THE gross human rights abuses in Matabeleland were committed soon after attainment of independence from Britain in 1980.
The flagrant violation of human rights started in 1982 following deployment of a task force in Matabeleland North under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lionel Dyke, a former officer in the infamous Selous Scouts.
The heavy handed task force was later replaced by a much more brutal outfit, the notorious 5 Brigade under the command of Perence Shiri.
Human Rights Watch, an acclaimed international human rights organisation advises “if any country is to come to terms with its past and successfully turn its attention to the future, it is essential that the truth of the past be officially established.
“It is impossible to expect reconciliation if part of the population refuses to accept that anything was ever wrong, and the other part has never received any acknowledgement of the suffering it has undergone or of the ultimate responsibility for that suffering.”
Zimbabwe must take a leaf from other countries in the region and beyond who embarked on national healing and reconciliation programmes, it will be realised that establishing a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in any country, is an arduous and mammoth exercise, which hinges mainly on political maturity, unity of purpose, able leadership and an inexhaustible fountain of political will.
Unless something dramatic happens our seemingly divisive, sterile and polarised politics of Zimbabwe doesn’t augur well for a sustainable and durable national healing project now or in the immediate future.
A classic damp squib is the hurriedly scrambled together National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration organ which hardly inspired confidence from onset.
The organ was riddled with controversy from the start. Those heading the Organ had no clue on basics. We heard more of their personal grief, ego gratification and their outrageous remarks on the anatomy of violent conflict.
This made them very unsuitable to be at the helm of national healing programme. They brought more harm than good. Any divisive or corrosive personalities cannot head such a delicate and sensitive national exercise.
It is wrong for our national leaders to reduce genocide to “moment of madness”. The assertion is not only frivolous, but a gross misrepresentation of facts on a serious human rights issue.
In The Zimbabwe Wages of War — A report on Human Rights the then Deputy Prime Minister Simon Muzenda in his letter addressed to Michael Posner of Lawyers” Committee for Human Rights in 1986 said inter alia: ‘There comes at a time when a government has to assert its authority when a recalcitrant tiny minority is persistently violating the human rights of the majority.
“It takes such an action in order to restore and uphold human rights. This is precisely what is taking place in Western Zimbabwe.”
Coming from a history where we know that horrible things happened in the country, during post-independence period, it is about time we look at the ugly side of history and facilitate in healing process to close the sordid past.
It is a no easy call of duty, but a prerequisite to forgiveness, coexistence and national healing.
It is possible, although we are not endowed with iconic personalities with stature of founding president of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, or a formidable voice of conscience like Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu and overwhelming goodwill from international community.
In South Africa the TRC partially achieved its objectives, because the governing ANC party under the leadership of Mandela was on higher moral ground vis-à-vis the discredited National Party.
There is optimism that healing and reconciliation are achievable in Zimbabwe, unless some politicians scuttle it by pursuing narrow agendas, although they might make headlines they wouldn’t make headway. We cannot forever be a country of missed opportunities.
Transitional justice is a giant lap in the journey towards national healing, reconciliation, forgiveness and durable peace. In our desire to achieve healing of the nation we must guard against expediency and subterfuge.
It is not too late to re-establish a nonpartisan body to facilitate the healing process. At the helm should be men and women of high moral integrity whose profiles are beyond reproach and distinguished citizens who command respect across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe and beyond borders.
National healing and sustainable peace will only be attained when those who perpetrated violence are brought to book.
The aim of calling human rights violators to account is not retribution. I am not an advocate of purely retributive punishment.
Instead accountability is about three things: First is telling the truth: Human rights abuses by their very nature are often obscured by a fog of lies and deceit; the victims of such abuses have a right to have their fate properly recounted, while an accurate historical record is essential to fulfil the other two elements.
The first of which is preventive: only by understanding the reality of human rights abuses and their causes can they be stopped in future.
Removing human rights violators from position of responsibility and bringing them to justice is part of this process.
The final Element is redress or reparation: there can be no real compensation for the loss of a family member, but exemplary financial damages may help to deal with some of the consequences in our quest for transitional justice.
On reparation it is worthy to adopt wholesale recommendations made by Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) and Legal Resources Foundation on their publication entitled, breaking the Silence-Building True Peace: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands 1980 to 1988.
Among other things they recommend is that the State acknowledges complicity in the community suffering.
They also recommended financial assistance to whole communities, in the form of improved infrastructure, educational scholarships for impoverished families, irrigation schemes, financial help for ceremonies to appease the dead and the missing.
These are some of the ways in which reparations could now be offered. The CCJP and LRF report should be read in conjunction with Zimrights’s book, Choosing the Path to Peace and Development-Coming to Terms with Human Rights Violations of the 1982-1987 in Matabeleland and Midlands Provinces.
Zimbabwe government cannot afford to be callous like Ian Smith’s regime which subverted citizens’ will enacting retrogressive laws.
In 1975 several victims of torture brought actions for damages in the High Court. The Rhodesian government’s response was to introduce the Indemnity and Compensation Act.
This indemnified members of the security forces and other government servants for any action carried out in good faith in defence of national security since December 1972.
The Act also gave the Law and Order minister authority to terminate actions for damages before the High Court. The Zimbabwe government retained the Act after independence.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Chairman of Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa Tutu once said “However, painful the experience, the wounds of the past must not be allowed to fester.
“They must be opened. They must be cleansed and balm must be poured on them so that they can heal.”
The failures of the past will continue to haunt the future. Any society that is not built on the firm foundation of truth, honesty and justice is already doomed to failure.
Tamsanqa Mlilo director at Mediation for Peace Centre, human rights activist and social commentator