A case for endogenous transitional justice mechanisms in Zimbabwe

THE recently-ended transitional justice policy symposium hosted by the National Transitional Justice Working Group ought to be celebrated as a watershed upon which springs of healing and reconciliation are bound to emanate from to address past injustices in a contextual manner.

guest column: Debra G Sithole

Nonetheless, the symposium failed to appreciate the cultural constituents of affected societies and individuals by lobbying for the adoption of generic and blanket post-conflict panaceas which are theoretically efficient yet culturally non-conforming which is bound to result in still-birth of post-conflict processes in Zimbabwe.

In a complimentary manner one ought to appreciate South African Anglican cleric Desmond Tutu’s philosophy which exhibits a strong case for endogenous justice practises as he further opines that;

“Western style justice does not fit within the African jurisprudence. The African view of justice is aimed at the healing of breaches, the redressing of imbalances and the restoration of broken relationships. This kind of justice seeks to rehabilitate both the victim and the perpetrator, who should be given an opportunity to be reintegrated into the community he/she has injured by his or her offence.”

Hence, it is within the acceptable parameters of this assertion that one is justified to criticise policy alternatives which seek to impose culturally-indifferent transitional justice (TJ) mechanisms in a bid to redress the past in an African setting.

In the same mosaic, while exhibiting a strong case for the adoption of endogenous justice systems, it is worthy to note that the ubuntu philosophy is the over-arching element of African-oriented justice which attests to our African being.

Resultantly, our traditional practices become the ultimate “function” of the TJ equation as they become relatable, regionally relevant and overally effective in pursuing the Zimbabwean TJ agenda.

In grappling with the notion at hand, it is of essence to note that the symposium bears the criticism of repulsing possibilities of constitutionally recognising home-grown justice mechanisms inclusive of ngozi, kuchenura, umbuyiso, kurova guva, botso, nhimbe/ilima and dare which are employed within the cultural contexts of each region conforming to language, culture and practice which are bound to have a positive bearing on the entire TJ process in Zimbabwe.

Added to this, Lederach advocates for a bottom-up approach in post-conflict peace building, which entails the ultimate prioritisation of grassroots and local community involvement in the reconstruction, rehabilitation and healing of their respective societies.

Nonetheless, the TJ symposium gave an unfair advantage to the top-down perspective, playing a prescriptive role which ultimately becomes lethal to the entire TJ process.


Over and above, such tendencies eliminate the sense of local ownership of the post-conflict processes as the implementing body presumably pursues its own agendas and preferences as opposed to those for whom the programmes are intended for.

Moreover, one is justified to contend that post-conflict justice processes ought to occur within the natural setting of the victims or perpetrators as transitional processes employed in this manner tend to exhibit cultural conformity and relevance to prevailing conflict dynamics.

With this in mind, the administration of TJ processes within the natural setting of target communities ought to be a priority which cannot be overstated as it indirectly concretises the need to implement culturally relevant mechanisms towards the effective transformation of conflicts.

As such it goes without saying that TJ in Zimbabwe is not merely a concept which should be dictated upon affected societies, but rather a component of ubuntu that should be harnessed, collectively implemented and not eliminated if effective post-conflict justice is to be achieved.

In summation, this piece merely argues that TJ policy processes must be inclusive with the constitutional recognition and legitimisation of endogenous TJ mechanisms as they attest to our African being.

Be that as it may be, precedence has been set by the success stories of the Gacaca in Rwanda, the Magamba spirits in Mozambique, the Xeer in Somalia as well as the Mato-oput in Uganda.

Taken together, Zimbabwe can never go wrong with the formalisation of traditional justice systems as one of its many avenues towards a utopian post-conflict nation.

In exhibiting a case for TJ in Zimbabwe one is set to appreciate that TJ processes must be flexible and liberalised. Hence, policymakers ought to recognise TJ as a shared responsibility which prioritises the culture and traditions of communities whom the processes are intended for.

Debra G Sithole is an independent researcher who is studying towards a BA in peace and conflict management

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