Zimbabwe: The Price of Reconciliation

Andrew Harding, BBC News, July 30, 2009

As Zimbabwe launches a debate about “national healing” after years of political violence, the country’s prime minister has told the BBC that those found responsible for a wave of killings and torture should “not necessarily” be sent to jail.

At the same time, some victims have expressed concern they will never see justice or compensation.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was speaking in Harare where the new unity government has just unveiled an “Organ for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration” or ONHRI.

Mr Tsvangirai, who has himself been severely beaten by members of President Robert Mugabe’s security forces, stressed that he was “not just saying–forgive, heal and reconcile”.

But he said “justice needs forgiveness . . . and if we do retributive justice, the danger is that we may slide back” towards violence.

What reconciliation?

John Nkomo, a senior figure in Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, and chairman of ONHRI, said that “anyone who has broken the law should be put on trial”.

But he also argued against a rush to judgment.

“Yes, people were killed; yes, people fight; yes, they may still be fighting, but . . . this nation is going through a process and these tensions, unless properly managed, could create more tensions for us and we don’t want that.”

None of this seems likely to reassure Emmanuel Chiroto.

One year ago, a group of Zanu-PF militia abducted his wife, Abigail, from their home on the edge of Harare.

Mr Chiroto, an MDC activist, had just been elected the city’s deputy mayor. His wife’s badly beaten body was found on a roadside soon afterwards.

“I’ve got the names of six people responsible,” said Mr Chiroto, wandering round the ruins of his home, which was firebombed during the attack.

“They live round here. I see them often. But none of them have even been picked up for questioning.”

Last week he says he received two threatening phone calls from a male voice saying: “You’re forgetting what happened to your wife. Our intention was to kill you.”

“We’re told things are changing,” Mr Chiroto said. “The unity government is in place. But personally I find it very difficult to forgive people who are still boasting about it.”

Another MDC activist, Josphat Chidindi, was attacked with an axe on 25 June this year by two men who, he says, were the same Zanu-PF militants who had nearly killed him a year earlier.

His right arm was nearly severed and remains heavily bandaged.

“They wanted to silence me at all costs,” he said, dismissing talk of reconciliation in Zimbabwe as “nonsense”.

“I want these men to face trial, but I don’t think justice will be done as long as Zanu-PF is part of this inclusive government. .&nsbp;. . There is no future to talk about,” he said.

Many human rights activists also appear to be sceptical about ONHRI’s work.

Maria Mache, from the Crisis Coalition, dismissed it as “a farce”.

“We want the perpetrators of violence, those who abducted others, who did so many atrocities in Zimbabwe to be brought to book. We can’t talk about reconciliation until there has been transitional justice,” she said.

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