By Tendai Kamhungira
Rights group, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum — has dragged President Emmerson Mnangagwa to court to force him to appoint a substantive chairperson of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) — in a move which coincides with calls for the Zanu PF leader to address the Gukurahundi atrocities.
This comes as Mnangagwa signed into law operationalising the NPRC, almost five years after it was set up in 2013 during the short-lived inclusive government.
Rights and peace building groups accuse Mnangagwa’s government of failing to prioritise the NPRC which was specifically set up to look into the country’s conflict legacy before and after independence — including the highly emotive Gukurahundi atrocities.
In its suit filed at the High Court, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum cited Mnangagwa as the first respondent, Attorney-General Prince Machaya and the NPRC, second and third respondents, respectively.
“Furthermore, the first respondent’s (Mnangagwa) acts or omissions are on the question of the failure by the first respondent to appoint a qualified chairperson of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission in terms of the constitutional provisions. The issue relates to one of the applicant’s signature programmes on transitional justice. Consequently, the applicant has a direct and sufficient interest in this matter.
“The first respondent has acted unlawfully and moreover has failed in his constitutional duty to respect and uphold the Constitution of Zimbabwe by failing or neglecting to appoint a chairperson of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission who is qualified as required by the Constitution.
“The first respondent’s omission in this respect is contrary to the provisions of Section 251 (1) of the Constitution. The first respondent’s omissions also infringe the rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Zimbabwe to the protection of the law guaranteed in Section 56 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013,” said the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director, Blessing Gorejena, in the court papers.
According to the Constitution, the NPRC exists for a period of 10 years and has so far been in existence for more than four years during time which civic society and rights groups say it has not done much work since it was not operationalised.
It would be disbanded in 2023.
“The problem though, is that the first respondent has never made sure that the NPRC was properly constituted. Section 251 (1) of the Constitution requires the president to appoint a chairperson of NPRC after consultation with the Judicial Service Commission and the committee on Standing Rules and Orders as well as eight other members of the NPRC from a list of not less than 12 names submitted to him by the Committee of Standing Rules and Orders,” the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum boss further argued.
The NPRC has not had a substantive chairperson since October 2016 when former speaker of Parliament Cyril Ndebele, who had been appointed to lead the commission, died.
Mnangagwa, who served as former president Robert Mugabe’s right-hand man for nearly 54 years, last month signed into law the National Reconciliation Bill, signalling commencement of the NPRC full operations.
Since the fall of Mugabe and the assuming of power by Mnangagwa as the country’s new president, rights and civic society groups have stepped up pressure on the new government to deal with outstanding issues emanating from previous violent conflicts.
Topping the issues that civic groups want Mnangagwa and his government to dispense with is the Gukurahundi topic.
During his maiden appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month, Mnangagwa said government was keen to address Gukurahundi atrocities.
“We are not saying the past must be thrown away from history, it has happened — it is there. Just a week ago, I signed a Bill — the National Healing and Reconciliation Bill — into an Act and have assigned one of my vice presidents to deal with that one so that the communities that were affected can air their grievances and challenges with recommendations from that commission we should be able to address those issues,” Mnangagwa said.
“The most important thing is that what has happened has happened. What can we do about the past? We have put up a commission (NPRC) to deal with that issue; that should not stop us from having a better future where all the communities should be united, should cooperate, should love each other, should work together. This is the message which we have. We are more worried now about how in the future we should have a united Zimbabwe.
“Let me assure you just recently, I had (a) meeting (with) chiefs from Matabeleland discussing with them, because I feel there is that bad patch in our history and we would want to correct it, we would want to say whatever wrong was committed we must say, the government of the day must apologise.
“Wherever a community has suffered any injury, if it is possible to repair that injury, do it, so as a community, as a government, and traditional leaders we have agreed on how to deal with that issue. I am happy (about) that,” Mnangagwa added.
The Gukurahundi massacres have been a thorn in the flesh for Mnangagwa before and after he came to power.
Just recently, there were demonstrations by Matabeleland-based human rights groups over his role in the massacres which occurred between 1982 and 1987 when government unleashed a North Korea-trained army, the Fifth Brigade, to crush insurrection in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions. DailyNews