“Zimbabwe is yearning for peace and justice. At the root of that yearning is a cry for reconciliation and forgiveness.”
These words, recorded in that forgotten 2006 discussion document, ‘The Zimbabwe We Want’, remain true today as Zimbabwe gears itself for the work of national peace and reconciliation.
Almost three years after the Constitution established the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), President Robert Mugabe has now announced the names of the members of the NPRC. As not unusual, news about peace and reconciliation never make the headlines, so the media has been silent about it. The announcement by the President appeared on 27 November 2015 on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) website hidden somewhere in an article that talked more about the appointments to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission. It is not surprising that many media houses missed the article.
For the benefit of those who missed it, the NPRC will be chaired by clergyman, Bishop Dr. Ambrose Moyo, deputised by Mrs. Lilian Chigwedere, wife to the late Ambassador and former Public Service Commissioner Stansilus Chigwedere. Other members of the NPRC are Patience Chiradza, Choice Ndoro, Netty Musanhu, Charles Masunungure, Geoffrey Chada, Leslie Ncube and Godfrey Chekenyere.
As one of the persons who has been involved in both the Zimbabwe We Want initiative, the lobby for the NPRC in the new constitution, and now the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG), I must emphasise immediately that I can’t think of anything that is more urgent in Zimbabwe, Africa and the world than freedom, justice, peace and reconciliation. Our world is torn apart by violent conflicts. In his most celebrated Encyclical letter “Libertas praestantissimum,” Pope Leo XIII declared that “true freedom, freedom worthy of the sons of God, is that freedom which most truly safeguards the dignity of the human person. It is stronger than any violence or injustice.” (Emphasis added)
Indeed, the collapse of society begins when human dignity is trampled, structures of sin take root and human life loses its sanctity. But history has shown time and again that human society always rises above violence and injustice. This is the story of our salvation – victory over violence, the triumph of love over the tyranny of sin. I believe now is Zimbabwe’s time to rise against the violence and injustice that has pervaded our society in the past. For this reason, the establishment and appointments to the NPRC is a step in the right direction and calls for support from all who yearn for peace and reconciliation.
As a people who believe in the triumph of peace over violence, how can we make sure that the NPRC succeeds where other past initiatives have failed? You may want to think of the Chihambakwe Committee of Inquiry. My response to that is that we can never be sure, but we still have to do our best, and there are a number of things that different organisations and individuals can do.
Above all, we must all try now to ensure that the NPRC is genuinely as independent as envisaged by the Constitution. Unlike past tribunals that were Presidential and reporting to the President, the NPRC is a Constitutional Commission which reports to Parliament with constitutionally guaranteed and protected independence. This principle of independence is important because there is always fear in Zimbabwe that the reconciliation agenda is never truly organic and that it is always controlled by politicians and probably the alleged perpetrators.
This fear is not unfounded and we cannot do nothing in the face of it.
There are a number of ways in which a commission can be influenced. One is through financial resources starvation (as was the case with the Human Rights Commission). Another is influencing the human resources policy that allows other forces to determine who will serve in the Secretariat of the Commission. This has been the criticism against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
We obviously do not want any of these, if true, to happen to the NPRC. Two things become very critical immediately to avoid that undue interference. Firstly, now that the NPRC has Commissioners in place, a law that guides their work must be put in place as this is long overdue. That law must, in line with section 234 of the Constitution, give the NPRC power to recruit and regulate its own staff. There has been talk in different circles that the current civil servants from a certain named office will become the Secretariat of the NPRC. It must be made clear immediately, that such an arrangement will be a violation of section 234 of the Constitution which gives the NPRC power to recruit its own staff. Imposing the secretariat on the NPRC will severely impair the independence of the Commission as it will be tantamount to the State imposing its agents on the NPRC. Section 235 (2) places an obligation, on the state, and all institutions and agencies of government, to protect the independence, impartiality, integrity and effectiveness of the independent Commissions.
Secondly, the issue of financial resources is crucial. It will severely affect the integrity of the NPRC if the government was to influence the remuneration policy of the NPRC as remuneration can be used as a tool to demobilise and demotivate an otherwise potentially effective Commission. A Commission like the NPRC must have genuine independence which includes financial autonomy if it has to be effective. This independence is enhanced by adequate resourcing. History shows that in the majority of cases, government funding is inadequate to fund the work of a Commission. In that regard, the NPRC must be allowed to receive funding from other sources like United Nations bodies and development agencies. These are agencies that are already funding our government so there is no question of interfering with sovereignty. Measures can be put in place to ensure that whatever funding is received does not interfere with the independence of the NPRC.
I must say in closing that the success and failure of the NPRC rests squarely on the level of support that the people and government of Zimbabwe will give it. As a member of the clergy myself, I do understand that reconciliation is not an event but a process. For the past 2000 years, the Church has been in the ministry of reconciliation and there is more to it than ‘kiss and make up’. In many countries where politicians mess up, the Church is asked to clean up the mess with no commitment to genuine transformation. I warn that ‘human peace obtained without justice is illusory and ephemeral. Human justice which is not the fruit of reconciliation in the “truth of love” (Eph 4:15) remains incomplete; it is not authentic justice.’ (Africae Munus, Benedict VXI, 2011). This is why the NPRC will deliver to us what we as citizens determine. We sit back, we get nothing. We get involved, we may get something. Peace is not just a right, but a duty for all of us and a gift to posterity.