Defending human rights is my passion: Bere

BY EVERSON MUSHAVA

DZIKAMAI Bere vividly remembers how his first job as a magistrate over a decade ago managed to shape his career as a human rights defender in a country that is not only strewn with State-sponsored human rights violations, but whose soiled past needs nothing less than genuine transitional justice.

Bere said presiding over several cases of human torture as a magistrate in Bulawayo made him discover his calling and that the country desperately needed people who could champion the cause of human rights.

“Early, it was just frustration that you can’t do much from the bench,” Bere said.

A holder of degrees in history, law as well as a masters in conflict transformation, majoring in law and human rights, Bere now has a career spanning 10 years
in human rights after dumping the magistrates’ bench.

But still at the age of 38, he says the 10 years are just the beginning, he dreams big and wants to change the country’s human rights record at a time “the State has shown a tendency to go on riot again its people”.

His efforts have not gone without recognition.

Last month, Bere was conferred with the Presidential Precinct, in recognition of his leadership role in civil society.

“We cannot imagine a more deserving candidate than Dzikamai Bere, to receive this distinction.” said John Grisham, a US lawyer and best-selling author while
speaking at the awards ceremony.
Presidential Precinct executive director Neal Piper said Bere had a unique leadership approach to bringing people together.

“His approach to bringing people together within the country, seeing a challenge and not waiting on the sidelines for someone else to make a difference, but
standing up for all people in Zimbabwe. That is why we are honoured to have him as part of our global family,” Piper said.

But Bere says what is unique about this award is that many times, accolades are given to people who are the chief executive officers (CEOs) of their
organisations. But he is not. He considers himself a grassroots catalyst.

“This is important because it teaches other young people in organisations the leadership philosophy of (the late former South African President and luminary)
Nelson Mandela, that leadership is not positional, but behavioural. It is influence. It does not matter that you are not the CEO. Use your talents to catalyse
change, no matter how far you are from the top,” Bere said.
Now the programme director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and co-ordinator of the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG), Bere said his
co-ordination role for both the NGO Forum, NTJWG and the Anti-Impunity Campaign was probably what excited those that honoured him.

He said what makes him tick was his appreciation of the sanctity of life, team work and diplomatic approach to leadership in a heavily polarised community.

His passion in human rights work, he said, has been motivated by the desire to unite people and find long-lasting peace.

“Zimbabwe is a broken society, too polarised because it has experienced a century of conflict. The culture of human rights abuse and impunity still sits at the
heart of the State. Unless and until we do something, we will continue to be locked up in conflicts,” Bere said.

“Upon this realisation, throughout my studies, I realised that one day, I will want to take a career in fighting for human rights. It is a calling that I
answered positively and am not in it for money, defending human rights is my passion.”

Bere revealed that the recognition by the Presidential Precinct in the United States last month was the beginning of more things to come.
Since 2009, Bere worked in the area of policy advocacy, human rights research and transitional justice after dumping government where he worked as a magistrate
in Bulawayo.

In 2013, he was part of a team that co-ordinated the establishment of NTJWG, a platform of 46 Zimbabwean civil society organisations working in the area of
justice, healing and reconciliation.

Since 2014, NTJWG has mobilised civil society groups to engage the State on the necessity of a transitional justice policy for Zimbabwe, resulting in the
operationalisation of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 and promulgation of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Act in 2018 and the adoption of the 2018 Strategy for Transitional Justice Policy for Zimbabwe by over 99 NTJWG stakeholders.

Bere says his success in the portfolios he manages was made possible by the finest crop of Zimbabwean human rights defenders he works with.

“There are people like Jestina Mukoko, Blessing Gorejena, Alec Muchadehama and Paul Themba Nyathi; I am truly blessed that I spent the last decade of my life
under their tutelage,” Bere said.

The youthful leader remembers August 29, 2009, when he facilitated his first transitional justice dialogue at Holy Cross, Honde Valley, in Manicaland — a
beautiful village torn apart by violence and conflict.

“There began my human rights journey which took me to over 3 189 homes, to ask a very basic question: How can we build peace in our country?” he said.

Since then, Bere said, it has been a decade of simple human conversations that have driven Zimbabwe to make significant strides towards confronting its
terrible past and making a commitment towards “Never Again”.

Bere says he is a Pan-Africanist who believes in active leadership.

“I believe that what our society today needs cannot be outsourced. It cannot be outsourced to politicians. It cannot be outsourced to civil society, and God
forbid — it cannot be left to government. We all must step forward, and take control of what our society is crying for. Eighty percent of our problems as a
country would disappear if we took public matters personally, because they are personal.”

Bere says it is this belief which inspires him in human rights work to motivate more actors to be involved in the campaign for transitional justice.

“We need a civil society that is robust beyond mere individuals, but structurally, broad-based personnel and sustainability on the resource side.

“Think about August 1 (2018 post-election protests), and the January shutdown (anti-fuel price hike protest) atrocities. I find these two events so heart-
breaking and yet I find consolation that we have a robust civil society that has refused to keep quiet about things that matter.”

“Our struggle for peace and justice has taken so long such that many have left the country and we are now suffering from fatigue,” he added.

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