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“Nothing much has changed” the Denis Hurley Peace Institute says after Zimbabwe visit

Recently the former director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute, Mr Danisa Khumalo, with the present director, Mr Johan Viljoen, visited Zimbabwe. They met with Church officials in different parts of the country. Upon return they compiled a report on their findings which suggest that things are still very fragile in that country. By Russell Pollitt.

“Nothing much has changed” members of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) heard over and over on their first visit to Zimbabwe after Emerson Mnangagwa took over as president in November 2017.

In a report which was drafted after the visit, the DHPI, which falls under the auspices of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, said that “although there appears to be a new tone in public life, with greater emphasis being placed on unity” there have been “no tangible economic benefits [after] the change in leadership.”

The report went on to say that there was less fear and no harassment by security forces. “On the road between Bulawayo and Harare (about 400km) not a single police roadblock was encountered – unthinkable 6 months ago.”

The DHPI said that although disputed by the government, some sources in the Church claim that unemployment is running at 80-90%. The report says that workers at Hwange Collieries have not been paid for two years and that workers at the Gwanda Town Council were recently given small plots of land, in lieu of salaries. “In Gweru (Zimbabwe’s third largest city) we drove through the town’s large industrial area. Not a single factory was operational – all appeared to have been abandoned long ago,” the report said.

“While we were there, all nurses at government health facilities were on strike, and all of them were dismissed.”

The report said that prices were still escalating. “Basic goods at supermarkets in Harare are being sold at almost three times the price that they would cost in South Africa.”

Although the Zimbabwean government is saying that “Zimbabwe is open for business” and once again “re-engaging with the global community” and asking Zimbabweans to return home to rebuild the country, the DHPI says that these sentiments are “misplaced”. They say that it will take time before Zimbabweans in the diaspora are convinced of giving up jobs abroad to return.

“In an attempt to attract foreign investors, the government is talking of repealing the ‘Indigenisation Act’, which specifies that all businesses must have majority Zimbabwean ownership. The only sectors where majority Zimbabwean ownership will still be required is platinum mining and diamond mining,” the DHPI said.

An issue that “looms large” especially in Matabeleland is that of the “Gukarahundi,” the DHPI said. This was a series of massacres carried out on civilians in Matabeleland from 1983 to 1987 by government forces. An estimated 30 000 people were killed. “Mnangagwa was seen as the architect of the campaign, and as its public face.”

This, the DHPI report went on to say, has resulted in Mnangagwa being “regarded with apprehension, particularly in the Bulawayo area.” The DHPI lamented that there has been “no public acknowledgement by the government, and no process of healing, although the National Peace and Reconciliation Committee (NPRC) was started in January this year, and is currently touring the country to conduct hearings.” But, the hearings are not going well.

In Gwanda (in the Diocese of Bulawayo) these hearings were disrupted when members of the public pointed out that the Commission is not representative of the broader population. There are only two commissioners who are Ndebele on the Commission. The DHPI says that they often heard that people were not demanding compensation. They just want an “acknowledgement of the wrongs committed, and an apology from those involved.”

Dr Désiré Nzisabira, from Misereor in Harare – who accompanied the group – pointed out that if the issue is not well-handled, “it could lead to a resurgence of tribal hostilities.”

The DHPI said that trauma that had been buried for decades was now resurfacing. “The trauma extends to persons of subsequent generations, coming from families that lost loved ones.”

The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) is attempting to respond to the issue by starting a project called “Journey into Inner Healing”. The project will make trauma-counselling available in the hope that people can begin to find some inner healing.

The report says that a number of initiatives have been undertaken by the Catholic Church. In Bulawayo things are “further ahead.”  The CCJP (with the support of the DHPI) has established Justice and Peace (J&P) committees in 10 parishes. “They have done community mapping, identifying available resources, put parish animators in place, done leadership training, conducted workshops on the Social Teachings of the Church, and workshops on Laudato Si’ and stewardship of the earth.”

In Gweru, workshops have been held in the parishes on the new Constitution.

Sister Elizabeth Baroma is working with the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) and the national CCJP by conducting capacity building and training workshops with religious superiors, to get them and their congregations involved in justice and peace work.

The DHPI stated in the report that it was committed to continue working with the Dioceses of Bulawayo and Gweru – supporting them in the establishment of parish J&P committees, in the development of training manuals and in the building of capacity and training of leaders.

DHPI also said that it will support the Diocese of Bulawayo’s CCJP in its proposed “Journey into Inner Healing” project.

In the report the DHPI said that “lack of funding is a serious problem hampering the work of the Church.” They went on to say that this was largely due to a lack of capacity and experience in writing grant proposals that meet donors’ requirements. The “DHPI will work with them to assist and support them in developing funding proposals, and identifying funding opportunities,” the report said.

Image: SABC News

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.