ear of the one who can shout. Whatever we do, by no means must silence be an option. How many more people must die as a result of violence for our nation to make a genuine commitment to “never again” and begin a programme of action to make sure that violence never visits us.

In many places, this is a conversation that is already happening and it needs to be followed by action.  From November 21 to 23, 2018, the National Transitional Justice Working Group  (NTJWG) will be hosting a Transitional Justice Policy Symposium in Bulawayo under the theme #NeverAgainZw.

One question which stakeholders must ask at the symposium is: how do we move from fluent talks to practice? From bold condemnation of violence to creating systems that fight and uproot the roots of violence?

As the Motlanthe Commission completes its work, the question that Zimbabwe must keep asking is: how many more commissions will follow dead bodies and yet bring no end to the violence? This is because the perpetrators, many times, are never sorry for the blood they shed. 

Anyone who listened to the testimonies of the generals before the Commission of Inquiry on November 12, 2018 knows that no tears were shed by the institutions most responsible for violence in Zimbabwe.They shed no tears for the woman who worked so hard to feed her children through a small business in Harare, who on August 1, 2018 was shot in the back and died, leaving her family without a mother.

They shed no tears for the young man whose livelihood depended on selling bananas along Jason Moyo Avenue, who was also killed on the same day. His brother told the commission that they had not yet told their father that he was dead for they were afraid that the shock would kill him too.  What will it take to say, truly, this must never happen again?

As the conversation opens in Bulawayo last week, perhaps the nation must pause and reflect on this erosion of the value of life in our country.

Joana Chittister wrote: “Awareness of the sacred is what keeps a society together.” Life is sacred. And when we stop shedding tears in the face of the bloodbath that Zimbabwe keeps experiencing, then it’s time to have serious introspection and be very, very afraid of the type of society that we are building for the next generation. We need some, among ourselves, to begin to whisper our displeasure until the whole nation awakens to shout: never again!

Dzikamai Bere is the co-ordinator of the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG).  The NTJWG is hosting a transitional justice policy symposium in Bulawayo from November 21 to 23, 2018.  For more information, visit www.ntjwg.org.zw/symposium.html or email info@ntjwg.org.zw

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