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Zimbabwe’s national healing
February 15, 2010

The participants in the October 2009 Extraordinary Synod on Africa presented a final document with 57 propositions for action and solidarity for the church in Africa. Topics ranged from the sacrament of reconciliation to environmental protection to concern for prisoners. Read a brief summary of those propositions that most closely align with the efforts of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns here.

One of the great tragedies of today’s Africa is the on-going political conflict in Zimbabwe. We consider the painful realities in Zimbabwe as we reflect on Proposition 25, “Politics,” from the Synod’s final document:

"The Synod Fathers welcome positive developments in the political and socio-economic sphere in those African countries which are governed according to their constitution and where human rights, justice and peace are upheld.

"The Synod Fathers value the increasing maturity of civil society which, in certain countries, is gradually taking shape and influencing decisions about the nation’s future. They compliment and encourage those politicians who are clearly devoted to the service of their people. However, the Synod also noted the sad fact that in many countries in Africa, there are rampant violations of human rights, injustices, corruption and impunity, which fuel coup d’etat, violent conflicts and wars. In these places, the principles of democracy are torn up at their very roots – equality among human beings, sovereignty of the people and universal respect for the rule of law.

"In these cases, the democratic process is increasingly spiraling downwards, a situation which ultimately compromises the peace, development and stability of nations. Anti-democratic systems, such as despotism, one-party rule and military governments are expanding and governing their States as if they were a prize of war. These countries find themselves in debt, ravaged and over-exploited.  In such circumstances, the Church’s mission is to promote a culture of respect for the rule of law and the rights of all….”

The following piece appeared in Africa Action’s February 2010 Zimbabwe Solidarity update:

Given the acute polarization and political violence that drove Zimbabwe to the brink of all out conflict in 2008, Zimbabwe seriously needs a comprehensive national healing process. Unresolved trauma and violence in Zimbabwe goes all the way back to the pre-independence era and a historical perspective is required to solve it. If the culture of violence and impunity is not dealt with now, it will likely raise its ugly head again as the vicious cycle of yesterday’s victims becoming today’s perpetrators continues unabated. The most difficult question that Zimbabwe is confronted with on the matter of national healing is how to handle perpetrators in a way that deters future acts of violence without plunging the country into chaos while at the same time satisfying the survivors’ quest for justice. With most of the perpetrators being part of the entrenched security forces and or associated with ZANU PF — any attempts at punitive justice at this point will likely result in serious instability and derail the transition — thus creating a big challenge for those seeking justice.

The Global Political Agreement that founded the inclusive government made provisions for an organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration to “give due 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 conflict.” This organ, led by three elderly ministers, one each from ZANU PF and the two MDC formations in the inclusive government, is promoting a model of national healing based on forgiveness and a new commitment to nonviolence. Some in civil society are opposed to this approach arguing that it will not serve the interest of justice. Presently, the organ has deferred the question of what to do with perpetrators preferring to focus for the time being on: identifying sources of conflict and its impact; examining the constitutional and legal framework; information, advocacy, and publicity strategies; gender, youth, and general psycho-social concerns; reaching out to the Diaspora; restoring “ubuntu” or African values of community, peace and forgiveness; and economic empowerment initiatives to anchor peace.

In the meantime, Zimbabwean civil society has started many important initiatives to open dialogue on political violence and explore ways to bring about justice, national healing and reconciliation. These initiatives require international support. It seems that what is important at this stage is allowing survivors to openly speak out about their experiences and the documentation of those stories for possible use in future processes. Zimbabwe has no experience with a nationwide healing process as is required now and will need a lot of help from international partners to succeed. Both civil society and government initiatives are going to have to learn a lot and draw experience and expertise from countries that have dealt with political violence, national healing, and transitional justice on a comparable scale. While the specific form that national healing takes in Zimbabwe must be informed by the widest possible consultations of what Zimbabweans want, this process can learn a lot from other transitional justice initiatives that have included the following:

• Truth commission: Official state commission of enquiry to investigate, report on past abuses and make recommendations to remedy such abuses and prevent recurrence
• Criminal prosecutions: Judicial investigations of those most responsible for widespread and systematic abuses
• Reparations program: State-sponsored initiatives to help repair the material and moral damage of past abuse
• Security sector reform: Transforming the military, police, secret service and related state institutions from instruments of repression and corruption into instruments of public service and integrity.
• Gender justice: Challenging impunity for sexual- and gender-based violence and ensure women’s equal access to redress of human rights violations.
• Memorialization: Memorials that preserve public memories, raise awareness and discourage recurrence.

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