Mot­lanthe com­mis­sion dis­tur­bances: Un­jus­ti­fied ac­tions

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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!

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