Tears in Matabeleland


He sits with unquestionable dignity in his wheelchair. A tall lean dark man, who gives the impression of having been folded over twice in order to fit into his chair.

When he speaks, his voice is startlingly strong, and his message is clear as it rings across the room.

He is unemotional as he recounts his story, but all around him, we are wiping our eyes. We are weeping.

Councillor E Ncube is just one of the people who participated in the Independent Dialogue on transitional justice held on Wednesday morning.

Bulawayo delivered a warm sunny day in its usual fashion, but within the walls of the Bulawayo Club, there was a chill in the air, and the pain was palpable.

At the top table there are two empty chairs which should have been occupied by representatives of Zanu PF and MDC-T.

I take a couple of pictures of the empty seats and think to myself “Ghost chairs,” with a chuckle. Then I realise it is these ghosts who are running the country, and my little private joke is not so funny any more.

Proceedings open with Kucaca Phulu of the Abammeli Human Rights Lawyers giving an overview of the meaning of transitional justice and placing this into context in the Zimbabwean situation.

He speaks of accountability, truth- telling and a victim-led process. These are things I have heard or read before, though I am one of thousands who waits to see them realised in Zimbabwe.

Then he speaks of the importance of gender sensitivity in transitional justice and he has my full attention.

For me the most depressing input of the entire conversation was the presentation made by the co-minister of National Healing and Reconcilliation, Moses Mzila-Ndlovu.

I’ve heard many people speak on the condition of Zimbabwe’s government of national unity (GNU), or its transitional inclusive government, depending on who you are talking to. But I have never heard anything that filled me with such hopelessness and despair.

Similarly, I have been a facilitator and MC at many events, from beauty pageants to business dialogues, from kitchen teas to training seminars.

But I have never had to hand over the microphone to someone else because tears threatened to overwhelm me. Until this day.

The minister is frank and open about his role in the GNU. He acknowledges that he was on the periphery of the negotiations that resulted in the global political agreement and admits that Article 7, which seeks to bring about a process of national healing and reconciliation, is deeply flawed.

“The quality of the agreement is faulty. . . the framework is faulty” he confesses. He speaks of the vagaries surrounding the nature of the Organ for National Healing and reports on the commissioning of a research project which is to be carried out by a group of academics led by Professor Ngwabi Bhebhe.

This is one of the efforts that the Organ has made to kick-start the process of healing in Zimbabwe.

But the rest of his presentation is the story of an abusive relationship.

He speaks of how meetings between the Organ and villagers are disrupted; of the contempt the police have for the process.

He recounts the Organ’s two-year-long effort to get a meeting with the head of security, which process still has not yielded any success.

The minister closes by telling the audience in no uncertain terms that the Organ does not in fact have the power to implement a process of national healing and that it has little or no real authority.

The words which he repeats several times and which leave me desolate are: “We are emasculated.”

I hate this word “emasculate” and I hate it all the more when I hear it spoken by a man, referring to himself.

What he is in fact saying is: We are rendered impotent, we have no power, we are made ineffective and invalid.

I listen to this man and wish it was a third party describing the Organ, so that he would have the chance to argue, to explain or to rebut. But it is the Organ itself and so there is no one to disagree.

The minister poses a question which no one can answer: “If you are emasculated and you are assigned to such an important task, then what do you do?”

The Zapu representative at this dialogue is Advocate Stephen Nkiwane, an eloquent speaker, whose anguish is perceptible even under the veneer of his amusing and witty parlance.

Nkiwane is scathing and unapologetic in his description of the GNU. His candid take on the role of the two MDCs in government is:

“They are not honourable, but honorary ministers. They hold the title but have no ministerial powers.”

What he is describing is the same emasculation that the minister talked about earlier.

He goes on to talk about the lack of trust in the police force, the apathy of Cabinet ministers who have done nothing about the haphazard exhumations currently taking place, and the indignities of enduring poverty caused by other people’s corruption. Of the GNU he says:

“I see no unity . . . I see no government.” At some point in his presentation this gentleman, who is well over 60 years old, is weeping.

When all the speakers have spoken and participants have asked questions and been answered, the room is cleared, and the people of this city take their hopelessness back home with them.

If they were hoping that they could gain some relief for their pain from this dialogue, they know now that this was a false hope.

Earlier in the morning, while waiting for the dialogue to begin, a colleague tells me how he went out the night before and witnessed a pair of policemen beating up a woman whom they had stripped down to her underwear.

He doesn’t know why she was enduring this public beating. He shows me the photos he took on his phone and I too witness in hazy snapshots the bewilderment of a woman in red panties cowering under a policeman’s baton.

One of the last people to leave is Judith Garfield Todd, author of Through the Darkness and I sense that she too was weeping.

Whether her sorrow is for the past or the present, I do not know. What I do know is that I and thousands of other Zimbabweans want our sorrow to end, want an end to the tears.