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MPs should be peace ambassadors in their constituencies
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
June 08, 2012

The past few days have seen newspaper headlines featuring the political violence in Mashonaland Central Province’s Mudzi District that left an MDC cadre dead and scores injured. This is a very sad development that brings back memories of the violent 2008 election that resulted in many political activists losing their lives and thousands injured and displaced. It is this political violence that then gave birth to the current dysfunctional inclusive government, which has a mammoth task to prepare a peaceful environment and necessary political and democratic reforms for the next election. As one of the three arms of government, Parliament has an important role to play in legislating for this peaceful environment and overseeing to what extent other agencies of the State such as the Police are carrying out their constitutional duties.

Political violence instills fear in defenceless citizens and discourages them from freely participating in the electoral process. It is therefore not surprising why in this country we have the perennial problem of voter apathy. The House of Assembly this week did an excellent job to debate and condemn the violence in Mudzi. Allegations were leveled against two Zanu PF MPs from the area for orchestrating this violence. They are Newton Kachepa from Mudzi North and Aquilina Katsande from Mudzi West. In 2008, some of the sitting MPs were identified as the ring leaders in politically motivated violence. The House must therefore be applauded for debating such a motion because we expect genuine representatives of the people to champion peace and tolerance in their constituencies rather than become the biggest perpetrators of violence and anarchy.

Members of Parliament have a role to play in conflict prevention, resolution and peace building. While conflict within a society is normal, it becomes a problem when it becomes violent in nature. It is the duty of an elected Member of Parliament to promote peace through the restoration of relationships, establishment of justice and the creation of social systems that serve the needs of the whole population. Peace therefore is the framework within which conflicts unfold non-violently and positively.

Parliament, by its oversight nature and legislative functions and responsibilities, is uniquely positioned to play the leadership role in society and to strengthen the processes and facets of peace building from the levels of the grassroots electorate and right up. Because parliaments are more representative and the legislators more accessible to the people than the Executive or Judicial branches, there is no doubt that Parliament has unparalleled potential towards decisive conflict resolution and national healing. At its most general level, Parliament is able to contribute towards peace building and conflict prevention by rallying national consensus around commonly held values and goals through national policy dialogue.

Parliament can also have invaluable functions and roles in post-conflict phases by instituting processes of transitional justice such as reconciliation, restitution, reparations, and prosecution of offenders and the enactment of legal instruments that seek to forestall recurrence of conflict. Above all, Parliament derives this special mandate from its representative role and diverse nature as a legitimate forum for public debate. The core functions of law-making, oversight and representation place Parliament in a strategic position to advance democratic policies and programmes that address and mitigate the scourge of conflict in society.

Through its legislative function, Parliament can advance the democratization process and the related structural reforms for purposes of ensuring basic freedoms and civil liberties. There is need for Parliament to review all the legislation related to conflict prevention and peace building and advocate for any necessary reforms. It is also the duty of the legislative branch to promote and protect human rights at the national level. This is why the Human Rights Commission Bill must be passed as a matter of urgency in order to operationalise the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. All new or existing legislation should be consistent with human rights obligations while all repressive laws must be repealed. Keeping the Public Order and Security Amendment Bill parked in the Senate is a disservice to a nation yearning for peace and human freedom.

There is now a well-recognized correlation between conflict and poverty. With a large percentage of the Zimbabwean population classified as very poor, such high poverty levels are bound to fuel violent conflict. This correlation suggests that the Parliament of Zimbabwe has an unequivocal role in conflict management, not just by addressing the contentious issues, but by helping in alleviating poverty, particularly in the conflict prone regions of the country.

The challenges faced by Parliament include historical injustices, human rights issues, election manipulation and use of provocative language by leaders. MPs have a responsibility to act lawfully and formulate policies that are meaningful and responsive to the needs of the people. This can be achieved by allowing freedom for individual MPs, minimizing the whipping system and the active oversight of parliamentary committees. To prevent conflict, parliaments must recognize that societies are multicultural, multi-racial and multi-linguistic and conflict can arise if certain groups feel discriminated against. Parliament must connect citizens with the State, incorporate citizens’ concerns in security laws and policies and mediate where diversity and competing views are represented and articulated.

In view of the moribund state that the Organ on National Healing and Reconciliation finds itself - together with an equally not-so-effective GPA and its state organs - the role of Parliament in intra-State conflict resolution and national healing therefore becomes unquestionably imperative. The incident in Mudzi clearly shows that cases of political violence will continue to contaminate the political landscape. Parliamentarians must be united in fighting this scourge and unequivocally demand that the responsible authorities prosecute the wrongdoers in a conclusive, non-partisan and professional manner. MPs must be seen to be peace ambassadors in their constituencies without any shades of doubt.

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