Nhimbes: An effective tool to achieve inclusive peace and reconciliation

Source: 12 June 2019Democracy, Human Rights

The 2008 harmonized elections and the subsequent presidential re-run in Zimbabwe left a trail of destruction to property, human life, displacements, and a buttered social fabric. More than 500 people lost their lives after the country’s bloodiest elections that saw unprecedented levels of politically-motivated violence mainly targeting opposition political party members and activists, human rights defenders, and the general citizens.

The massively divided communities were yelling for a response, reorientation and redirection towards sustainable social cohesion building and Heal Zimbabwe emerged as one of the champions in that regard. In the aftermath of the 2008 political violence, Heal Zimbabwe targeted 15 districts that had recorded the highest number or cases of human rights violations in the past electoral violence episodes dating back to the 2002 presidential elections. The target districts are Murehwa, Mutoko, Tsholotsho, Gokwe North, Gokwe south, Zaka, Gutu, Buhera, Mbire, Mazowe, Chipinge, Mutasa, Makoni, Bikita and Muzarabani.

From 2010-2018, Heal Zimbabwe utilized nhimbes or neutral collaborative platforms as one of the strategies to rally communities ravaged by violence together for dialogue, effective peace and reconciliation. Nhimbes are neutral platforms where people from diverse social-economic and political groupings come together to work as a community for the common good of their community or village. Nhimbes are also an organic Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) that follows the traditional practice of bringing together people to work as a community under the direction of a Traditional leader. These platforms promote a culture of working together, build social cohesion and help cement a sense of community and unity among community members.

Heal Zimbabwe Trust has so far managed to facilitate and a total of 1670 collaborative neutral platforms where over 50000 people from diverse socio-economic and political groupings came to work together as a way of building relations and promoting unity of purpose while collectively developing themselves and their areas. In essence, the nhimbes provided the target communities with a common platform to practically work on community cohesion and integration using the already existing networks for effective penetration and rallying of community members together for a refreshing process of finding each other again. They also provide platforms for communities to dialogue on key issues as well as appreciate the need for peaceful resolution and mitigation of conflicts which also feed into the higher organizational goal of improved capacity of communities to document, mitigate and manage conflict to prevent the recurrence of violence and intimidation.

The nhimbes were organized by 67 Community Peace clubs, 30 Women Safe Spaces for Reconciliation (WSSR) and 10 Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that Heal Zimbabwe established and is working with in the target communities. Authority from the traditional leaders was sought by the community peace structures before conducting the nhimbes and in some cases, the police were also notified. About 17879 community leaders participated in the collaborative processes including Traditional leaders, local councilors, and Ward Development Committees (WADCO) and Village Development Committee (VIDCO) members. Nhimbes took several forms including traditional farming collaborations from planting to harvesting, road maintenance, and various other community developmental projects.

In the target communities that HZT is operating in, a total of 1973 conflict mediation sessions were successfully conducted between 2010 and 2018. The 10 CBOs that HZT is working with mediated a combined total of 1 081 conflict cases in the target communities and again the conflict mediation sessions were initiated at the collaborative neutral platforms. These cases varied from family disputes, political conflicts, social conflicts and religious conflicts. The CBOs managed to resolve conflicts that had the potential of degenerating into open violence and this contributed effectively to peaceful coexistence within target communities. A survey carried out by HZT in 2018 revealed that about 70% of survivors of past violence assisted by the organization in target areas have taken steps to reconcile with perpetrators of violence or their relatives. Steps taken include publicly forgiving perpetrators and jointly agreeing to embrace forgiveness and participate in peace initiatives. This is largely attributed to initiatives such as the nhimbes that have helped in the provision of platforms for dialogue between the survivors and perpetrators.

Through initiatives such as the nhimbes, the organization has managed to rehabilitate survivors of politically motivated violence to regain their confidence in participating in democratic processes. Sixty two (19 women and 43 men) survivors of politically motivated violence who have been working with HZT since 2010 ran for various political offices during the 2018 harmonized elections. 23 of them won elections in various capacities. Heal Zimbabwe Trust has learnt that riding on indigenous knowledge systems and employing traditional approaches such as the nhimbes is a very effective way of ensuring community ownership of peace and reconciliation efforts and ultimately the building of social cohesion in polarized communities. In the same vein, involving traditional leaders in such efforts is fundamental to achieving the desired objectives as their buy-in is critical to community participation and sustainability of such initiatives.

Source: Heal Zimbabwe Trust