ELLIOT ZIWIRA THE INTERVIEW
Zimbabweans celebrated Unity Day on December 22. Unity and peace remain central to our nation as the year 2018 draws to a close. Here, The Herald’s Senior Writer Elliot Ziwira (EZ) and Commissioner Geoffrey Takawira Chada (GTC) of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) reflect on the commission’s role in fostering unity and peace.
EZ: What is the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate in ensuring, not only a conflict-free environment, but a peaceful one?
GTC: Of all the Chapter 12 Independent Commissions, the NPRC has the broadest mandate, which includes supporting democracy, support and entrench human rights, promote constitutionalism, and secure the observance of democratic values and principles by the State and all agencies of Government, to ensure post-conflict justice.
It is the commission’s mandate to promote national healing, reconciliation, unity and cohesion, to facilitate dialogue among political parties, communities and other organisations in order to prevent conflicts and disputes arising in future. The commission has to come up with programmes to ensure that persons, who were victims of presentation, torture and other forms of abuse receive rehabilitation and support.
Recently, NPRC commissioners held a breakfast meeting with members of Parliamentary Portfolio Committees at which we reminded them of the importance and benefits of peace in our society. We reminded the MPs that there can be no democracy without peace, that there can be no freedom and human rights without peace.
There can be no development, no stability and no unity in our country without peace. We also highlighted to them that there can be no gender equality without peace, and that peace is the foundation of all development. We called upon MPs to become our institutional champions of peace. They are partners.
They have to play their role, for instance, one of their biggest roles is outlined in Section 322 of the Constitution. They are mandated to make sure that the Commission has sufficient funding to do its work, so you can see how important they are as partners. Resource mobilisation is part of their responsibilities, so that we can do our work; and they were very receptive to our concerns, and calls upon them to help us.
EZ: To most people, NPRC exists only on paper. What has the commission done so far?
GTC: The NPRC has come a long way in the shortest of time. While the commissioners were sworn in on February 24, 2016, we had no national budget to start any programmes. The NPRC was only operationalised through the NPRC Act on January 5, 2018. This gave us access to funds. In February 2018, we embarked on provincial consultations with all the leaders and stakeholders to make them aware of the work of the commission, and from the commission to the people about the issues and priorities that they wanted the commission to focus on.
After these consultations, we called leaders from each province, 10 per province, to be precise, to come together to synthesise priority issues from each province. On June 26, NPRC organised the National Peace Pledge workshop for all Presidential candidates for the July 30 harmonised elections, which was attended by 23 Presidential candidates, who appended their signatures committing themselves to peace before, during and after polls. You will agree with me that despite the unfortunate incident of violence on August 1, the July 30 elections were the most peaceful in living memory.
After 23 Presidential candidates had signed the Peace Pledge, the NPRC took the same Peace Pledge message to the provinces as a way of cascading the message of peace before, during and after elections. For each of the 10 provinces, there is a commissioner assigned to it to ensure that the commission keeps a detached record of issues from each province
The commission is already dealing with such issues as distribution of Presidential inputs, and food distribution in the districts and constituencies. It is, therefore, inappropriate for the general public to accuse the commission of doing nothing. It may be that they do not know all these achievements.
EZ: In your view, what constitutes unity seeing that December is the month we celebrate the Unity Accord signed on December 22, 1987 between ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU?
GTC: I maintain that unity is a quest for national peace, healing, cohesion and reconciliation. Unity puts Zimbabwe first before factional and personal interest. It is a sense of purpose; a quest for oneness.
Unity must dispel political impunity and political factionalism. Unity is there to promote the politics of love, without which there will be no peace. Unity must promote dialogue. Dialogue in my view is the art, skill of thinking together so as to solve our problems. Unity guarantees peace and cohesion, guarantees freedom of expression, guarantees national development and political stability.
Community, social and political stability cannot be possible without unity. Effectively, unity is a search for the Zimbabwe we want for us and future generations.
EZ: So in your view peace cannot prevail in the absence of unity and struggle?
GTC: Yes, there cannot be peace without unity. After signing of the Peace Pledge by 23 Presidential candidates on June 26 as I have highlighted earlier on, we took the same peace message to the provinces and districts around the country to remind them of the need for promoting peace before, during and after elections. The results of these provincial and district Peace Pledge meetings, Peace Caravan Road and Town Show was a peaceful environment before, during and the harmonised elections of July 30.
After elections in all cities and towns except in Harare and Bulawayo, there was a peaceful environment. All this points to the fact that if people are united for a common cause, even in their struggle, peace will always prevail. You cannot convince me to come along with you if we are not at peace with each other. We have believe in each other.
As far as I am concerned, unity is the bedrock of peace and development, for a divided nation cannot prosper economically, socially, politically or culturally, neither can it defend itself.
EZ: Since part of the functions of NPRC is promotion of unity, what is your take on the post-election violence of August 1, which left six people dead and scores of others injured?
GTC: We grieved for our nation. After observing peaceful campaigns, after observing peaceful elections, you awoke to violence and death. We were the first to grieve. We were the first victims, because we have been nationally advocating peace. Then all of a sudden peace is snatched away from our grip. We grieved! We grieved, and we felt that after moving ten steps forward, somebody takes us 15 steps backwards.
People do not know how hard we worked to make sure that there was peace during the campaign period. It’s only that we do not always publicly announce whatever we do or would have done. The nation, however, should at least give us credit that the campaign was peaceful, and the election period was peaceful.
This unfortunate incident of August 1st pained us more than anyone else, because our success was snatched as a result of a single incident. It’s like you have 20 litres of milk and someone drops a grain of salt into it. All of it turns sour, just like that. Imagine!
EZ: What is your comment on the Motlanthe Commission report, especially on the issue of compensation?
GTC: As NPRC, we have received the report, and we are still studying it so that we come up with an appropriate response.
EZ: So what is your comment on compensation of victims as a starting point in the healing process?
GTC: Let me say all our programmes as NPRC are victim-centred. In their wisdom after analysing the testimonies, after analying everything that had been said, they saw it in their wisdom to make sure that people who lost their loved ones are compensated. Some were breadwinners, so as a victim-centred commission they thought that some form of compensation was needed.
EZ: In your experience as a commissioner, do you think monetary compensation may be enough for the healing process?
GTC: Monetary compensation can never be enough my friend, for a child, a young student who has lost his/her father or mother. That spells poverty. That spells uncertainty. So there can never be enough compensation. Whatever is given is merely an acknowledgement that something wrong happened, but it’s not satisfactory. It will never be 100 percent satisfactory, but it’s an expression of grief. Even if the situation cannot be corrected, it’s an expression of the grief felt. It is an expression of how sorry we are for your loss, even though we can no longer change the situation.
With this please accept our expression of grief. That is what it means. We have had cases in our consultations where people would put it clearly that they lost their husbands, who were breadwinners, and their children had gone on to marry and start their own families. But because they could not continue with their education, their lives remained sorry ones, and their children would, therefore, remain in poverty.
Upon asking them what they feel would be enough compensation to at least help them out halfway to mitigate the prospect of poverty to their grandchildren, they would say that a scholarship fund would be what they feel adequate to uplift them. They want free university education for their grandchildren.
EZ: And this aspect of compensation was recommended by the Motlanthe Commission. So the report is spot on here?
GTC: Yes, that is what I feel; that compensation should go beyond monetary aspects. When families lose breadwinners, they need to be helped to cope with their loss. They need to be empowered so that poverty does not lay base at their doorsteps.
EZ: In future, how can politically motivated violence be mitigated with the view to encourage unity, which ultimately leads to peace?
GTC: The NPRC has a mandate to educate the public on the sources of conflict and violence. Economic inequality among people can lead to conflict and violence. Political and social inequality can lead to violence. Exclusion in political participation can lead to conflict and violence.
EZ: Sentiment is rife that as a commission you tend to be reactionary as you respond after the aftermaths of conflict are already in the public glare. Are there plans to have your teams on the ground in potential conflict zones to gather information which may be valuable in future?
GTC: The NPRC has developed and launched its 5-year Strategic Plan and the Implementation Plans, which will see the Commission on the ground once the Budget Provisions are released In the New Year. We are launching provincial and district Peace
Committees to promote peace dialogues in every part of the country. The commission sent Election Monitors and observers to as many polling stations as we could. Remember all this work was being done by the Commissioners themselves.
The Commission does not have a full Secretariat. To this day we have only one person, the Executive Secretary, who started work on December 3, 2018 and two more seconded staff. We are, however, recruiting soon, and will be up and about in the coming year.
The NPRC has been engaging its partners and key stakeholders. We have engaged the Chiefs through the National Chiefs Council and the Annual Chief’s Conference. We have a Research and Documentation Division, which was established especially for that purpose.
EZ: There is talk of a Government of National Unity (GNU), particularly from some quarters of the opposition. As the idea of a GNU appealing to you as NPRC?
GTC: Constitutionally, commissioners should not indulge in political commentary. We are non-partisan. We are, however, Interested in political formulas that bring about sustainable peace in Zimbabwe. Our interest is Peace, Peace, and Peace on a sustainable basis.
EZ: Traditional leaders are calling for dialogue, and involvement in issues pertaining to Matabeland and the Midlands disturbances of the 1980s commonly referred to as Gukurahundi. What is your response to that?
GTC: We are already working together with them to come up with the best
strategy to deal with the Gukurahundi issue. They know their communities, so there is need to work as partners.
EZ: Would you consider the composition of the commission reflective of the expectations of the people of Zimbabwe, especially those from Matabeleland and the Midlands?
GTC: This is a much broader question. The idea of the Commission was initiated by Parliament. When the Commission was now on paper and in the Constitution, the Legislature came up with the criteria to recruit Commissioners.
They then advertised nationally for recommendations from the public. All districts were represented, and communities recommended those people they felt were peace-driven. Out of an initial 33 people, who were asked to come for interviews at Parliament, including those from as far as South Africa the number was reduced to 16, then to 12, and finally eight.
All regions were covered. It is up to parliamentarians to determine who came from where, or how to correct the imbalances that people are raising. There are imbalances, yes, but it is not up to us to correct it. It is a constitutional issue that we have no power or influence over.
EZ: What is your message to Zimbabweans as the year 2018 draws to a close?
GTC: I would like to impress it on fellow Zimbabweans that as we come to the end of 2018 and begin 2019, we should bear in mind that unity is the foundation of peace. Unity is the foundation of development, and prosperity.
We were given an opportunity to keep our country together by our leaders put their differences aside to sign the Unity Accord on December 22, 1987.
We can never develop if we are divided. Unity is the foundation of freedom. We fought for our freedom, but we can easily lose that freedom if we are not united. No nation that is divided can ever succeed.
Fellow Zimbabweans, God desires peace and prosperity for our nation. Let us remain united!
Happy New Year!