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National reconciliation and healing in Zimbabwe: Challenges and opportunities

May 17, 2010

1. Legislative Reform: ….The National Healing and Reconciliation Commission would have to be secured by a bill passed through Parliament and enacted into an act of law…. The quality and credibility of the work of the Commission and the legitimacy of its outcomes would largely depend on how independent it is and the calibre of the Commissioners.

2. Political will: Raking past atrocities and human rights abuses is an excruciating exercise. If badly managed, the exercise could backfire, and further widen the chasm in an already politically-fractured nation. Indeed, this fear often deters the introduction of ‘just’ reconciliation processes where victims feel a genuine sense of satisfaction over the claimed entitlements. Hence, the political will to promote genuine reconciliation is paramount.

3. Transformative and restorative justice: This is based on a theory that emphasises healing and the transformation of harm to the wholeness of people’s lives. Emphasis is on repairing harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour and is best achieved through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders. The fundamental principles are that justice requires that different categories of people work to restore those who have been injured and that those most directly involved and affected should have the opportunity to participate fully in the response programme. The role of government would be to preserve a just public order as well as secure and safe social and political spaces, while the role of the community would be to build, nurture and maintain a just peace….

4. Civil society engagement: A successful national healing and reconciliation process requires meaningful engagement of civil society and the public at large. This is because a process aimed at responding to people’s needs must necessarily involve the people affected by the conflict, especially at grassroots level…. Empirical evidence shows that where peace agreements are exclusively negotiated by political elites, human rights issues tend to be drafted in general terms, as the Zimbabwe case has shown.

5. Consensus building: It is essential to achieve widespread agreement on all aspects of national reconciliation. The process must be devoid of partisanship with those favouring and opposing a formal reconciliation process exhibiting political tolerance. Consensus and legitimacy of the outcome of the national reconciliation exercise will be enhanced where the government, human rights organisations and other interest groups work together to develop the framework and other key aspects of the national healing and reconciliation project.

6. Truth-telling: ….Truth-telling encourages the verification of past repressive actions and incidents by individuals and government. The process may also challenge stories widely, but inaccurately, circulated in the public domain as rumour. Knowledge of the truth helps to set the record straight and creates an environment where forgiveness may occur…. Remembrance becomes the beginning of reconciliation and national healing….

7. Education for national healing and reconciliation: There is a need to educate the general Zimbabwean community about the experiences of trauma and grief as well as their extent and effect on women, men, children, the elderly and the disabled. There is also a need for re-education on how communities that have experienced violent conflicts can coexist in peace and harmony….

8. Research on trauma and grief: The centrality of the experiences of trauma and grief for the Zimbabwean people mean that these aspects should be informed by participatory research aimed at assessing the level of distress and disorder among the people. Issues of grief and bereavement as a result of violence and how these impact on people’s wellbeing would be central to a holistic healing process.

9. Counselling for trauma and grief: The availability of counselling services to help Zimbabwean people deal with their experiences of trauma and grief as well as specific counselling to do with particular situations is important…. Counselling formats would need to be specifically developed in holistic and culturally appropriate ways to deal with longstanding, past or profound traumatic experiences. Other useful indigenous initiatives include narrative therapy and family therapy in which affected people tell their stories about the violence and its consequences on themselves and family members….

10. Special healing places and community intervention programmes: It is suggested that there could be value in the development of special places of healing such as trauma healing centres and special nature parks where people can visit as part of the relaxation and therapeutic process….

11. Memorialisation and ritualisation: Taking cognisance of the cultural context of the Zimbabwean setting, memorialisation of the past is important. This would require physical reminders in the form of monuments, ceremonies, memorials or other ritual occasions aimed at contributing to the acknowledgement as well as the setting of a general ethos of healing….

12. Funding: One factor that often hinders the progress and success of reconciliation and national healing projects is funding. Reconciliation exercises are not only expensive, but time-consuming, emotional ventures that demand patience and resilience. Furthermore, apart from the operational budget, reconciliation must also have a human face. Words must be accompanied by actions such as restitution and compensation, but failure in most national healing and reconciliation projects has been attributed to lack of resources.

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