Civil society organisations recently met to assess the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission’s (NPRC) work, the recently signed NPRC Act, prospects for transitional justice in the country and their role in the process.
The meeting organised by the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG), a main driver of civil society’s push for the inclusion of the body in the 2013 Constitution, happened in Harare on Wednesday, February 7, 2017.
Opening the meeting, NTJWG Vice Chairperson, Paul Themba Nyathi, said it was not proper for the New Dispensation birthed by the military’s Operation Restore Legacy in November 2017 to urge people to “let bygones be bygones” as that was contrary to Zimbabwe’s Constitution, the NPRC Act and the tenets of justice.
Nyathi’s comments were in response to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has repeatedly called for people in the country to “let bygones be bygones” as part of the new government’s policy.
“The operational narrative is now that ‘let bygones be bygones’. But I have not seen a just society built on impunity,” lamented Nyathi, adding that such pleadings from the Executive miss what is needed in building a just society.
“The role of the NPRC, as I understand it, is to mend a broken nation. The role of the NPRC is to build a [united] nation where we have failed in the past.”
Nyathi wondered whether the events of November 2017, did not raise “new transitional justice issues,” adding that Zimbabweans should characterise things as they are and appreciate that “we had 37 years that were sterile under Mugabe, but that does not means what happened …was not a coup.”
Responding to the stakeholders review proceedings on micro-blogging site Twitter, human rights lawyer and researcher, Otto Saki, suggested the country needed a well-formulated transitional justice policy beyond the NPRC Act.
The NTJWG is made up of 46 Zimbabwean non-governmental organisations, including ZimRights, representing various transitional justice stakeholders, as an interface platform between transitional justice stakeholders and official transitional justice processes.
Stakeholders analysed the president’s announcement that chiefs would play a major role in the NPRC process, especially when they are beneficiaries of government’s privileged programs and benefits such as car schemes.
The NPRC was scheduled to start consultations in Gwanda and Bindura on Friday, February 9, 2018, but an urgent court application by the Human Rights NGO Forum on Februrary 6, 2017, interidicted the Commission from carrying out any work before the appointment of a substantive chairperson.
Civil society called for safety of attendants as such meetings have been marred by disruptions and ease access to the venue, noting that the first NPRC briefing had been done at venue where people are not comfortable to enter at Munhumutapa Building.
Human Rights Lawyer, Tafadzwa Christmas, said the NPRC Act had left to clarify many issues such as the period it would cover, the various committees which should be set up, and the agenda, compared to laws which have been made for purposes of transitional justice in other jurisdictions such as Sri Lanka and South Africa.
“The Act does not clearly set out the transitional justice agenda. Is it there to let bygones be bygones, or it will facilitate reparations? While this lack of clarity is good because it allows flexibility, it is bad because it leaves too much discretion to the Commissioners,” said Christmas.
The stakeholders also pointed out that the NPRC process was coming at a time when there had been no real transition, which meant there would be unique challenges, compared to countries which went through transitional justice processes.
NTJWG Coordinator, Dzikamai Bere, said the NPRC process was the product of a protracted struggle for justice, making it necessary to promote and safeguard citizens’ free and meaningful participation the NPRC process.
Bere pointed out that Zimbabwe had a fertile history of failed commissions, urging all stakeholders to work hard and make sure that the case of the NPRC would be different.