By Tapiwanashe Chiringa
When the 2013 constitution ushered in the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, there was a ray hope that the long-standing conflicts in the tumultuous history of Zimbabwe would finally be resolved.
There were strong and legitimate expectations that the NPRC would strive for justice for the victims and survivors of Gukurahundi, the violent 2002, 2005 and 2008 elections.
These hopes have, however, been consistently erased since the promulgation of the constitution on May 22, 2013.
Eight years later, the NPRC has successfully faded into pale shadow of what it was expected to become.
From the lack of political will, inadequate resources, political interference and general ineptitude, the Commission has been bedevilled and hamstrung from fulfilling its constitutional duties.
In terms of Section 251(1) of the constitution of Zimbabwe, the lifespan of the NPRC was supposed to be 10 years (2013 to 2023).
However, former president Robert Mugabe only managed to appoint commissioners as late as 2016 and until 2018, there was no enabling Act of Parliament for the commission.
At a time when the government of Zimbabwe was supposed to demonstrate its willingness and commitment to finding lasting solutions to the dark history of Zimbabwe’s conflict, it took them a whole five years (half of the life of the NPRC itself) to come up with an enabling Act of Parliament.
To demonstrate its absolute lack of will in as far as seeing the NPRC succeed, the government of Zimbabwe appealed the decision in the case of Chinanzvana v Ministry of Justice.
High Court Judge, Justice Joseph Mafusire had ruled that the life of the NPRC had only commenced in 2018 at the promulgation of the enabling act.
This would have given the commission life until 2028.
The fact that the government found itself contesting a ruling that gave the NPRC more time reflects the unwillingness of the government to let the NPRC carry out its mandate. It is also hamstrung by the perennial plague that has afflicted and crippled all the independent commissions in Zimbabwe, the curse of underfunding.
This has hindered the NPRC from extending its reach to the grassroots, especially in the remotest parts of the country where the scourge of past violence left indelible scars that should be the greatest concern of the commission.
Political interference and the usurping of the roles of the NPRC by the executive
This article has already discussed the absence of political will to make the NPRC work on the part of the executive.
The same is matched by an insatiable appetite and zeal by the same executive to override the work of the NPRC and just like the majority of the independent commissions, establish parallel structures meant to duplicate the duties of the NPRC.
The NPRC has equally been complicit in this usurpation of its duties by the executive.
In 2018, President Emmerson Mngangagwa convened what he preferred to term the Matebeleland Collective and said it would tackle the emotive Gukurahundi question.
This was a clear coup on the duties of the NPRC.
Further to that, while there has been a great expectation that the NPRC would lead in the exhumations and reburials of victims of the Gukurahundi genocide, the president has convened a council of chiefs from Matebeleland.
It must be said clearly that the NPRC has been less of a helpless victim and more of a willing and happy participant in the coup against itself.
In 2018 soon after the disputed and hotly contested general elections, the NPRC embarked on a consultative process on national dialogue but quickly abandoned the whole process to be co-opted into the controversial Political Actors Dialogue platform as co-convenors.
This reduced their genuine efforts to lead a genuine, inclusive national dialogue and reduced the commission to the level of the minnow political parties whose job has not gone beyond parroting the ruling party’s rhetoric.
This depicts a general lack of a sense of direction and spine on the part of the NPRC. It can be bullied into abandoning its own genuine processes and jump into a bandwagon of whatever the whims and caprices the executive demand.
Failure to produce and publish reports on time
The NPRC has consistently failed to comply with Section 323 of the constitution.
It is a constitutional imperative that every independent commission submits a report of its yearly activities to Parliament before March 31 of the succeeding year.
The 2018 report of the NPRC only came in the third quarter of 2020, with the 2019 report only coming in 2021 and to date there is no trace of the 2020 report, 10 months after it was due.
This speaks to a commission that cannot follow the most basic of constitutional requirements and disrespects the constitution.
Truth, justice and reconciliation
While the commission has hyped itself in its very late reports, as a hardworking commission, it has been very busy doing nothing beyond achieving procedural successes that speak less to the material realities. Little has been done in making sure that the commission meets its constitutional requirements and the general expectations of the people.
All of its recorded successes in terms of its own reports do not achieve the NPRC’s first and primary duties — to ensure truth, post conflict justice, healing and reconciliation.
The commission has done nothing to bring both the victims and the perpetrators of the Gukurahundi atrocities together with a view to find a solution.
The commission has equally been docile as the alleged perpetrators of the Gukurahundi atrocities have suddenly taken the lead role as conciliators.
Nothing has been done to lead in finding justice for the victims of the August 1 2018 shootings even when the Motlanthe Commission has identified the victims and perpetrators.
The commission has called itself successful in all other rudimentary matters, but never in healing or seeking truth and reconciliation.
In conclusion, the NPRC has betrayed the hope, expectations and its own constitutionally given duties.
The commission has reduced itself to a paper tiger when circumstances and material realities demanded that it became an actual lion ready to confront intolerance, polarisation and the wounds of our dark ugly past.
This has largely been caused by an executive that routinely overrides the commission while the commission has been a docile participant in a coup against itself.
The hope is that in the limited time left in its life, the NPRC will find its feet, focus and teeth.