By PATRICK MUSIRA, Harare
Long winding road to peace as . . .
In the last decade or so, Zimbabwe has been so full of turning points that it often resembled a maze with no exit as it seems to have cornered the market for negative superlatives – a human rights slaughterhouse; rampant lawlessness; an unprecedented economic meltdown; stratospheric inflation rates – whether the subject is economic growth or political elections. Since September 2008, leaders of the three-party inclusive government have been on the campaign trail again on another turn and ardently hoping that this time the road would lead towards peace. The mere fact that the three leaders of the three parties are working upon a plan of action is as fundamentally encouraging as it is historical, writes PATRICK MUSIRA in Harare .
May and June 2008 was a good time for dying – if dying can be described as such. Over 200 people were reportedly killed – or in a space of a few weeks in the rural areas of Zimbabwe .
It was a moment of madness – as people from all sides of the political spectrum now acknowledge – before it dawned on the political principals to call for a cessation of hostilities.
A transitional inclusive authority agreed to September 15 2008 and consummated in February 13 the following year set up an organ for national healing, reconciliation, reconciliation and integration with a mandate to bring an end to polarization after close to a decade of economic, social and political upheavals that nearly sent the country into the abyss.
At an historic event along the way, the three principals to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) – President Robert Mugabe, the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara – participated in a ceremony to launch a structure called the Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration. The organ brought together the leaders, traditional chiefs, civil society organizations, other smaller political parties and diplomats and the media to witness the public denunciation of violence by the three major political leaders.
The party principals (on July 24 2009) took a conscious decision to turn the country’s troubled recent history towards unity, justice, peace, reconciliation, and stability.
The mere fact that the political gladiators – Zanu PF led by President Mugabe and the two MDC formations led by PM Tsvangirayi and Deputy PM Mutambara respectively – shared the platform and publicly condemned and committed themselves to ending violence is fundamentally encouraging.
It may well be that the power of the ballot has overcome the terror of the bullet and that an end is in sight to the anger, hurt, pain and suffering that has ensued since the advent of colonialism in 1890.
“We gather here to say ‘No’ to violence!” said President Mugabe, head of state and government in the inclusive set-up and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, committing himself to reconciliation and national healing.
The public affirmation and commitment was very important for several reasons. Although all sides in the political contest have been charged with committing atrocities, it is the president and his party who have been fingered more than others and he stands accused of unleashing state machinery – army, police, intelligence and war veterans on political opponents.
“We can still love each other; eat from the same plate; but still differ in our principles or ideologies,” he said, reiterating: “ It may take time but we need to remove violence in all its forms, but particularly political violence!”
“As Zanu PF, we will certainly do work hard – try to commit ourselves to observation of the principles of non-violence,” he declared.
And MDC-T leader Tsvangirai weighed in with a call to his supporters to play their part in the healing process.
“If these days of national dedication are to herald the start of a genuine process of national healing, then we, as leaders, must make an unequivocal call to all our people and to all our supporters for an immediate cessation of violence, persecution and lawlessness,” he said. A country that has come out of conflict and is in a state of transition faces numerous problems – chief being local politics and issues of restitution, and score settling. These communities conflicts are powder kegs that explode frequently.
Bitter and acrimonious debates raged across the nation in countless public forums – as well as in homes, pubs, and growth points – centred over the emotional issues of land, sovereignty and liberal human rights.
Getting to last week’s event was not easy – and it appears even more difficult with each step of the way. Kaitano Chakanyuka from Mashonaland Central says he will never forget June 2008 when he lost his livestock.
“I can never forgive and forget when I see those who took my goats and pigs walking freely – I expect them to be brought to justice before any confession or apology,” he fumes.
But strong voices for peace are being heard.
“People must be willing to forgive,” says one of the ministers working directly in the organ.
“I will work with my people to bring peace to Zimbabwe – irrespective of parties,” declares Sekai Holland, a senator from the MDC.
The veteran political activist should know. She has been in the trenches since the 70s and worked with the former chairman Herbert Chitepo and defence chief Josiah Tongogara in the original Zanu when she was the party’s representative in Australia .
“The process has to be all-inclusive,” she says.
A country that has come out of conflict and is in a state of transition faces numerous problems – chief being local politics and issues of restitution, and score settling. These communities conflicts are powder kegs that explode frequently.
“How do we deal with all these tensions these cyclic tensions? We have inherited institutions of violence that if not reformed may perpetrate violence,” ays a member of civil society organization Crisis Coalition Zimbabwe .
“Today’s victims may be become perpetrators o f tomorrow and the vicious cycle of violence continues,” she explains.
Vice –President John Nkomo says : “We as are encouraged by the level of acceptability by all Zimbabweans to live in peace and tranquility. We have met churches, traditional leaders and cultural leaders as well as civic society during our tours across the country and all people have shown interest to be united,”.
And Ellen Shiriyedenga, national youth chair of the smaller MDC party, urged parties in the government to accept accountability for the violence that took place.
“We need to get in touch with the grassroots but the premise is that we all admit that we are perpetrators of violence.”
But now in the end – if it is the end – it appears reason, a rare commodity in the country’s recent history in the last decade – seems to have won the day.
People on both sides of the political fence have apparently accepted that “peace, not war” is the route the route to travel – based on the most cherished of democratic ideals: freedom to choose.
As deputy PM Arthur Mutambara, the youngest and most energetic of the three leaders says: “Never again should we question one’s patriotism because we differ politically. We must have a culture that respects and dignifies difference.”
“The future of this resource-rich teapot-shaped Southern African country will be determined by what the common people wish,” continues Mutambara, adding: “We can unite without being uniform!”
And that, it turns out, maybe the simplest way out of the country’s difficult history. The journey out of the maze may have just begun.