Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Reconciliation in Zimbabwe: The Conflict between a State-Centred and People-Centred Approach

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Reconciliation in Zimbabwe: The Conflict between a State-Centred and People-Centred Approach

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Zimbabwe has a long history of violent conflict spreading over decades, including the independence struggle from 1965-1979, the Gukurahundi massacres from 1980-1987, and the post-2000 electoral violence, which entrenched divisions in various communities around the country (Du Plessis and Ford 2009, Sachikonye 2011a). The government has implemented several high-level initiatives with the intention of resolving the conflict between political elites. This has included the Lancaster House Agreement in 1979, the Dumbutshena and Chihambakwe Commissions of Inquiry in 1981 and 1983, the Unity Accord in 1987, and the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in 2008. Yet all of these processes have remained largely at a political and elite level, with little impact on local communities.

There has been an attempt to introduce government institutions that will facilitate reconciliation on the local level through, for example, the establishment of the Organ for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration (ONHRI) in 2009 (CCJPZ 1997, Machakanja 2010). ONHRI was dissolved in 2013, though, and is set to be replaced by the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) as guided by the new Constitution which was adopted by parliament in February 2013.

Peacebuilding and conflict resolution processes across the continent have been widely criticised for their elite-focus, lack of local legitimacy, lack of broad, local participation, and insensitivity to local needs (Sriram 2007; Taylor 2007). The discussion in this article contributes to this growing critique by drawing from the experiences of local communities in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Matabeleland was chosen for this discussion because of the particular effect of Gukurahundi, otherwise known as the Matabeleland massacres, which took place in the 1980s and have not been acknowledged or dealt with to date. Fieldwork that was undertaken in Matabeleland in April, 2014 (2) reveals that the high level political processes in Zimbabwe have had very little resonance with the needs and issues of these communities.

Our particular interest within the peacebuilding debate is in reconciliation. We follow the definition of Karen Brouneus (2003: 20), namely, that reconciliation is "a societal process that involves the mutual acknowledgement of past sufferings and the changing of destructive attitudes and behaviour into constructive relationships towards sustainable peace". Our central argument is that the fact that Gukurahundi has not been acknowledged will hamper any possible reconciliation process in Zimbabwe. We also draw from John Lederach's (1997: 28) four-part model of reconciliation, which includes peace, truth, justice and mercy (this last sometimes being interpreted as 'forgiveness' or 'healing'). Although the relationship between these remains complex and insufficient, research has been undertaken to understand the relationship between them (Brouneus 2009), these were nevertheless themes that arose from community members in discussions around reconciliation.

This article thus explores the tension between a state-security and human-security approach in the context of Zimbabwe, with a particular focus on reconciliation. It describes the various ways in which the government and international community have attempted to resolve the conflict in Zimbabwe. It then draws from the fieldwork that was undertaken in Matabeleland, including interviews with community members in the Nkayi District, and interviews with civil society leaders and government officials in Bulawayo and Harare, to explore what local communities identified as their primary needs and issues related to reconciliation. The Nkayi District in the Matabeleland North Province (3) of Zimbabwe was chosen for the research because it stands at the intersection of the conflicts that have occurred in the country over the past three decades.

2. Resolving conflict in Zimbabwe at the national level

Zimbabwe has seen a range of high level processes that have had the intention of resolving episodes of violent conflict. …

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