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Is There A Future Of Sustainable Peace And Human Rights For Zimbabwe?

In the new Zimbabwe, there should not be room to romanticise about the past and its legacies.

23/11/2017 09:42 SAST | Updated 23/11/2017 12:12 SAST
Philimon Bulawayo/ Reuters
Supporters of Zimbabwe's former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa await his arrival in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 22, 2017.

When the news of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe's resignation broke on November 21, 2017, inexplicable elation filled the hearts of Zimbabweans all over the world.

During Mugabe's reign, over one-third of the population (4-million people) was forced to relocate to abroad to seek better opportunities for them and their families, as well as escape the iron-fisted rule of the former president. The end of an era marked the beginning of a newfound hope that released dormant life in the Zimbabwean community both in the country and around the world.

On November 22, 2017, the news broke that previously ousted vice-president and long-time Mugabe ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, will take his oath into the office of the presidency. This has been welcomed in regards to change for the southern African country, but must be engaged with from a nuanced position regarding the sustainability of human rights and good governance in the country.

Despite Mugabe's resignation and Mnangagwa's ascension -- and the prospects of a more favourable economic climate thereof -- Zimbabweans have not forgotten their past. For the Zimbabwean people, this new era represents the repossession of the Leviathan contract which they had lost during Mugabe's rule.

From Britain to SADC to members of the ruling party in Zimbabwe (Zanu-PF), those who have remained apathetic under the façade of camaraderie while tyranny plagued the nation will have to account for their historical lethargy before the Zimbabwean people welcome their agenda with open arms.

Britain has come forward and shown its support for the "brighter future" of Zimbabwe in the post-Mugabe era in noting the country as one of its longest-serving allies. In observing social media responses to this from the Zimbabwean population, one thing remains clear: Zimbabweans have not forgotten the legacies of human rights atrocities from anyone involved.

Zimbabweans are past bitterness and anger, we just want recognition and acknowledgement of past wrongs. This is the only way the country can move forward.

The fact is that Britain's and the West's policy was that of turning a blind eye to the black Zimbabwean persecutions of 1980 to 1987 and only reacted with economic sanctions when white-occupied farms were invaded in 2000. Moreover, the legacy of colonialism up until this point had remained one which the Zimbabwean people now realise was exploitative.

This, for many Zimbabweans, highlights the interests of which demographic of the Zimbabwean population they seek to strengthen. This lack of historical recognition remains a sticking point to the black population of Zimbabwe, who have both lived through and experienced the effect of economic sanctions placed on the country as a result of Mugabe's rule. One which needs to be rectified.

The ascension of Mnangagwa into the position of the presidency highlights the re-emergence of what Mahmood Mamdani refers to ethnicity as a political identity. Given his past, where he was entrenched in the Gukurahundi massacres, as well as his allegiance to Mugabe over the years, people remain wary of the future of human rights.

It would therefore be a disservice to the future of human rights to disregard the need to address this. Zimbabweans need to have these fears allayed through the initiation of both restorative and distributive justice in order to legitimise real change. In this, however, it is imperative to note that Zimbabweans are past bitterness and anger, we just want recognition and acknowledgement of past wrongs. This is the only way the country can move forward.

This framework remains applicable to the necessity to thwart legacies of silence and denialism in the country. In a report published on June 13, 2013, Amnesty International noted that: "During the 2008 elections, more than 200 people were killed and thousands injured and displaced. Many of those targeted were human rights defenders and civil society activists who play a crucial role in exposing abuses and supporting victims of human rights violations. So many people were beaten that hospitals ran out of crutches."

These issues still need to be addressed by the incoming regime, which will feature figures who were instrumental in organising acts of violence during Mugabe's era. We have not forgotten people such as Itai Dzamara, whose whereabouts still need to be accounted for. It is not enough to remove the face of fear and violence when the potential for the re-engagement with the system still exists under untainted structures of governance.

It is imperative that the narrative of 'Operation Restore Legacy' under the new regime does not gloss over the grief of loss (material, physical and in time) as linked to trauma and its subsequent memory.

This is the only way to ensure lasting transitional justice in the country. This is the only way Zimbabweans can get to a point where people stop conceptualising ethnicity as an indicator of development, growth and grief. Which -- though we recognise the political nuances behind it -- is needed.

In the new Zimbabwe, there should not be room to romanticise about the past and its legacies. The culture that tip-toes around the acceptability of violence within the public sphere for the perpetuation of political gain must be thwarted. This can be particularly translated to the politics of grief in reconciling the "violence" narrative.

Zimbabweans need to be allowed to come to terms with both the physical and structural (and or systemic) violence that has plagued them in the past when looking forward to the frameworks of the new regime.

Regardless of what reforms are dormant in Mnangagwa's hat as he ascends to the presidency, the sentiments of cooperation and the respect of human rights expressed in his press statement on November 21 will go a long way in legitimising bodies. These are the ideals to which the Zimbabwean people must continue to hold him and his administration to account.

In recognising that the trauma of both systemic and physical violence -- which almost every Zimbabwean can attest to having experienced at some point during the Mugabe regime -- it is imperative that the narrative of 'Operation Restore Legacy' under the new regime does not gloss over the grief of loss (material, physical and in time) as linked to trauma and its subsequent memory.