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 CNS Story:

ZIMBABWE-HEALING Jul-12-2010 (770 words) xxxi

Zimbabwe's church begins election prep: work on healing, reconciliation

By Bronwen Dachs
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Zimbabwe might not be ready for elections in 2011, but the Catholic Church has begun work on the first step in preparation for elections: healing and reconciliation, said a justice and peace official.

"A call for a new election will open old wounds" among the electorate, said Alouis Chaumba, who heads the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, noting that "the country is not sufficiently healed for elections to take place" in 2011, as mandated by a 2009 agreement that formed a coalition government.

"To create the conditions for free and fair elections, we need an end to violence and a full return to the rule of law," he said in an early July telephone interview from Harare, Zimbabwe's capital.

Harare's justice and peace commission said it has started this work by holding workshops in its parishes and has joined counseling organizations to help people who have been traumatized.

"We do not want to wait for a national process that might never happen," the commission said in its July newsletter.

The nationwide collection of public submissions for a new constitution has brought "a new wave of intimidation and harassment, largely because the constitution-making process is linked to elections, which in Zimbabwe are times of violence," Chaumba said.

Brutal state-sponsored violence targeting the opposition after disputed March 2008 elections left more than 80 people dead and 200,000 displaced, human rights groups said.

The long-delayed program to amend a constitution adopted after Zimbabwe's independence from British colonial rule in 1980 is behind schedule under an agreement that formed a coalition government between President Robert Mugabe and his former opposition leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. The agreement calls for a new constitution ahead of a foreign-monitored election planned for 2011.

Noting that "bickering between political parties" and shortages of cash to deploy officials to the more than 2,000 meeting centers are delaying the constitution-making program, Chaumba said Zimbabwe "is a highly polarized country."

Almost all elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by violence, Father Kenneth Makamure of Chishawasha major seminary wrote in the Harare justice and peace commission's newsletter.

"This violence has left people polarized and in need of reconciliation," he said, noting that while "efforts are being made by the inclusive government to get people reconciled," it has become apparent that the link between reconciliation and justice "has been forgotten or ignored."

Noting that "oppressive governments are built upon lies, lies about victims and how they deserved to be attacked," Father Makamure said "the first thing is to establish the truth of what actually happened."

For example, "who died, who disappeared, who was maimed, who ordered the deaths and disappearances, who carried out the orders," he said.

Also, "justice demands that structural iniquities which were the cause of injustice and conflict be addressed," such as the rule of law and the use of state agents, including the army and police, to inflict harm on citizens, he said.

Zimbabweans must have safe zones where victims can tell their stories and call perpetrators to account, Father Makamure said, noting that "if perpetrators are not called to account for their evil actions" they are likely to continue being violent.

Chaumba said that besides pushing for presidential term limits and strengthening parliament in a new constitution, the church in Zimbabwe advocates that the constitution allow local people "to have a say in how the country's mineral and other natural resources are utilized."

Mugabe, 86, who has been in power in Zimbabwe since 1980, opposes proposals that will limit presidents to two five-year terms.

The church has "presented its position through its outreach programs" and parishioners "are ready to contribute their ideas in the consultative meetings scheduled to take place around the country," Chaumba said.

"We need to build confidence in the electoral process so that people believe that their vote does count," he said.

In efforts to help Zimbabweans overcome their fear of involvement in politics, the national justice and peace commission has held countrywide "meet your leader" discussion forums, aimed at increasing engagement between citizens and their elected representatives, such as members of Parliament and local councilors, member Vitalis Gutu said in the commission's newsletter.

The idea "is to make the electorate realize that they are an important stakeholder in development of their areas" and that "their active participation is indispensable," Gutu said.

Close to 200 members of justice and peace groups in parishes in Harare and Chinhoyi dioceses "have toured Parliament to appreciate how it works, what their elected representatives do ... and how they could engage with them," he said.

END


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