Motlanthe commission disturbances: Unjustified actions
VIOLENCE at a violence inquiry meeting is fast becoming a description of Bulawayo; a bad reference. While the State is transforming into a space of tolerance and national healing, it seems the attempts are futile whenever they are in Bulawayo.
Please note, the concerns that raise alarm and discontent at public hearings in Bulawayo could be genuine, depending on where you are standing, but the problem is how they are delivered. It is my strongest belief that when the principle of processes versus outcome is ignored, we usher ourselves into an edge of chaos..
However, genuine an issue is; when it is clumsily presented, its density vanishes and empathisers soon cease to identify with your cause — this is exactly what happened on Friday at the Rainbow Hotel in Bulawayo, mind you, it is not the first time: in February an NPRC meeting was halted, on 24 October 2011 a public hearing on the Electoral Amendment bill was halted, among a litany.
In the development community, there is an increasing focus on a number of aspects that overlap with the interests of the security community. It is recognised that peace and stability are important contributors to economic and social development, especially to states in class transit. Not to be ignored, instruments of conflict management can either exacerbate conflict or help to transform conflict dynamics and contribute to peace building. At the same time, it has long been accepted in the development business that the building of State institutions and “good government” is critical to the achievement of developmental objectives.
According to theorists, conflict management means constructive handling of differences. It is an art of designing appropriate institutions to guide inevitable conflict into peaceful channels. The importance of conflict management cannot be overemphasised. It is when leaders and States fail to address important issues and basic needs that violence brews. Nowhere is conflict management and peaceful resolution of conflict more important than in Zimbabwe now.
The Motlante Commission’s agenda is to seek insight on what transpired on 1 August 2018. The post-election violence that broke out in Harare are the centre of focus. It has nothing to do with ethnicity as it equally does not take away the importance of openly discussing about Gukurahundi as facilitated by the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
Genuine contests; misplaced reasoning The hearings about August 1, 2018, for a disturbing moment, were halted by inquisition of why there is a Commission that focuses on six people yet there are more people that died in Matabeleland and Midlands. The disturbances became conflict. Another argument was that previous Commission reports have not been publicised, why should people believe differently now. While I recognise the grievances raised, I have two responses to them.
First, quantifying loss of life is not justifiable under any circumstances. You cannot discount importance of a Commission based on the number of lives lost as if grief is measurable or has a threshold; in any case, the loss of life is impermissible and regrettable. Society should not (dis)qualify grief based on the severity or the quantity of those affected or passed on lest we appear as hypocrites who decide what and which life is more important and who deserves to grieve or should receive closure.
Closure has nothing to do with the number of those who lost lives or affected but everything to do with how we handle grief and setting a precedence that ensures that similar violence does not recur. Pain is not homogenous hence I find the reasoning of disturbing the hearings misplaced and mischaracterised. It is as if those who raised alarm are monopolising grief or suddenly became prefects of bereavement. The upheaval at the Commission hearings in Bulawayo were pinned with a mast of ethnic essentialism, a character that is now dominating the Gukurahundi narrative. If not checked, ethnic conflicts are contagious and can spread quickly across borders like cancer cells. Demanding the Motlanthe inquiry to deviate from its agenda defies the primary reason of its assemblage. From the chaos there of, I deduced that we are far from national healing as a country if our response to conflict management is aggression loaded with ethnic particularism. A mischaracterised approach to “violence as a liberating tool” defies all logic of modernity especially if we still do not understand the reason why we are where we are.
Secondly, the fact that past Commissions have not publicised their findings is not reason enough even under trend analysis to disqualify this Commission. Clearly, a mainstay of political science is that institutions matter, also when it comes to societal conflicts. It is folly to adjudicate the presumed outcome of this Commission with different people, investigating a different issue and operating in a different political environment based on the failures of the first Republic. What makes the logic of disturbing the proceedings more problematic is that they bank on emotions (respectably) but void of reasoning. When you allow emotions to precede logic, you fall into the same trap of denying others what you are demanding — truth and reconciliation, the same reason you demanded the NPRC.
Cataclysms of sponsored thinking
At this plug, it is expected that civil society plays a significant role in informing society on public participation, subject relevance and strategy of engagement in circumstances of emotional rapture. Sadly, the role of civil society currently is to patron people with misinformed narratives that are presumed to challenge the State — a fundraising strategy for their ill motives. The failure on the part of Civil Society to objectively facilitate and moderate conflict resolution creates a huge gap in our democracy.
We have a void of a credible and formidable opposition and now we are losing a credible and formidable civil society. The ugliness stretches when the expected CSOs are from Bulawayo, publicly known to be generating donor begging concepts commercialising Gukurahundi. When the victims are absent from such hearings and they are represented by institutions whose integrity is questionable, slowly but surely, pain is being tempered with. This argument stands especially when an “irrelevant” subject is raised by the same people from the same organisation at every meeting yet they cannot discuss the subject beyond what they have been drilled.
Dealing with conflict
To understand what happened on Friday we have to look at the actors, their subject and the currency of their subject. The actors, with their genuine issue, but in the wrong space, are an ethnic particularistic group who have been known for their stance on Gukurahundi. Friday morning, in Nkulumane, they moved around mobilising their supporters to attend the hearings and question the Commission on why it is focusing on a case where less people died than in 1983. They were hatching conflict.
An important theory on conflict and conflict management is John Burton’s (1979, 1997) human needs theory. This approach to conflict explains that groups fight because they are denied not only their biological needs, but also psychological needs that relate to growth and development. These include peoples’ need for identity, security, recognition, participation, and autonomy. This theory provides a plausible explanation of conflicts in Zimbabwe, where such needs have not easily met. Two truths that we have always missed: Zimbabwe has a disturbing history of colonialism and white repression, which generated hatred and conflict among different ethnic groups hence in differences, ethnicity is thrown around.
The task of addressing these seeds of conflict planted by the British has been a complex one; far beyond what many accentuate rapid responses would address. Secondly, after weakening our kingdoms and reordering societies, the colonial powers failed in nation building and providing for the people’s basic needs. Therefore, we have to build a nation, but it involves the State, Civil Society, churches and individuals in concientising each other on which subjects to raise where and how to raise it. Phambili ngeZimbabwe!