'We have missed it on national healing'

HARARE - It will be naive for anyone to think that the people of Zimbabwe will walk into a polling booth and stop thinking!

This was not a broadside at a bald statement by Okay Machisa, national director of ZimRights and chairperson of Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe CCiZ), reminding politicians the power of a voter.

Machisa, 42, has been visible in the democratic fight where CCiZ — a powerful advocacy and lobby group within the civic society movement, has been in the forefront of calling for reforms and enhancement of the democratic space. CCiZ has more than 234 member groups under its ambit and it is not surprising that Machisa did not shy away from making their position known in the current political discourse.  

“It would be a dream for us to think that there will be a complete shift or change in the current political situation. Since the GNU (unity government) was formed we have been calling for fundamental reforms and nothing has happened.

“We will still have certain mechanisms that have been put in place to trigger violence and uncouth behaviour,” Machisa told the Daily News as he regretted the inertia characterising the national healing and reconciliation processes.

The Organ on National Healing and Reconciliation (ONHR) — consisting three representatives from Zanu PF and the two MDC formations — has, largely, failed to achieve its intended targets.

It has taken an Afrocentric approach to promote healing by encouraging dispute resolution through traditional methods as opposed to the Eurocentric approach, the criminal route dealt with through the courts.

“Healing is not prescribed by the authorities, healing is prescribed by the communities, these are the custodians of how healing can take place within the communities. If you want to come up with a national framework of healing you might be missing the point.

“The people that have harmed themselves are the ones that are going to forgive each other, are the ones who create a roadmap towards reconciliation. “Why we have perpetrators of political violence walking scot-free in the streets is because we have not put in place mechanisms that they should be brought to book. If a perpetrator of political violence is brought to book then people can see it as an example and nobody else can commit the same crime because there is an example that has taken place.  

“We need all the structures that subscribe to the development of the nation whether you are a political party, security sector, civil service, civil society: we need all to constructively walk the talk of stopping violence. As of now I can actually say we have not achieved much,” Machisa said.

“We continuously say we have come up with a code of conduct, we have come up with some provision or mechanism that would ensure the establishment of an act of Parliament. That alone is not enough.   

“While people are putting mechanisms and acts in place to make sure we have no violence in the society we need to make community mechanisms that would bring in the traditional leadership, churches and civil society in the communities”.

Machisa himself has been actively involved in the national healing process through Heal Zimbabwe Trust, a peace and tolerance promotional body he also chairs in the civic society movement.

But he remains upbeat that the current constitution-making process will lead to new elections despite the inconsistent signals by the three parties in the inclusive government.

“What we are much more concerned about is not the executive interfering with the process; what we are interested in is seeing a quick reasonable, productive, progressive completion of the constitution-making process. The executive should not interfere in the parliamentary process.

“Hands off, this process is clearly indicated in the GPA that it is a parliamentary process which means that the Parliament should put to conclusion the process of writing of the new constitution,” warned Machisa.

The African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (Sadc), among a raft of reform targets, both set the completion of a new constitution and holding of a referendum, as decisive reforms leading to the conducting of free and fair polls.

“Sadc and the AU as guarantors of the processes in Zimbabwe are determined to ensure that Zimbabwe goes to elections under a new constitution. We have called upon Sadc to remain resolute that they continue to assist Zimbabwe to have credible elections by coming up with a new constitution.

“Zimbabwe cannot go to elections without a new constitution. It is one of the most fundamental benchmarks that Sadc has set itself. Sadc and civil society are determined to see the attainment of a new constitution is carried through,” said Machisa.

As Zimbabwe observed the International Human Rights Day, which falls on December 10, Machisa bemoaned the toxic environment which at times is laced with sporadic but calculated violence against pro-democracy groups.

“As a human rights defender and a director of the national human rights body, I find it very sad at this moment that we are celebrating this occasion with quite a number of important freedoms that are not realised or that are not given to the people of Zimbabwe.

“Zimbabwe has not done enough to make sure that the fundamental freedoms and enjoyment of the rights of the people are being observed”.

“It is the right time for those who liberated this country to fully recognise the fundamental rights of the people of this country. They fought for this country to be liberated so that the people can enjoy their rights.  

“We cannot continuously say we have done this in the past and that tradition should continue, we have to move with the times. We are no longer in the 1970s or 80s we are in 2012”.

Machisa’s struggle for rights can be traced to his roles both in the civic movement and arts industry where he plays an influential role.

He grew up in Lalapanzi and joined the education sector where he taught at Gokomere High School, Selbourne Primary, Prince Edward and Zimbabwe College of Music. He has previously worked at Rooftop Promotions, an arts promotion body led by Daves Guzha.

Machisa is a board member at Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Peace Builders Network of Zimbabwe, Savanna Trust, Nhimbe Trust, founder of Artists for Democracy in Zimbabwe Trust and Nhasi Mangwana Traditional Music Organisation.

“I have no political ambitions because my interests lie at the organisations that I serve,” he said.

Machisa is married and has two daughters.

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