By Jonathan Maphenduka
THOSE who watched the proceedings of the Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry into the August 1 violence in which six people died at the hands of un-named assailants will agree that the excerpts of the commission’s report are a slap in the face of the government.
The government, according to a report released recently by the commission’s secretary, Virginia Mabhiza, has agreed to compensate surviving relatives of the victims. The commission, over which former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe presided, was set up to prove that the victims died at the hands of members of the opposition MDC Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa. The announcement that government will compensate relatives of the victims absolves the opposition party of blame and, by implication, thumps unnamed members of government’s security arms for the violence.
“Four key issues ranging from compensation of the victims’ families, electoral reforms, political dialogue and security sector reforms came out as the key recommendations from the Motlanthe Commission,” Mabhiza was quoted as saying in a statement.
In a way, this declaration highlights the shortcomings of the administration which waited until the decision to recommend compensation was taken by the commission for the government. In a mood of generosity, one can say this does not detract from the good (if you like) that government now admits to wrongdoing.
It means that in future it will show tolerance in dealing with its political opponents.
It remains to be seen how far government is willing to institute the recommendations of the commission because acting on the recommendations of the commission remains a prerogative of government. In can act on the recommendations or decide to ignore them altogether. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to analyse any report by simply looking at an excerpt of a broader report of the findings, which identify a wrongdoer for which the commission was instituted.
The commission had for its terms of reference the need to find out who was responsible for what in that incident in which people were killed. This limiting factor, therefore, leads one to conclude that government’s willingness to compensate is a de-facto admission of wrongdoing. It is, therefore, encouraging to note that it is willing to make amends by compensating the victims’ families.
Justice was served by the commission’s findings that the violence that led to the death of the victims and injuries suffered by 35 others arose from the actions of security forces. This conclusion by the commission comes against vociferous denials by security force members in their evidence before the commission. It is unique in the history of the country and must be hailed as a milestone in the administration of justice.
What is of concern is the limitation placed on the low level of compensation. For instance, school fees and medical bills have been mentioned as an example of the extent to which government is prepared to compensate. Unless there are other benefits, which government is not willing to disclose, school fees and medical expenses for those who were injured is an extremely cynical view of the degree of damage suffered by the victims.
It is interesting to note that government now subscribes to the idea of Political Actors’ Dialogue (Polad), which unfortunately, appears to be an exclusive right of some unspecified authority. Mabhiza makes the point that “all political parties have converged”, but then she goes on to say “only a few are not part of the dialogue”.
It gets even more confusing when one reads: “Polad is also getting a lot applications from other parties that want to be part of the platform.” Polad is a local platform that owes its existence to recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission. Why doesn’t Polad simply invite potential participants to come forward, instead of expecting them to apply? Is it because Polad is an extension of government and its decisions determine who should become a member?
It is noteworthy that Polad was recommended by the commission and is not an initiative of government whose security arms stand accused of wrongdoing. Who then is responsible for Polad’s day-to-day administration? That is the authority which should simply invite those who want to participate. Polad is not suspended or hanging in the air somewhere without an administrator
I think if it is accepted that Polad is an arm of government (and many observers see it in that light), why does government require participants in Polad’s function required to apply instead of a general invitation by government? Those few who are “not part of the dialogue” are obviously well-known. Can they change their mind by being asked to apply or by a general appeal to all and sundry rather than expecting them to apply?
Polad purports to serve as a vehicle to bring about convergence of political and other interests. Some of these interests are in the professional bracket, like those in the media whose professions have suffered crippling restrictions over the years due to such nefarious legislation as Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Another restrictive legislation is the Public Order Security Act (Posa) which during Robert Mugabe’s administration was used to ride roughshod over political freedoms of the vast numbers of Zimbabweans because the ruling party arrogated to itself the right to run for political office by one who did not belong to the party.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, while proclaiming a new dispensation policy, waited until the Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry recommended the curtailment of excessive powers sanctioned by Posa which was used to commit crimes that were witnessed on August 1.
The amount of damage to the image of government was inestimable.
l Jonathan Maphenduka contact 263 772 332 404