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  • The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission: What Stands in the Way?

    Writing in National Healing and Reconciliation in Zimbabwe: Challenges and Opportunities (IJR, 2010), former Deputy Chairperson of the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG), Dr. Pamela Machakanje says, “Roads and bridges, for example, are given priority over issues of justice andnational healing despite the fact that coming to terms with past injustices is an importantfoundation to sustainable peace, stability and development.”

    She goes on to say that often leaders fail to recognisethat for people to come to terms with a traumatic past, a process of acknowledgement,forgiveness, reconciliation and healing is required as stepping stones that lead to the rebuildingof a viable, legitimate democracy.

    This is the debate that the policy makers in Zimbabwe are currently having; no money to build peace.

    The Hansard of 21 October 2015 reports of an exchange that took place between Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Members of Parliament who needed to know whether the government was committed to operationalising the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC). The Vice- President, responded to say that he indeed was aware of the urgency of the NPRC and that government was in the process of making sure that all constitutional commissions are operational. He said they had already put in place five commissions which meant good progress. He, however, noted that shortage of resources was hampering the process. Hon. Gonese responded by letting the Vice President aware that no money isneeded to bring about the enabling law for the NPRC. Honourable Mudzuri told the Vice-President that the executive risked being accused of choosing which commissions they want to operate and which commissions they do not. The Vice President said it was thesimple mathematics of the economy.

    The background to this exchange is as follows. On 22 May 2013, President Robert Mugabe signed into law Zimbabwe’s new Constitution put together by a select committee of the Parliament of Zimbabwe following public consultations and a referendum that approved the new charter. In this new charter, section 251 establishes the NPRC and charges it with bringing about post-conflict justice, healing, and reconciliation. The NPRC is established for a period of ten years. Seasoned draftsman and law lecturer Brian Crozier says that the ten years ticking period for the NPRC starts from the day the Constitution became operational. Speaking at one of the reconciliation workshops, Crozier said that by the operation of the 2013 Constitution, the NPRC is already in existence, except that ‘it has no members.’ Now, to make the NPRC operational, the Constitution gives the Parliament (through the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders - CSRO) the duty to solicit for nominations, carry out interviews and submit not less than 12 names to the President, who then makes the final nomination.

    Speaking in Parliament, Hon. Gonese, who is a member of CSRO, said that Parliament had already done its role and submitted 16 names to the President from where the President is supposed to appoint eight members of the NPRC. This is where the deadlock is, with VP Mnangagwa is arguing that they are doing everything possible within the available resources. This explanation has triggered an outcry from civil society organisation. On 10 November 2015, the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (ZIMCET), Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ) , Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT) and the umbrella body for human rights NGOs Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum issued a statement threatening to take the government to court for violating section 324 of the Constitution by delaying the operationalisation of the Commission.Section 324 of the Constitution states that“all constitutional obligations must be performed diligently and without delay.”

    Zimbabwe has in the past three decades been struggling with a strong culture of violence. Civil society believes that the NPRC can help bring to an end the culture of violence. Noting that almost three years have passed without the NPRC being operational, civil society actors have become suspicious that the government may not be interested in operationalising the NPRC. What stands in the way of the NPRC? Is it resources, or political will?

    There is a belief that the government is afraid of having the commission to investigate past human rights violations. This is because most serious human rights violations in Zimbabwe have been committed by the state, or agents acting with the grace or tolerance of the state. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum’s torture database reflects that 72% of reported torture violations are blamed on the politicians associated with the ruling party. There is no question regarding the Gukurahundi atrocities, and the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina, both of which still need to be investigated.

    Human rights organisations have documented such high profile individuals like Buhera South Member of Parliament Joseph Chinotimba, key torture architect Joseph Mwale, Minister of Local Government Saviour Kasukuwere(Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, 2001:13), among others,as perpetrators of serious crimes in the past. Fear of prosecution for past crimes is thus very real and maybe contributing to the delays in operationalising the NPRC. This is probably the reason the Prosecutor – General Johannes Tomana had to be threatened with incarceration before issuing a certificate for private prosecution of his high profile ZANU PF offenders. There is a real possibility that some influential individuals may soon face the wrath of justice when a process of investigating the past opens up. This fear was seen in the castration that was done to the Human Rights Commission by making sure that its mandate for investigating human rights violations does not cover the period before 2009. It is a real fear.

    But is it possible that indeed there are no resources? I doubt it. As the Director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Mr. Lloyd Kuveya has indicated, there is anoverwhelming will among development partners to fund the work of the NPRC and there will be a lot of support from civil society organisations.

    The second issue, which is linked to the first one is alack of political will. Zimbabwe under the current administration has never been excited about issues to do with truth recovery and reconciliation. Following public pressure after the deployment of the Fifth Brigade in Midlands and Matebeleland, the then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe put together the Chihambakwe Committee of Inquiry headed by Lawyer Simplicius Chihambakwe. The Committee spent about fours days hearing testimonies and collecting evidence, but noreport saw the light of day, and no reforms we put in place and no one was prosecuted for the Gukurahundi Massacres. As if failing to investigate was not enough, the current administration has put in place measures to ensure that after every atrocious episode, those implicated are protected from justice. In some extreme instances, the President has had to grant apresidential pardon to such offenders like the late senior spy Kanengoni, after being convicted of attempted murder by the High Court.

    So, is there future for the NPRC in the state we find ourselves in? The chances are very slim. With sufficient advocacy, the NPRC may see thelight of day, just as the administration has bowed to pressure and allowed such a constitutional provision. Another dangeris the possibility of having compromised commissioners with loyalty to perpetrators. It will not be surprising to have such well documented ZANU-PF sympathisers and pro-torture advocates like Professor Mubakobeing appointed to the Commission, with a good chance that he may even be the Chairperson to the commission. Another important aspect is the law that governs the way the NPRC will work. A lot of work needs to be done in this area to ensure that the NPRC Act will give real power and sufficient autonomy to the NPRC. Whatever happens, civil society must stand ready with alternatives, just in case there is no NPRC, or there is a useless NPRC.