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The Peace Committee concept
Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (ZIMCET)
February, 2004

The idea of forming and using Peace Committees as a means of cultivating and fostering a culture of peace and tolerance among grassroots communities was born out of the realisation by the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (ZIMCET) that violence, particularly that of a political nature as was experienced during the 2000 General Election and the preceding ones, was mainly carried out by marginalised groups like the youth and the unemployed. These groups, according to the findings of ZIMCET, were of course used by politicians whose survival in politics hinged on the manipulation and monopolisation of violence against their opponents.

Consequently ZIMCET, after wide consultation with the grassroots communities of Manicaland and Masvingo, decided to come up with taskforces at village level whose role became the maintenance of peace and tolerance among people of different political affiliations. These groupings initially consisted of church and traditional leaders.

As time went on, the Trust began to notice the effectiveness of these taskforces in Chendambuya where the Chief called for tolerance in peace in his area just after the 2000 Election and vowed to heavily fine any accused perpetrator of violence. Such gestures indicated that Zimbabweans were generally a peaceful lot and that peace could prevail even at election times.

ZIMCET further noticed that the reason why all elections since 1980 had been characterised by violence and intimidation was because communities were not conscious of the need for peace and tolerance and the intricate link between the two and development. The taskforces formed in 2001 sought to carryout the conscientisation of the communities with the aid of trained ZIMCET animators who became the link between the ZIMCET secretariat and the grassroots.

By 2002, the ZIMCET taskforces had managed to have a significant impact in areas like Chiendambuya, Mutasa, Buhera and Chipinge with numbers exceeding hundred attending organised Peace building meetings at village level. Gradually communities in these areas began to fully appreciate the need for peace so as to develop as a community and they began to demand training and funds for small income generating projects.

At this level, ZIMCET noticed that the programme, while performing to expectation, needed the political will of the grassroots politicians. As with all development programmes, the political will is a critical component since ZIMCET could have managed to conscientise people on the need for peace but as long as the leaders continued to believe that violence was the only way to gain and control power, there was very little communities could do. In the Bikita West by-election for instance, the community did not participate in the violence that occurred but youth bussed in from as far as Harare and Bindura fought running battles along political lines. Such a scenario convinced ZIMCET that merely focusing on grassroots communities while ignoring the very people responsible for fanning violence and those who benefit from it was not enough.

By the end of 2002 the organisation had adapted the Peace Committee concept which insisted on the bringing together of all stakeholders into one liaison grouping that would be tasked with calling for a departure from a culture of violence to that of peace and tolerance. These committees were identified by the communities at district level and comprised district political leaders, traditional leaders, church leaders, war veterans, women and the youth.

The idea behind the concept was the creation of confidence among communities.

Over the past two years, with very limited funding, ZIMCET has managed to score amazing successes in the peace building programme at grassroots level.

Throughout the past year, Peace Committees have been the implementers of the majority of activities and hence responsible for the successes scored owing to their grassroots nature, which means their focus and initiatives have been community grown.

ZIMCET currently has forty district Peace Committees in Manicaland, Masvingo, Mashonaland West, Midlands, Bulawayo, Matebeleland North and Harare. In all the cases, these committees comprise district leaders from ZANU PF, the MDC and any other political party active in the district, a church representative, a genuine and respected war veteran, an influential woman representative, a youth and in some cases, a traditional leader and a law enforcement agent.

Strengths of the Peace Committee Concept
There are numerous advantages of using the Peace Committee approach to building peace. The idea is new in Zimbabwe but it has been extensively used in other parts of Africa such as the Central African Republic. Despite being relatively new, the approach has afforded ZIMCET with a rare opportunity to carryout an otherwise political activity with little risk of being labelled as being a front for any political party.

The Peace Committee concept allows ZIMCET as an NGO to operate even in the most politically volatile communities with limited risk owing to the fact that those responsible for the actual implementation of the programme are the committee members. Such an ownership structure means that the community itself will defend the programme rather than in the conventional NGO approach that has staff going into the field and interacting with the community. In the current environment of polarisation and widespread suspicion, ZIMCET activities have continued uninterrupted when some NGOs have found areas like Mashonaland West and Central, no go areas.

The approach has managed to secure the participation of political leaders from all political parties at the same level, which is necessary to ensure the political will to promote peace, denounce violence and foster tolerance in the districts. At times, political leaders have been reluctant to participate and this has resulted in the committee failing to implement some of its resolutions that include the denouncing of violence. This is not surprising because it is a fact that some politicians have used politically motivated violence to remain in power. It has been ZIMCET’s experience that communities are likely to listen to their respective political leaders than they would listen to ZIMCET animators, church leaders or even the traditional leaders. As such, the participation of political leaders has given weight and some confidence in handling resolutions of the committees since the community acknowledges and respects its leaders.

Another advantage Peace Committees have in creating a culture of tolerance and peace for the sake of development at grassroots level is that the issue of ZIMCET being alien in a community can easily be discarded. Over the past two years, Zimbabwe has become so weary of interference from external forces and the marginalized communities in the rural areas have been warned not to entertain NGOs. Such thinking does not affect the activities of the Peace Programme as the activities of ZIMCET are co-ordinated by local leaders who are accountable to the community.

Peace Committees have also proved to be a good investment for ZIMCET particularly when one considers the needs of the community. Zimbabwe as a nation is composed of people of diverse cultures and beliefs. In the conventional way of operation, a uniform programme may have been adapted by the organization throughout the country, which would prove problematic in terms of the diversity of the country’s communities. Fortunately for ZIMCET, Peace Committees have been responsive to the needs and demands of their various communities. At the end of the day, the entire programme has maintained relevance throughout the country and communities have collectively defended it against politicians who are threatened by peace, which is actually a myth.

There has also been a question of sustainability in the consideration of Peace Committees. ZIMCET has discovered that the use of local leaders in the promotion of peace brings a certain level of continuity to the programme in that even when funds run out, the chances are that the knowledge imparted on the members of the committees will continue to be taken advantage of by the community as it will be for the benefit of the entire community. Unlike in occasions where a programme runs for three years and then the organization withdraws, the Peace Programme has secured continuity as the committees concentrate on fostering a culture of peace and tolerance which will live on after ZIMCET runs out of funds.

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