The National Transitional Justice Working Group recently held a symposium for transitional justice in Bulawayo, which was attended by stakeholders that included members of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC). The deliberations quickly turned into an inquest on Gukurahundi atrocities, with activists demanding that government sets up a ‘truth commission’ to give victims closure. NewsDay (ND)chief reporter, Everson Mushava recently spoke with NPRC chairperson, Retired judge Justice Sello Nare (SN), to see how the commission intended to heal the open wounds. Below are excerpts of the interview.
INTERVIEW: Everson Mushava
ND: It is almost a year since your appointment as the NPRC chairperson. How would you describe the work done by the commission so far, and do you believe you are making a difference?
SN: It is almost about 10 months since I was appointed. Let me say the work is going on smoothly; so far so good. We have gone through a strategic planning phase, put in place our road map, and what we are left with now is to go to the people. We have identified the areas we must cover.
ND: One of the most emotive issues you have to deal with is the 1980s atrocities in Matabeleland and Midlands committed by the army and known as Gukurahundi. How far have you gone in addressing the issues around those atrocities?
SN: Right now, we are convinced that the Matabeleland and Midlands regions are the areas we must cover. We are going to set up peace committees in all the areas. We will start with the provincial set-up and go down to districts.
We have had meetings with the churches, and on December 4 met with the whole leadership of the traditional chiefs. I believe we will have all the committees set up and will be able to discuss the fact that we will be visiting their areas.
Chiefs want us to go to their places and would want us to answer certain questions. The President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) himself, when he was in the United States said he had appointed a commission and expected that the commission would report back to him. He was referring to the conflict in Matabeleland.
At this symposium, people have said their minds and are demanding answers on when we are visiting them. We have had accounts from victims of Gukurahundi. What we have to do now is to call for a meeting to try and resolve the problems using the local leadership.
ND: There have been concerns by victims in Matabeleland and Midlands after former President Robert Mugabe described the atrocities as “a moment of madness”, without actually owning up and talking on Gukurahundi. Is the Mnangagwa administration willing to let victims tell their story?
SN: The way I look at it, I think the new dispensation must come open on the issue. Vice-President Kembo Mohadi is eager for the commission to start working on this issue, and I am sure President Mnangagwa will talk to the chiefs soon and ask them if they can open space to meet our commission.
Once we have committees that will talk to the people in advance, we should be able to get their enthusiasm to discuss the issue and have closure. People are just as eager as us to discuss this issue and bring an end to the whole thing.
ND: Early this year, the commission’s hearings in Matabeleland were disrupted by activists who argue that the region is not well represented in the NPRC structures. Have you done anything to address those concerns?
SN: The issue has been given to the attention of VP Mohadi and I personally talked to him and next week I will write a letter to the VP so that something is done.
There must be to a certain extent a deliberate move to increase the number of persons with the Matabeleland background so that we can have movement into the whole thing.
Resources, however, are a challenge.
ND: We have the issue of Mnangagwa; some people from this region have suggested that he is one of the perpetrators of Gukurahundi atrocities. Do you think the President and his government are committed to resolving the Gukurahundi issue, given that they are accused of being some of the perpetrators?
SN: I cannot answer for him, but I know he is prepared and his approach is that this matter should be resolved. He is waiting to see what the commission is doing.
Government is willing to solve this. Once the commission gets vehicles, we will go to various places to meet people. Even without cars, this has not stopped us from visiting the people.
I have attended this symposium and will gladly report back to the authorities on how eager the people want closure to the issue. At the moment, we are getting help from the provincial ministers to meet the people.
ND: You have mentioned the issue of funding; the budget has come up. I understand just over $30 million has been allocated to the five independent commissions. Is it enough and are you allowed by the Constitution to receive funding from other sources?
SN: The Constitution allows us to receive donations without compromising our independence.
We have been receiving support from the United Nations Development Programme. They have assisted in many ways. A few more individual organisations like Ukhuthula Trust, Actor Alliance and the churches have assisted as well.
We will find how far we will go with what we have been allocated and report back to government if there is need for more funding. What we need now are operations vehicles.
ND: Has your commission directly interacted with victims of Gukurahundi, those that can’t get IDs and those who need compensation? If it has, how do they propose that the issues be dealt with?
SN: This is an urgent issue. I have personally interacted with them and approached the VP (Mohadi) about it; to see that the law at least is relaxed to enable the people to get the identity documents. I talked to the VP and will make a follow-up.
ND: Police allegedly harassed Zenzele Ndebele who recently produced a documentary on Gukurahundi. Do you think the relevant national institutions are playing their role in fostering national healing and ensuring that there is truth telling about past violence?
SN: I did not catch the air on it. We attended the first presentation of the film, we were invited and some police officers without reading the Act, have behaved otherwise, but it is because they are not knowledgeable about how we operate. But now, when this happens and I am made aware, I will talk to the police hierarchy.
We had a problem in June when we went for an exhumation. The member-in-charge in the area did not understand how I got to attend that meeting. Later on, I explained to him that it was a healing process and I should attend. He understood.
ND: The appointing authority has also been linked to electoral violence as the Zanu PF leader, especially in 2008 when several opposition supporters were killed. Is the NPRC going to address issues of political violence and is there likely to be sanctions for perpetrators?
SN: The issue of political violence has been on our cards; we will certainly look at political violence everywhere, Mashonaland Central, Masvingo, Bikita, among others if they are brought to us.
ND: Besides Gukurahundi, what other episodes in Zimbabwe’s history do you feel need to be revisited to achieve sustainable peace?
SN: The Chiadzwa violence and areas relating to the partisan distribution of food, but Murambatsvina is top on the priority. It has politics and issues of the economy.
ND: Given that your institution has a limited timespan and that it took long to be operationalised, will there be enough time to accomplish what you need?
SN: We are concerned with the time and we have asked the AG’s office to look into it.
ND: What is your final word to the people of Zimbabwe?
SN: We say co-operate with us; we won’t let you down; we will also come to you for your advice when dealing with these conflicts dividing our country. I am sure we will achieve.