By Nyasha Chingono
Justice Selo Masole Nare (76), a retired High Court judge, is tasked with a heavy responsibility many people would not want to be burdened with — more so in advanced age.
On his time-worn shoulders, he carries the hefty burden of facilitating the healing of a nation torn by economic turmoil, political strife and violence.
Abandoning a quiet farm life ideal for a retired public official following a long fulfilling career, Nare answered the call to reconcile a sharply divided country, nursing wounds from decades of conflict.
He left his farm, located near the border town of Plumtree, under the care of his wife, who now has to tend to the cattle they rear, to chair the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC).
The commission, a creation of the 2013 constitution, is tasked with ensuring post-conflict justice, healing and reconciliation as well as developing and implementing programmes to promote peace, unity and cohesion in Zimbabwe.
The commission’s duties, as specified in section 252 of the constitution, include development of procedures and institutions at national level to facilitate dialogue among political parties, communities, organisations and to develop programmes to ensure that persons subjected to persecution, torture and other forms of abuse receive rehabilitative treatment and support.
Among the issues which the commission was set up to tackle are the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 1980s which resulted in the killing of over 20 000 people at the behest of the then Zimbabwean prime minister Robert Mugabe, who unleashed the infamous North Korean-trained 5th Brigade to Matabeleland and parts of Midlands provinces, the post-millennium violence-ridden farm seizures, the 2005 Murambatsvina exercise and the deadly 2008 post-election violence which it should ideally investigate in order to bring the culprits to book.
Now, the commission’s tasks appear to be mounting because of the escalating national tension as it also has to attend to last month’s violent protests and security crackdown which left 17 people dead and dozens injured.
One would expect a constitutional body tasked with such an important national assignment to be well-funded, but the commission actually survives on a shoestring budget.
To gain insight into the NPRC’s work, this reporter sought audience with Justice Nare last week at his office — a tiny and rather squalid workstation for a man expected to lead the important process of national healing.
A desk and two chairs are the only pieces of furniture in Nare’s office. Its bare walls lack decoration of any sort — you will not even see President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s portrait.
Without any form of signage, one could easily get lost trying to navigate through the narrow corridors of the building. Had it not been for a chance encounter with one of the commissioners who kindly took this reporter to Nare’s office, it would have been difficult to locate the room.
There is neither a receptionist nor a secretary to help with protocol issues.
“We have just moved here, so please manage,” Justice Nare said, gesturing for the reporter to take a seat.
After exchanging pleasantries on that rainy Tuesday morning, Nare seemed somewhat uneasy and reluctant to delve into a sensitive discussion. This was before a clergyman walked in carrying a stack of Bibles.
The Bibles, wrapped in plastic, were a donation from a group of churches which Nare gladly received. They were to be used during the NPRC’s national outreach.
“One of the Bibles is for the Vice-President (Kembo Mohadi),” said the clergyman before walking out of the room.
Nare did not hide his disappointment at the state’s failure to allocate adequate resources to the commission.
Commissioners use personal vehicles for official business and feel incapacitated to perform their duties, four years after the constitutional body was operationalised.
“One of the major constraints is transport, because we are using our own cars. So we cannot do most of the work that we need to do,” Nare said.
Earlier attempts to hire supporting staff were not approved by government.
The lack of resources has hampered the commission’s effectiveness in carrying out its day-to-day operations. To make matters worse, the commission is stymied by the legalistic strictures preventing it from handling cases pending in the courts or even those still under police investigation.
“Our investigative role is spelt out in the constitution but our constraint is that of resources. We should be out there talking to the people. We require back-up staff which we should be employing in a week or two,” Nare mourned.
NPRC has failed to make headway in Matabeleland where it is mandated with investigating the Gukurahundi atrocities and bring to finality the emotive issue that has been raging for decades.
Mnangagwa has promised to apologise if the commission’s findings finger government’s involvement in the killings. But the commission now relies on traditional chiefs and churches for primary data as resource constraints continue hampering the constitutional body.
“This is our number one issue, that of Gukurahundi. We should have been there on the ground. But what is limiting us are resources. We try to the best of our ability. In order to show our seriousness, we have already appointed a commissioner to be on the ground there so as to facilitate meetings, dialogue with the people and this is our approach,” Nare told the Zimbabwe Independent.
The commission’s independence remains questionable because its programmes are fully funded by government as it is not allowed by law to receive corporate or donor funding — unlike fellow commissions such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, Zimbabwe Gender Commission, Zimbabwe Media Commission and the Zimbabwe Land Commission.
In his 2019 budget, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube allocated US$38,5 million to all independent commissions, a sum which critics have dismissed as a mockery.