How much exactly is the cost of violence to our country? And what is the cost of reconciliation?
By Dzikamai Bere
How much are we prepared to pay to make sure that our past does not become our children’s future?
Many of us continue to believe in the prophetic words spoken by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) way back at the height of the Gukurahundi conflict in the Easter message of 1983; Reconciliation is Still Possible.
Many may, however, still put a question mark where the bishops put a full stop. One thing we have to understand about reconciliation is that it is a process, not an event. It will not happen overnight. Moreover, it will come at a cost.
One of the costs that we will have to confront has to do with fear and hopelessness.
Following the pronouncements by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa that indicated a wish by the government to do away with some independent commissions, the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG) issued a statement in which it emphatically stated, that it is possible that for some sections of Zimbabwe, these Commissions present a “stumbling block” or a source of fear.
“We do not believe that the collective wisdom and hope of all the people of Zimbabwe who participated in the constitutional reform process should be replaced by the fears of just a few,” the NTJWG said.
It went further to say that anyone who believed that peace was expensive had no appreciation of how much violence had cost our country and how much it continued to threaten future generations.
When we appreciate how much we have paid so far because of violence, we can begin to appreciate the value of building peace.
The Institute for Economics and Peace publishes an annual Global Peace Index (GPI) in which it measures and ranks the cost of violence to the economy.
In 2013, the Institute ranked Zimbabwe number seven in the whole world in terms of expenditure towards violence containment.
We are just below Libya and Somalia, but two steps ahead of Iraq, a country that is fighting ISIS. While we seem to be at peace, the scientific analysis of our economics and peace indicators suggests that actually we are at war.
However, the cost of violence is much more than the economic damages, the broken bones and the bleeding wounds that we witness with our eyes or as documented in the medical reports we produce in courts.
Violence translates to thousands of orphaned children, displaced and homeless families, broken relationships and hatred.
It has translated to over three million Zimbabweans living outside the borders of Zimbabwe; an entire nation outside its own borders.
How much can we pay for restoration? Is there something we should be prioritising ahead of restoration of our humanity?
“Roads and bridges, for example, are given priority over issues of justice and national healing,” writes NTJWG deputy chairperson Pamela Machakanje, “despite the fact that coming to terms with past injustices is an important foundation to sustainable peace, stability and development.”
In the middle of ongoing violations, many wonder what form our reconciliation process will take.
“Will it be reconciliation at gun point?” the survivors ask.
“Can we legislate forgiveness?“ human rights lawyer Tafadzwa Christmas is quoted in the NewsDay of March 25 2014.
What hope is there of building peace when the infrastructure of violence remains intact and undisturbed.
All these are legitimate questions and fears that we share with many victims within and outside Zimbabwe.
On the eve of the NPRC, we must ask these difficult questions.
What are we going to do with the many victims who will remain locked behind closed doors, fearful and untrusting of the commission and its sponsors? How do we unlock their hearts and bring them into reconciliation with their past trauma and deal with the current pervasive fear?
How do we create the safe space in which both victims and perpetrators can begin a dialogue that is not eavesdropped and manipulated by the perpetrator State and its agents?
What do we do with Gukurahundi denialists who happen to be responsible for reconciliation?
What about the secret mass graves at Chibondo in Mt Darwin and around the country whose illegal exhumations were stopped by the High Court?
(Zipra Veterans’ Trust v Fallen Heroes’ Trust and Others (2011 ZWBHC 61) What do we do about the murder of Chikurubi prisoners protesting the unconstitutional denial of food by the State?
What do we do about the ongoing abductions? Can we, for a minute — halt the war against ourselves, lower the guns, deactivate the spies, allow the truth to surface and give peace and reconciliation a chance?
As I sat through interviews for the prospective commissioners at the Senate Chambers Gallery on March 25 2015, I recalled the many voices of survivors and victims who clamoured for such a commission that would listen to them and facilitate a credible truth, justice and reconciliation process.
Asked whom they could trust with a national reconciliation process, the majority of Zimbabweans said they would trust churches to lead the process (Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, 2011).
I saw in the prospective commissioners many respectable church leaders who spoke so passionately about the cause of reconciliation.
I was convinced that given a chance, we can have a credible commission that can live up to the expectations of the survivors.
I do believe we can have a credible commission and with added political commitment, we can have a credible process.
However, perhaps for now, when the commissioners take their seats, they must insist that the guns be lowered so that we can start talking about real reconciliation, not slogans and political rhetoric.
They must insist that denialists of past atrocities keep their ignorance and arrogance in private and allow victims to tell their stories.
The way the commissioners will tackle political interference and sabotage, will determine how much trust they will win for themselves and the entire process.
That trust is not a right; they have to earn it, for our society will not tolerate reconciliation at gunpoint. It will not be reconciliation.
lDzikamai Bere is a Researcher for a local human rights group. He writes in his personal capacity.
The views contained here are not the views of the organisations he is associated with.
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