Root and Branch, Tree of Life: Sowing the Seeds of Grassroots Transitional Justice Andrew Iliff 10 March 2010 Introduction Zimbabwe’s acute need for justice and reconciliation highlights a longstanding tension in transitional justice practice. The need for transitional justice processes in Zimbabwe has been clear since at least 2003, when Zimbabwean civil society articulated an ambitious set of transitional justice objectives in the Johannesburg Symposium. 1 Yet nearly seven years later, this agenda remains in limbo, stranded by the failure to find a political solution that might loosen the grip of perpetrators on the reins of power. Practitioners and theorists assume that transitional justice cannot proceed until the individuals most responsible for rights violations cease control of crucial state functions, including the police, military and judiciary. This assumption has the ring of common sense – you cannot expect the chief of police to cooperate in his own arrest and prosecution. Yet this singular focus by international observers on international crimes and concomitant national or international accountability can be to the detriment of more modest, local strategies that. focus on community level reconciliation, dialogue and accountability This essay outlines emerging grassroots reconciliation strategies in Zimbabwe, which suggest that in situations of ongoing violations in which international criminal accountability for gross violations remains out of reach, transitional justice advocates should bracket international crimes until more propitious circumstances prevail. In the meantime, advocates should promote non-state, locally developed programs to promote community healing and reconciliation, which in turn lower the stakes of future political contests. Background: The Zimbabwean Crisis The contemporary Zimbabwean crisis is broadly characterised by a violent campaign to retain political power on the part of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) (ZANU [PF]). While the immediate crisis comes in the face of widespread popular dissatisfaction with thirty years of repressive single party rule, economic collapse, and a potent electoral challenge from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) the roots of the crisis, however, can be traced back to the liberation struggle of the 1970s and still further back. Since 2000, widespread political violence has marked each election; following parliamentary elections in 2005, the government launched the Murambatsvina campaign of evictions that affected 700,000 people. 1 See Themba Lesizwe, Civil Society and Justice in Zimbabwe, Proceedings of a symposium held in Johannesburg, 11-13 August 2003, Pretoria: Themba Lesizwe (2004). Oxford Transitional Justice Research Working Paper Series 1

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