WHEN you see an impala sprinting headlong into a wildfire, something more terrifying than the scorching heat is after its life. I was reminded of this expression after hearing that Zimbabweans are now allowed to discuss the Gukurahundi genocide.
Well, government officials have not called it genocide, choosing instead to continue blithely describing it as "the disturbances".
This approach is problematic. Firstly, if we are going to have a decent conversation about this grave matter, we have to be clear what exactly we are talking about. A "disturbance" is a mid-morning skirmish by a bunch of street kids fighting over a piece of stale bread.
The deliberate and systematic slaughter of people belonging to a particular ethnic group cannot be likened to a back-alley brawl. To show sincerity and demonstrate that this is not a self-serving smoke-and-mirrors project, the government must codify Gukurahundi as a genocide. Truth-telling is the path to healing and justice. And affected communities have to play a central role in that process. Nobody has to remind the government about the importance of reparation -- it is a must.
In many respects, the manner in which successive Zanu PF governments have handled the Gukurahundi issue -- with particular reference to the way political leaders have been quick to criminalise any discussion of the mass killings -- has contributed to Zimbabwe's discredited status as a pariah nation that tramples on civil liberties and the rule of law. In 2003, when the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights filed an application before the Supreme Court in a bid to compel president Robert Mugabe to release the reports of the Chihambakwe and Dumbutshena commissions of inquiry, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in his capacity as Justice minister, deposed an affidavit in which he claimed that the head of state cannot be questioned by the courts in the exercise of his prerogative. Here was the crux of the matter: What is the extent to which exercise of a president's functions is justiciable? If the functions of a president are non-justiciable, as argued by Mnangagwa, it simply meant the courts had no jurisdiction over his executive decisions.
By averring that the decisions of a president are non-justiciable, he was peddling a dangerous idea which goes against the values of constitutionalism. The principle of checks and balances exists precisely to limit the powers of any branch of government.
If you think this is the most outrageous argument advanced by Mnangagwa in that court case, you are in for a big surprise. He went on to tell the Supreme Court -- quite astonishingly -- that, in any event, the Dumbutshena Report could not be located.
"I am of the view that no good cause has been shown for the above Report to be published and that, in any case, it cannot be published when it cannot be found," argued Mnangagwa. Here is what I would like to know today: What has happened in the past 16 years to change his attitude towards the Gukurahundi issue and, considering the extrajudicial killing of civilians by soldiers on his watch on August 1 last year and in January this year, why should Zimbabweans trust him now? He has to show genuine leadership and not opportunism.