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

  • Review of ZimRights documentary: Article VII Voices for Healing
    Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
    October 13, 2010

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    "They beat me up with knobkerries and metal rods. They struck my lip with a knobkerrie as I turned over because of its unbearable pain on my buttocks, so that when I jerked and turned over that's when it hit my lip. They went on to burn down my home. Everything was reduced to ashes. My wife and children were not home when I returned. As I survived this ordeal I don't know where my family went to and if they are alive."

    ZimRights' documentary Voices for Healing opens with harrowing accounts of the beatings, rapes and tortures that took place in Zimbabwe during the March 2008 elections.

    In another instance a tearful woman recounts how her husband died from being beaten, and her vain attempt to stem his bleeding by taking off her blouse and placing it on his wounds. Her distress is palpable.

    "Those were painful times! Children were forced into evil acts. Murder, assault and burning properties, all evil acts that anger God happened. Nothing inhuman in behaviour was left out in 2008," says Chief Mutekedza

    With this documentary, ZimRights examines the question of National Healing in Zimbabwe after the March 2008 elections. What results is an engaging film that seeks to explore the origin and redress of political violence in this country.

    Since the 1990s, Zimbabwe's elections have increasingly been characterised by violence.

    Jestina Mukoko from Zimbabwe Peace Project comments:

    "We recognise that whenever elections or referendums approach, we have gross human rights violations, which are politically motivated. Where we even see people being murdered, people being maimed, women being raped and people fleeing." Listen

    Voices for Healing takes a look at the history of violence in Zimbabwe in interviews with historian and cultural leader, Pathisa Nyathi; Catholic Parliamentary Liason Officer, Father Edward Ndete and Pastor Ray Motsi from Grace to Heal.

    The film reveals that the history of Zimbabwe is characterised by transfers of power, which manifest themselves through violent conflicts. Political, and in particular electoral violence, in Zimbabwe is rooted in colonialism suggests Pathisa Nyathi.

    "The kind of violence that we have has its genesis in the colonial period. This is the period when repressive laws were promulgated, where people just disappeared, they disappeared because they were intransigent. People resorted to an armed Liberation Struggle. Let's be clear about an armed struggle, it is by nature violent," says Pathisa Nyathi. Listen

    "Unfortunately, that culture did not abate, neither did it stop nor was it transformed even after we got our independence. People have been dying and that is the modus operandi within Zimbabwe. Therefore in my opinion, this has become a culture within Zimbabwe," says Ray Motsi. Listen

    Pathisa Nyathis further asserts that election violence is used chiefly to maintain economic interests. Father Edward Ndete takes this point further by adding: " As long as people want to protect their power, and the illegal way they have acquired wealth, this violence will continue."

    While independent Zimbabwe had won political freedom and the social freedoms that come with this; those institutions of mass repression and coercion used by colonial governments remained. Economic power rests with an elite group of the ruling party, and it is in their interest to maintain the political power that enables this. There is no question that politically motivated violence informs and influences voting patterns in favour of those responsible for the violence.

    "So its commercial politics now. They campaign, people die; they win and are given cars, twin cabs. Next time new candidates win, they get cars . . . it's a vicious cycle." - Chief Mutekedza

    While responsibility for political violence rests with a few, it should not be forgotten that Zimbabwe's socio-political crisis consists of a complex mosaic of contributing factors. These include devastating droughts in the 1990s and early 2000s; increasing alarming levels of unemployment; the Gukurahundi Massacres of the 1980s and the Constitutional Crisis of 2000. It may be argued that Zimbabwe's liberators made the biggest contribution to this crisis. Independent Zimbabwe had changed from a racist white oppression and colonialism, to a black oppression that was witnessed in the corridors of power. Fighting that black oppression would then undermine the authority and power of those who had brought about independence. Furthermore, the government at independence failed to stem the crisis by not examining the causes of violence while reducing national healing and reconciliation to rhetoric.

    Voices for Healing goes on to ask how healing can be brought to the victims of political violence and the nation as a whole. Retributive justice is posed as a potential solution. ZimRights uses file footage of then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe talking about the need for retributive justice after independence.

    ". . .and I think what people would want to know is whether those who have committed genocide and massacres will become our friends tomorrow? Our answer is those who were architects of these genocides and massacres, surely must on the basis of moral and legal principles be brought to trial." Listen

    His sentiments are echoed by ordinary citizens post 2008:

    "The ones who did should be arrested. Also those who were beating up people should be arrested and tried in court. Then we will know that the government has power and there is rule of Law. They must go to prison. We will talk forgiveness with them when they are coming from prison."

    A significant impediment to national healing is that the architects of the violence are in government, and national healing is a government led process.

    In the film, Father Ndete suggests that retributive justice will not work because:

    "There are some who are viewed as having perpetrated more violence than others. So the moment you start talking about retributive justice, you anger a certain group of people, and this healing will not move." Listen

    For the people, national healing cannot proceed without dealing with the perpetrator. However, there is a widely held fear that because these are powerful and wealthy people, it is easy for them to manipulate or bribe unemployed youths to perpetrate further acts of violence, reversing any progress made.

    Another issue the film examines is that of compensation. Is it enough to apologise and ask for forgiveness? Or should the victims be given compensation for their suffering? The documentary even asks at what point in Zimbabwe's history should national healing start? Those affected by the Gukurahundi massacres surely cannot be left out of the process.

    Voices for Healing also shows how the current process of national healing has failed those it is supposed to help.

    "We don't understand the National Healing Process. In fact we don't want it. They must consult us first. Not just for them to wake up and say - we are sending people to you. Instructing us to forgive each other. Forgive who?"

    The documentary shows that any lasting solution has to come from Zimbabweans themselves.

    "About the national healing process, the solution should be prescribed by the grassroots. By grassroots, I mean the people on the ground. Not for people from Harare or Head Office to come and tell us how to do the process. We are the ones who hurt each other; we are the ones who are hurt. We should be telling them how to do the process. So I may be able to forgive my neighbour."

    In its conclusion the film illustrates the hope that has been brought about by the signing of the Global Political Agreement.

    "We hope that everything will recover, that is if National Healing is seriously implemented and fulfilled."

    Whether that hope is well founded or not remains to be seen.

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