Political Crisis, Mediation and the Prospects for Transitional Justice in Zimbabwe

On the 15th September 2008 Zanu PF and the two MDC formations signed a political agreement brokered by Thabo Mbeki under the mandate of SADC. The agreement was the culmination of a process that had begun in March 2007, which was itself preceded by various other attempts by African leaders, as far back as 2004, to bring an end to the Zimbabwean political crisis. The central aim of the September agreement was to find a power sharing arrangement that would reflect the balance of political power in the country after the March 2008 Harmonised elections, which, together with the abortive presidential run-off election at the end of July 2008, left the issue of the presidential election unresolved. While the Agreement left key areas, such as the allocation of ministerial portfolios unresolved, it also comprised a good basis for moving the political situation forward in Zimbabwe.

However one of the major silences in the Agreement was around the area of Transitional Justice. This was not surprising given the fact that Zanu PF, the major perpetrator of human rights offences in the post-colonial period, was not likely to support such a process. Moreover the MDC for its part, though not without its own problematic history of intra-party violence, neither sought to make this issue a deal breaker in the negotiations, nor had the political muscle to enforce such an inclusion. Thus the September 2008 Agreement contained one section that set out to:

..give consideration to the setting up of a mechanism to properly advise on what measures might be necessary and practicable to achieve national healing, cohesion and unity in respect of victims of pre and post independence political conflicts.

Moreover this provision...Read more

Thu, January 15 2009 » Essays, Global Political Agreement, Transitional justice » Leave a comment

Transitional Justice Options in Zimbabwe for 2009

The year 2008 began with high hopes for a more free and fair election in Zimbabwe, and with the accompanying possibilities of this opening up sufficient space for the nation to begin to redress its one hundred years of state violence and impunity. However, the year is heading into its final weeks with little to be optimistic about, with the power sharing agreement of 15 September in jeopardy and the nation facing its most severe economic and humanitarian crisis ever. The months from April to June saw the worst state violence since the Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980s. Around 200 civilians lost their lives, with thousands more suffering torture and assaults as well as loss of their homes or other property as ZANU PF ruthlessly set out to reverse the gains that the opposition had made in the March election. War vet bases and torture camps were set up across the country; threats and coercion accompanied often by systematic torture became nightly events across all provinces, and even in urban centres.

The violence was allegedly masterminded and ignited by senior officers in the police and army who came and went in rural areas – but they have left a shocking legacy at the village level where shattered communities are now battling to deal with the devastating consequences. Much of this violence took place at the intra community level, and took the form of neighbours against neighbours, or even of family members brutally attacking other members. Within ten weeks, appalling damage was done to the social fabric in rural villages across the nation. Almost every victim of this violence can name at least some of their perpetrators, as they are from their local ZANU PF and war vet structures, or are local youth forced into taking part in beating those known to be MDC...Read more

Thu, January 15 2009 » Essays, Transitional justice » Leave a comment

“A Tale of Three Dinner Plates” – forensic, narrative and psychological truths and the challenges facing human rights researchers in Zimbabwe

Human rights reporting in Zimbabwe has been extensive in the last few years, and civics have played a monumental role in keeping Zimbabwe in the public eye – but human rights reports have a very specific mandate and a very moral intent. It is their task to keep track of what could be called “forensic truths” – the essential facts of what happened such as might be raised in a court of law – for lobbying purposes. Human rights reports are not intended to document history as it unfolds in all its nuanced realities, but to be the sledgehammer that may change world opinion, that may make it easier for refugees abroad to get asylum, that will give a voice to the voiceless and raise funds for medical and legal aid for those at the receiving end of state violence, and that will keep the record that may one day contribute to redress and prosecution or compensation. When being confronted by the shocking reality of tortured people day after day, there is neither time nor inclination to whimsically debate the relativity of narrative truths, or how subjective, partial or biased the story being told to you by the person bleeding on the floor might be. Human rights organisations work urgently and against deadlines – to get something together before the next SADC/AU/EU/UN meeting, to keep Zimbabwe in the public eye and to counteract endless ZANU PF propaganda.  Zimbabwean civic groups have compiled an unassailable record of the systematic and brutal methods by which ZANU PF has remained in power since 1980. Much of this evidence relies on medical findings and lawyers’ reports, thus meeting the necessary criteria to stand as forensically accurate: somebody either has a hundred welts on his/her body consistent with being whipped with a raw hide...Read more

Fri, February 15 2008 » Conflict resolution, Essays, Transitional justice » Leave a comment

“Healing the dead”: exhumation and reburial as a tool to truth telling and reclaiming the past in rural Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is a nation whose last one hundred years of official history and policy stand as an example of how to ensure that truth and peace do not prevail.

During the last three decades in particular, there has never been a period of sustained peace or genuine reconciliation to the past. We are a nation with a history of unresolved conflicts, including racism rooted in colonialism, and ethnic conflict, which predated and was intentionally exacerbated by colonialism. We are a nation with a poor tolerance of political diversity and a leadership that is committed to never leaving power voluntarily. In the last 40 years, this country has had only two political leaders – Ian Smith, from 1964 until 1979, and Robert Mugabe – from 1980 until the present. Both leaders have ruled more or less in the context of a one party state, and have become embroiled in civil wars to destroy legitimate alternative political voices.

Political repression has been compounded throughout the decades by a pattern of unjust laws and impunity for perpetrators.  Sadly, in the post-colonial peace accord era that began in April 1980, there was no concerted, formalised attempt to allow truth telling or to promote reconciliation between the three warring parties – ZANU, ZAPU and the Rhodesians . There was also no comprehensive attempt to repeal laws infringing civil liberties. Zimbabwe remained, in fact, in a State of Emergency from 1965 until 1990, with all the super-legal powers to state officials that this entails.

Since 1979, we have had no fewer than five blanket amnesties, benefiting most on every occasion, those who perpetrated crimes against their fellow Zimbabweans on behalf of the government of the day . There were amnesties in...Read more

Wed, September 13 2006 » Conflict resolution, Essays, History, Transitional justice » Leave a comment

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