Page last updated at 04:34 GMT, Wednesday, 17 September 2008 05:34 UK

Zimbabwe victims demand justice

File photo of the hands of an opposition MDC supporter, June 2008

By Farai Sevenzo

As Zimbabwe's erstwhile political rivals and now comrades in government were signing a power-sharing deal in a luxury Harare hotel, many political activists and their families remain consumed by their grief.

One opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) official, who I met as he showed me the burned huts of party sympathisers during the worst days of the violence, feels there is a strong sense of betrayal over what MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai did to become prime minister.

"I now know one thing - all my friends died for nothing. Betta, Solja, Tatenda, Gift - all of them died for nothing.

"The people who always talk about the heroic dead, like Mugabe, are very alive. Next time there is a war over voting or democracy, I want to be a hero but I want to stay alive."

Others, however, accept that peace - and a share of power to help rebuild the country - come at a price.

Talk of trials may unravel the whole fragile peace
Tineyi Munetsi
MDC official

Tineyi Munetsi, another MDC official who saw body after mutilated body, with marks of senseless torture all too evident, says the feeling on the ground is difficult to gauge.

"People are happy because they can now concentrate on surviving, rather than running away from political thugs.

"Times are so hard there was no other way but for the politicians to sit and work things out. Talk of trials may unravel the whole fragile peace."

Seeking justice

This is the dilemma victims face - that at this particular juncture in the country's history, Zimbabwe is not keen on looking in the rear-view mirror to the crimes of 20 years ago, or those of the recent past, because the peace may not hold.

As the deal was announced last week, Zimbabwe's long-suffering civil society and the Human Rights Forum put out a statement of demands. These demands included:

"No amnesty for: (a) crimes against humanity, torture and other international crimes (b) rape and other sexual based crimes (c) corruption and other crimes of greed.

Opposition MDC supporters celebrate Zimbabwe's power-sharing deal in Harare, 15 September 2008
Some opposition supporters welcomed last week's peace deal

"No extinguishing of civil claims against the perpetrators or the state. No guarantee of job security for those found responsible for gross human rights violations and corruption."

Of course there will be those who say such demands are being made by those who were not privy to the two-month talks that culminated in Monday's fanfare.

Maybe when Mr Tsvanigirai talked about "painful compromises" he had a blanket amnesty for the bloody election violence in mind as one such painful compromise.

But he also said:

"Only through a public acknowledgement of past wrongs can we begin the process of national healing."

Relatives of the victims of political violence may be forgiven for thinking that this means something in terms of their achieving closure to their loss and grief. But does it?

Amnesty worries

Edwin Sakala, from ZimRights, so long the custodians of human rights in the country, outlines the organisation's fears over the deal:

"Yes we are very worried about issues of amnesty, should there be amnesty at all?" he asked.

Whoever committed crimes which include murder and rape should be arrested
Edwin Sakala

He noted that Mr Mugabe's Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa appeared on ZBC (the state broadcaster) immediately after the signing ceremony and said all parties agreed that they share liability for violence around election time.

To make matters worse, President Mugabe even found time to tell his listeners in his Monday address that the opposition in Africa "want to be the ruling party, and will devise ways and means of getting there. Including violence…"

The audience of MPs, aid workers and diplomats responded with boos, forcing him to try to explain himself.

The facts and the bodies clearly point to his party and his shadowy generals as having had the lion's share of the blood.


Mr Sakala says: "It is our belief that whoever committed crimes which include murder and rape should be arrested, sent to the courts and receive the appropriate punishment."

And how far up would the punishments go? What about the issues of reparation?

The Human Rights Forum on Monday said there should be "comprehensive reparations for victims of human rights violations.

The group also wants "a credible and independent truth-seeking inquiry into the conflicts of the past, which holds perpetrators to account and which provides victims the opportunity to tell their stories with a view to promoting national healing."

File photo of opposition supporters in Harare, June 2008
The opposition said it suffered a campaign of violence

Mr Sakala believes it is right and proper that the issue of reparations be raised.

"Too many people, particularly the poor and the powerless, lost their homes and relatives to the violence. We are talking thousands. How can they move on?"

Mai Samantha of Sasa village, some 40km north of Harare, has had to move her whole family to the township of Budiriro in the capital over the last two months.

The men who burnt her hut were arrested in April but the following month, she no longer felt safe in her village and had to flee.

On the phone she is still bitter.

"I'm a poor person, it took me years to gather my property. I just want some way of recovering what I worked so hard for."

I ask her if she cannot forgive and forget for the sake of the nation.

"Why should I? Did I burn anyone's property? Did I kill anyone? All the time in this country, every election, people do these things and they never have to pay. It's time it all stopped."

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