Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Transitional Justice in Zimbabwe

What Price For Peace?


Written by Marlon Zakeyo
Thursday, 07 August 2008
A Masvingo man weeps as he describes on this Solidarity Peace Trust video how MDC activists were tortured and others killed in violence unleashed by Robert Mugabe to ensure that voters did not vote for the MDC in the run-off. Should perpetrators be allowed to get away with it?
When MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai spoke at the memorial service in remembrance of slain party activist, Gift Tandare , he declared that Tandare was a ‘martyr for the cause of the MDC.’
He would have held Gift’s widow’s hand, consoling her and promising that ‘Gift haana kufira mahara’ (Gift didn’t die for nothing). Justice would be served.
But as rumours of an imminent announcement of a deal between the rival parties mount, one cannot help but imagine that Gift Tandare’s widow and thousands of other survivors and families of murdered and disappeared activists must be feeling really lonely, isolated and betrayed right now.
If rumours filtering in from Pretoria are to be believed, Robert Mugabe will be allowed a gradual and honourable exit and a blanket amnesty for all pre-election violence will be declared, presumably by Prime Minister Tsvangirai.
The chiefs of the Joint Operational Command are also reportedly trying to cut immunity deals for themselves in Pretoria. So are we turning full circle here? All the way back to 1980, 1987 and 2002. Collective amnesia. Turning the other cheek, allowing impunity and moving on for the sake of ‘peace’?
Several commentators and Zimbabwean NGOs have long debated the need and options for transitional justice in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. The nature of the transition from ZANU PF rule would determine the process of addressing past atrocities and how retrospective the transitional justice would be.
Options most talked about would be to forgive and forget and focus on economic recovery; or to carry out comprehensive prosecutions of all persons involved in perpetrating, condoning or ordering violations; or to select ‘small fish’ for criminal prosecution so that top military and ZANU PF brass feel safe enough to allow a new Zimbabwe to be born; or to focus on restorative justice and make sure perpetrators compensate (varipe) their victims or families of the victims.
In its 2008 policy statement, the MDC promises that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be launched within three months of assumption of office by an MDC government. The policy document also envisages further investigations and prosecutions in the domestic courts and also establishment of compensation courts that would ensure that victims of violence and displacement are adequately compensated by the State.
Sadly the secrecy shrouding the talks make it very difficult for anyone to know whether these promises by the MDC to the nation are being given serious consideration. Whilst many Zimbabweans understand the need for compromise it is vital that victims of violence and terror be finally put at the centre of decision-making processes.
Civil society must continue to struggle for the victims and families’ right to know the truth. The family of Patrick Nabanyama who disappeared in 2000 will be looking for the truth. Adele Chiminya, widow of Tsvangirai’s murdered campaign manager, Tichaona Chiminya, has gone the world over looking for justice.
She can not be told that economic recovery is more paramount than justice for her husband, can she? What justice for the 200, 000 people displaced since March 29 and ended up seeking protection at Harvest Houses and different Western embassies? Over 7000, 000 people who lost their homes during Operation Murambatsvina in 2005?
In the recent election violence, most victims knew their torturers and killers. Civil society organisations have bravely and tirelessly documented violations since 1998. For the Gukurahundi atrocities, someone must know where the Chihambakwe Commission Report is hidden. In any case the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace also documented that part of our history thoroughly.
The road has been long and painful for all Zimbabweans, but the desperation for normalisation and a ‘quick fix’ must not allow us to trade justice for peace. The MDC itself concedes in its policy document that the truth of the human rights abuses from 1980 to date were never addressed, victims never acknowledged, and these demons have come back to haunt us.
It is time to exorcise those demons so that we move into a truly « New Zimbabwe ». The whole fabric of Zimbabwean society has been violated in one way or another and we need to talk to each other and confess what we have done to one another.
Rwanda has been doing this over the last 15 years and at the same time being able to transform its economy and the lives of its people. I have seen this in Kigali with my own eyes. To have set a precedent where the bullet is mightier than the ballot is horrible enough.
To neglect the deep wounds of victims of violence and torture, widows and orphans of political violence - whatever the prize - is beyond the pale.

*Marlon Zakeyo is a Zimbabwean lawyer based at the Zimbabwe Human Rights Advocacy Office in Geneva. Email him on

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