The Common Good

Truth and Reconciliation in Zimbabwe?

Last week the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) pledged to support the program on national healing in Zimbabwe. The aim of the program is to address the history of political violence in Zimbabwe, including the recent post-election violence as well as ongoing political violence. The program was stalled because of lack of funding, but with the pledge from the UN, it is set to resume.

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The program has the potential not only to bring healing to communities but also to address the causes of political violence as part of the healing process. The latter is particularly important because healing requires justice and freedom -- a context that is free from political violence and where people feel free to share their experiences without fear.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa is an example of a process of national healing that operates in a context of political freedom and democracy. Although the TRC was not perfect, it created a unique space for perpetrators of violence and their victims to meet, share their stories, and confess wrongdoing. In many cases victims forgave their perpetrators, so that healing was the outcome for both perpetrator and victim.

Last month I attended a workshop hosted by a local university that reminded me and other participants of the enduring power of the TRC. The workshop began with an hour-long dialogue between Rolf Meyer, the former minister of police during the apartheid era, and Antoinette Peterson, the sister of Hector Peterson. Rolf Meyer was also the chief negotiator for the National Party in negotiations with the ANC, which led to a peaceful transition and the first democratic elections, in which Nelson Mandela was elected as the first president of a democratic South Africa. Hector was one of the pupils who was shot dead during the Soweto student uprising in 1976.

As I listened to the dialogue , it was clear that healing had taken place. They shared their journeys and spoke truthfully without minimizing the tragedy of apartheid, and yet they were able to transcend their pasts and walk together into the future with hope. It was a sacred moment that will continue to live with me.

As I reflect on the situation in Zim, I recognize the absence of some essential variables that were present in the South African context. So while the process of healing is important and victims are being helped, progress can still be made. Perpetrators should be involved in the process of creating an environment where the factors that led to the violence are identified. Those factors can then be confronted with the vision of creating a society where political violence has no place. Churches and NGOs are in the forefront of this process. Grace to Heal, which was featured on this blog, is an example of this work.

A friend of mine, Nosisa, attended a workshop run by an organization called Mediators Beyond Borders. This is what she said about the workshop and her own vision for peace and healing:

The Mediators Beyond Borders program is meant to create a pool of mediators who go out into the communities to assist them solve conflicts at a local level. I hope you are aware of the conflicts that we have gone through as a country in general and in particular the trauma the people of Matebeleland have gone through. Some of the victims have never opened up to say what happened, which they witnessed, and still suffer from memories of the past. I am happy that we are now talking about healing and reconstruction as a country which I believe will lead to the healing of the wounds, as long as the process is seen as sincere.

I got involved into this program through my links with Rotary programs, as I was sponsored by Rotary to do a course in Conflict and Peace Studies in Thailand, 2007 (hope you still remember). From that training I realised that as mothers we have a role to play in bringing up children in a peaceful manner, so that in turn they promote a culture of peace in the society. I was also trained in Alternatives to Violence, a program that looks at an individual's contibution to peace making, by ensuring that the individual is at peace within self. These programs are part of the organisation's wishes to take along to the communities as a way of promoting peace in the region. This is the bit about my contribution to peace building, but I am happy to mention that this is where my heart is, to bring a change in the way people perceive themselves.

I am excited about women being involved in peace-building because of their role in families and communities. If you want to find out more about this program and the vision of Nosisa, please communicate directly with her at nosisanc@hotmail.com.

"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God" Matthew 5 v9.

Your prayers mean a lot. Please continue praying and find an entry point where you can be involved.

Nontando HadebeNontando Hadebe, a former Sojourners intern, is originally from Zimbabwe and is now pursuing graduate studies in theology in South Africa.

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