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Reconciliation is more than just the truth

20 Oct 2019 at 23:47hrs | Views
Not long ago the Speaker of Parliament Advocate Jacob Mudenda addressed the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) capacity building workshop held in Bulawayo. In his candid and poignant speech, he urged the Justice Selo Nare led NPRC to advocate for a national apology for past conflicts, particularly Gukurahundi genocide where more than 20 000 innocent civilians were killed by the notorious Fifth Brigade soldiers created by the late president Robert Mugabe and his lieutenants. The massacres took place mainly in rural parts of Matabeleland and some parts of Midlands.

Mudenda said a confession from government would help the country move on from its past and pave way for successful reconciliation, national healing and integration.

Zimbabweans should take heart, however when it comes to national reconciliation, because they are following in the footsteps of a fine African tradition. In Kenya under President Jomo Kenyatta, for example, a similar policy was pursued with much success. "I myself suffered for long," he once wrote, "but I promise you I am not bitter. I ask those of you who still have hatred in your hearts to cast it aside." A happy prosperous nation could not build, he felt, while harbouring ill-feelings about the past. He developed this idea in a speech in 1963 when he said: "One thing I want to make it clear is this. We must learn to forgive each other. There is no perfect society anywhere. We are human beings, and as such we are bound to make mistakes. But there is a perfect gift we can exercise, that is to forgive one another…"

The tragedy of Zimbabwe is that it is the politicians who are in the forefront shaping and driving truth telling, reconciliation, forgiveness and reconciliation agenda. This is all deceptive and empty talk. Politicians cannot bring about national unity since politics is the art of divisiveness.

It is also not in the interest of politicians to have peace and tranquillity, since a united people will automatically diminish the power of politicians.

It is important to take cognisance that reconciliation does not belong in the sphere of politics. It is a theological and spiritual concept symbolised in the Christian theology by the incarnation. The Christmas hymn "Hark the Herald Angel Sing'', says it well.

Many families in Zimbabwe will go through the normal process of grieving and healing before reconciliation. Healing of individual traumas and reconciliation of communities go together. Social justice and legal justification and restoration of injustice are needed as well as attending to people's spiritual anguish.

Forgiveness, of course, is not solely the prerogative of Christianity, though it is pivotal to it, nor indeed is it the prerogative of religious people alone. It is rather a state of mind and heart which recognises that life on earth can never be utopian, and that the checks and balances which democratic societies have carefully established, sometimes over centuries, are important.

Zimbabweans must wrestle theologically with this experience and interpret it religiously as well as culturally, personally and politically. They will need specially to explore the hinterland between forgiveness and repentance, and which comes first, as well as the vexed relation of justice to forgiveness. They need to ask themselves, too, if there can ever be healing for thousands if there is no restitution or reparation for past wrongs and if a more caring society is not created.

For NPRC to succeed it will take people outside the realm of politics to facilitate the process of reconciliation, and ultimately forgiveness.

Churches are in a unique position to influence political developments, providing social cohesion at a time of national fragmentation and gathering international support in the struggle for justice and democracy. But even more, they are in daily touch with the people, they often have larger and more committed membership than political parties and, in many instances, their understanding of the situation on the ground is better than that of politicians. The churches pastoral responsibility is to help everyone to recognise the nature and extent of his or her guilt, and to confess it in appropriate ways.

The aim of any truth commission or confession of guilt must always be forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. The reality of this process does require, however a further step- not punishment and vengeance, but appropriate reparations. Reparation means affirmative action on behalf of all who have been unjustly disadvantaged, brutalised and butchered.

If the first obligation of the church is to keep those in power accountable, its second responsibility is to enable those who are powerless and aggrieved to become empowered so that they can participate as equals in the exercise power.

If the NPRC is only trying to find the truth so that justice can be done in the form of amnesty, trials and compensation, then it is not for truth, but for justice. If it sees truth as the widest possible compilation of people's perceptions, stories, myths and experience, then it has chosen the road of healing, of restoring memory and humanity.

If truth alone is set as a goal, the society maybe outraged and polarised due to knowledge of hideous acts committed that have no consequences for the perpetrators. Reconciliation in practice, says the mediator John Paul Lederach, is to help create the social space and the mechanisms by which justice, peace, truth and mercy can meet.

The bloodshed was great. The nation needs an explanation. The nation seeks it. The nation demands it.

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Tamsanqa Mlilo
Director at Mediation for Peace and Human Rights Centre and is a human rights activist and social commentator.
E-mail: tammlilo@hotmail.com

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