Strengthening the Web of Relationships for Peace
In the enchanting Vumba Mountains in the East of the country, the project first encountered an intriguing association – of lawmakers! Calling themselves Zimbabweans In Parliament Against All forms of Violence (ZIPAAV), the association was all the more curious and significant given the general perception of lawmakers in Zimbabwe and that we were in a run-up period to both a referendum and a subsequent election. Those periods have historically been periods of greatest political contestation and (unfortunately) of political violence.
And yet there was ZIPAAV.
In the words of a founding member:
ZIPAAV was born by a group of Parliamentarians sometime in June 2012. The legislators had realized that the institution was not participating effectively or collectively on national dialogue platforms on matters pertaining to the promotion of peace, order and good governance of Zimbabwe. This was ironic taking into account the fact that the mission statement of the Legislature, found in section 50 of the Constitution stipulates that ….Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Zimbabwe”.
This group of Parliamentarians was able to identify challenges that made it difficult for legislators to effectively participate on various national platforms and the first one was that the legislators lacked adequate information and skills on how to deal with matters on conflict management and resolution, human rights and other violence related matters. The second challenge can be partly attributed to the structure of Parliamentary system, where legislators serve on various portfolio or thematic Committees such as Agriculture, Mines, MDGs and Health. As a result of this compartmentalization, there is very little room or time for legislators to actively and collectively participate on issues to do with human rights, peace, conflict management, good governance and so on. The only time that MPs get to discuss such issues is during debates in the House and experience has shown that the environment is usually not conducive to effectively debate such kind of topics without raising emotions and tempers, which do not help to move our country forward.
So by establishing ZIPAAV, it becomes possible for legislators from across the political divide to discuss such contentious issues in an informal and relaxed environment where there is no need for posturing or playing to the gallery. The third observation, on why ZIPAAV is an important Association is that it brings together Members from both Houses of Parliaments with different political ideologies and also has as its Members, Chiefs who are the custodians of our cultural heritage. So far over 100 legislators out of an establishment of 310 seats have indicated an interest to work through ZIPAAV. This translates to one-third of the legislators, which is a number to reckon with as it demonstrates the Parliamentarians commitment towards the promotion of peace and development in the country.
The fourth observation on why ZIPAAV has been established is that the country is on the verge of a watershed election in 2013 as the life of the GNU will come to an end. The tone that should characterize this election has already been set by the President His Excellency Cde R.G Mugabe, during an address to Parliament in October 2012, where he said ‘let us all shun violence in all its manifestations and latent forms, especially as we look forward to our national elections’. However, we all know that where there is contestation of power there is bound to be disagreements or conflicts. So this capacity building workshop is timely in that it will equip us with skills on how to handle election related conflicts as we endeavor to continue to carry the mandate of the people who elect us into office.
The last observation leading the formation of ZIPAAV has been drawn from the experiences the legislators got during the Constitution outreach programs. I am sure the legislators here today who participated in that process will agree with me that the outreach programs managed to foster unity and healing amongst our people. As elected representatives we were able to demonstrate strong leadership which advocated for peace and tolerance despite our different political ideologies. So ZIPAAV wants to build upon this experience and ensure that this Association becomes a permanent structure of Parliament.
During another significant moment, members of ZIPAAV – who came from all three major political parties – met with the participants on the Learning Journey. That meeting in the magical Matopo Hills demonstrated once again the principles central to web-making:
In a village circle, around a campfire, participants and parliamentarians alike discovered that when they set aside those identities and meet each other as compatriots and fellow citizens concerned about the current situation and willing to make a contribution to changing it for the better, new possibilities arise.
Zimbabwe had a history steeped in conflict and true reconciliation had not yet occurred. Many people live in fear of a recurrence of violence. Based on past experiences, many people no longer trust state institutions and structures. Political parties do not necessarily see each other as complementary partners in building the country.
ZIPAAV realised that as MPs they derived their mandate from being elected by people; it was this mandate they needed to fulfil. ZIPAAV recognised that CSOs play an important role in communities. ZIPAAV hoped there could be some convergence with CSOs to ensure a peaceful transition. However, both ZIPAAV and the CSOs recognized that building a relationship was not without its challenges. How could enough common ground be found that would still allow both the parliamentarians and the civil society actors to maintain their respective integrity?
CSOs had much to offer ZIPAAV. They shared many of the concerns about the perceptions of working together. More than that though, they were really concerned about how to amplify the message of peace and increase the focus on building relationships in the communities. In building a culture of peace, how could the spirit of vengeance be countered? Much work remained to be done: communities needed education beyond what their human rights were, or on peacebuilding and on community-based conflict resolution strategies.
When one of the Honourable members considered the question “Are we ready (to meet the CSOs)?” he thought the question should rather be: “What can I do?” It was important for everyone – parliamentarians and civil society actors – to do some deep introspection and to answer the fundamental question of whether those groups were complementary or in competition with one another. Also how do they choose to relate to each other? This was important to answer BEFORE going into communities. The concerns and perceptions of communities were genuine and needed to be addressed.
In the end, everyone acknowledged that what ZIPAAV wanted to achieve resonated with what the CSOs wanted to do – bringing a social change, wanting to move forward, promoting nonviolence. All of these spoke to the work CSOs were already doing. There is convergence/strategic connection, common goals. There is an opportunity to work together
That evening ended quietly with a real sense that an important bridge had been crossed and significant connections established among the ancient rocks of the Matopo Hills.