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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Truth, justice, reconciliation and national healing - Index of articles

  • Taking transitional justice to the people: Outreach report
    Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
    June 2009

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    Many years of direct and structural violence in Zimbabwe have left the country with a physically and emotionally wounded people; property destroyed; populations condemned to the Diaspora as political and economic refugees and many internally displaced peoples. Attendant on all this is the politics of violence and intolerance, which pervades Zimbabwe's political space and peoples.

    The Global Political Agreement (GPA) between the two MDC formations and ZANU (PF) in September 2008 provided the necessary reprieve to ask questions about the transition of the country into a democracy. The space or opportunity brokered by the GPA motivated the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) to set out a series of meetings in its Taking Transitional Justice to the People Program to consult and educate Zimbabweans who have gone through epochs of state sponsored and politically motivated violence in their lives on the nature and processes of transitional justice.

    The exercise was not in any way structured to begin processes of transitional justice or national healing in Zimbabwe. However, it was set to begin consultations, educate and equip citizens with the necessary and background information on transitional justice and redress in all its forms. From January-June 2009 the Forum visited thirteen constituencies and met and discussed with people from all backgrounds; teachers, police officers, mothers, youths, elderly people, clergymen, traditional leaders and other professionals. The Forum conducted sessions in schools, town halls, in both rural and urban settings. Public discussions were held in English, Shona, Ndebele and Tonga speaking communities. In these open forum discussions, people expressed themselves in their language of choice.

    In the consultative meetings, actors, sponsors and victims of violence were discussed. The participants noted the manifestations of these violent acts in rape, torture, murder, extortions, kidnappings, blackmail, disappearances, destructions of property, humiliations, selective food and agricultural input distributions and so many other methods. Actors in violence were identified as men, women and youths, soldiers in uniforms, the policemen on duty, secret police and youth from the National Youth Training Service commonly known as the "Green Bombers" among others. The victims also cut across sections of Zimbabweans from all walks of life.

    Four hundred and forty two (442) people took part in the discussions stretching over six months. 47.1% of the participants were women and 52.9% were men. The participants just below the age of twenty years were 2.16% and those above the age of sixty constituted only 7.69% of the participants. It can be inferred that those below twenty years may not have been involved because they could have been at school or college during the sessions or they were not interested and those above sixty could have been apathetic to political discourses or may simply not have been able to travel to the venues.

    The Forum approached its program in a manner that informed the participants about the concept of transitional justice, how it works and has been applied in other settings. Participants were given opportunities during the brief presentations to contribute in the debates. The transitional justice approaches that dominated the Taking Transitional Justice to the People's discussions were truth commissions, reparations, truth for amnesty and prosecutions. The participants made interesting contributions that should be used to inform and shape the direction of transitional justice discourses in Zimbabwe. What became clear was that people want to talk about their past and they need the platform to do so. What they were not sure about was the possibility, in light of the fact that ZANU (PF) still wields enormous power to scuttle the process before it even begins. Accordingly, there were calls for thorough institutional reforms particularly the security sector, which they said was blatantly partisan, unprofessional and cannot be trusted. The participants proffered comprehensive options for security sector reforms, which they believed, could rescue these institutions from partisan influencing.

    It was difficult to agree on the starting period for this transitional justice. The participants and victims constantly referred to the two phases - the recent past (1998 - 2008), and the distant past (1980s and back into the Rhodesian era). While challenges in handling the Rhodesian violations were acknowledged, there were serious concerns that leaving the era uncovered was an injustice on its own. It was pointed out that the seeds of current violence and impunity were sown during that time. A small group of about 50-60 people per meeting was randomly invited to attend the meetings. The selection was not controlled/scientific in any way. This explains the gender representation at the discussions. Furthermore, the facilitators needed small manageable groups to be effective. However, in the rural areas articulate teachers and other professionals attended these meetings and contributed to the lively discussions.

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