NHRI organ desperate for relevance

HARARE - The organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration (NHRI) has embarked on a research into the genealogy of political violence in Zimbabwe.

“The main question about this project is to find out if Zimbabweans are a violent society. The project seeks to find out if violence emanates from our cultural and traditional background,” says Bayathi Ngwenya, the organ’s national director.

The research project is headed by Professor Ngwabi Bhebhe, vice-chancellor of the Midlands State University (MSU).

The logic behind the project is quite intriguing.

“We hope the results of the project will help the organ come up with recommendations on what should be done to prevent this cycle of violence,” says Ngwenya.

The organ is wasting time and money on a banal question.  

Secondly, establishing the historicity of violence in a society will not prevent it.

Violence is commonplace in every human society.

Violence is not based on innate irrationality and primordial instincts of Africans alone.

Social histories of countries all over the world provide evidence of inherent violence.

Levels of violence may vary from society to society, ranging from genocide to simple rioting.

To then interrogate the origins of violence is a waste of time and resources. To engage in such project is as good as enquiring whether Zimbabweans are human beings.

All cultures, as part of the human society, are variably but innately violent.

To conclude that the Zimbabwean society is not violent will be an unhelpful self-fulfilling exercise. Let us suppose the research findings suggest the local “culture” — assuming it is homogenous — is not violent, which would be unrealistic anyway — then what?

We can relax in the comfort of exoneration when realities on the ground suggest otherwise?
The project is a futile enterprise. Furthermore, it is implausible that such project could help end the political violence.   

The fact is that violence, abhorrent as it is, is universal and inevitable among human beings.

In recognition of this reality, societies establish institutions of social control to manage it and, of course, other forms of deviance.

Therefore, the question is not whether the Zimbabwean society is violent or not. Like any other human society, we are.

The question is, firstly, whether Zimbabwe has institutions that can minimise or control this undesirable inevitability, and secondly, whether the responsible institutions work effectively?

These include policing, justice and, to an extent, military institutions in cases of extreme internal violence. You may find a country without an army but not the other two.

One could add the healing organ itself is part of those institutions of social control.

It would appear the healing organ is struggling for relevance. But its utility will not be earned through anthropological explorations — something that can be left entirely to academic research institutions.

Whether the Shona or the Ndebele were traditionally violent or not is inconsequential to the management of violence today.

The relevance of the organ will be drawn from addressing the present-day realities on violence without recourse to the distant past.

Its importance will be realised from its focus on how violence is currently organised and managed.

Historical perspectives have no bearing on these contemporary realities.

If the organ is serious about minimising violence, then it must engage the institutions of social control that civilisation has brought, to ensure they operate effectively.

Effectiveness of social control institutions includes fairness and impartiality. The tragedy with Zimbabwe is that these institutions of social control, charged with the monopoly on violence, utilise it unnecessarily, excessively and unfairly.  

Gukurahundi immediately comes to mind as an example of unnecessary, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of violence.

The atrocities themselves confirm the forgone conclusion on our predilection as a society towards violence, albeit state-sanctioned.  Attorney-General Johannes Tomana recently defended the ZRP as an impartial institution which had saved Zimbabwe from widespread violence during and after the 2008 elections.

However, events during the post-election period suggest political supporters of one party perpetrated barbarities and murder against members of another without sanction.

State violence is predominantly directed at a particular party.

Selective application of the law fuels further violence.

The healing organ should not waste time and money on the banality of violence.

It must confront contemporary realities urgently. - Conrad Nyamutata

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