As I write this, I have arrived back in Harare after an eventful month in the city of Bulawayo located in the southern part of Zimbabwe. Once I returned from a rather intriguing four days spent in South Africa earlier in the month, it was a combination of following more relational breadcrumbs and all hands-on deck to pull off our Nov. 25th “Come Let Us Heal Together” event.
Meeting the Bros
In between event preparations, I had the privilege of meeting some outstanding pastors in Bulawayo, all who care deeply not only about their city but the nation. Mpi Ndebele at New Creation sees God’s call on the “Joseph’s” which is the subject of my next book. Wayne Nel at Revival Centre and I were supposed to meet for an hour and it went four! I spent an evening with his church on Nov. 28th sharing my story and perspectives on Zimbabwe’s future. I was reunited with Ken Haskins of Victory Fellowship who I had last seen in 1987 at the funeral of my friends. That funeral was the largest racially integrated event in Bulawayo history as every community felt a sense of loss that day. Ken officiated over the ceremony. Through some friends in the UK, I was introduced to David Beevers who became instrumental in introducing me to Dumisani Nkomo of Habakkuk Trust, a Human Rights organization we plan on working with in the future. David was a godsend not only in introducing me to people but getting me around the city and out to Esigodini for important meetings.
On the Road Again
The sixteen days leading up to our Peace & Reconciliation event was crazy as I had to make several trips out to district HQ in Esigodini which was an hour drive one way to meet government officials there. I also had to go to Mbizingwe and Ntabemnyama where we planned to hold the event which was a two-hour drive, half of which was over bumpy dirt roads that shook me to death. Country roads here are just dirt, no gravel so when the rains come it’s a mess! I can see already I will need a 4×4 truck to navigate the rural areas as that is where most people who need trauma healing live. I often traveled with Joice Dube and Sipho Mandi who were the hostesses of the event as Joice is from the village.
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
I was one of several planned speakers for the event and what was in my heart was to honor Zimbabwe’s first Peacemakers, both those living as well as those who had since passed on. Given that Zimbabwe’s Independence is still relatively new, (1980) it is the heroes of the Revolution, the War Vets who are honored every year and given status. The idea of status is deeply rooted in African culture and a great deal of effort is put into attaining it. The cycle of generational violence in Africa is also well documented as grudges from older generations are passed down to their children and grandchildren. While other cultures see their national identity as preeminent, Zimbabweans relate to each other first based on their totems or tribes. That dynamic makes it more difficult to find national unity and ancient rivalries are often passed down.
The problem which we must overcome is how do we unify a fractured culture which is full of offences towards each other? The deep seated corruption, the history of violence, the economic depression is all rooted in settling ancient scores. Zimbabwe’s current state is rooted in bitterness, resentment, jealously and anger towards one another. In fact, a great deal of the nation’s history is reactionary. One group offended at another group each reacting in violence against one another. We have to stop the cycle! There is a generation born after Independence which is know here as the “Born Frees”. They are weary of the past, want to be proactive vs reactive and change things. They have watched the nation spiral downward over the last 40 years and all their dreams washed away with it. They want change. The question before them is “What does the nation you want look like?
At the moment, the Zimbabwean government is busy running around the world looking for best practices in an attempt to implement them here. They think better policies, procedures and programs are the solution to fixing the ailing economy. In part they are right. What they haven’t figured out though is none of those programs will work until they fix the root problem! If we don’t heal this nation and get rid of the myriad of offences, we have against each other, nothing else will work. These programs will go nowhere, and the economy will continue to implode. The government is not equipped to be healers nor is it their role. It is crucial though that it create space for those who are so that they can do what they are good at. There is a huge opportunity here for the church world if it will get back to its roots and be people centric vs. institutional centric.
In my own little way, in an attempt to change the narrative away from honoring the violent, I wanted to honor the Peacemakers and give them the status they so rightly deserve, and the nation so desperately needs to recognize. I wanted this to be my contribution to the “Come Let Us Heal Together” event. My friend Violette Kee-Tui and I went to work and had “Peace Warrior” medals made. The idea behind a Peace Warrior is that peace is something we must aggressively pursue because it is not the default setting of humanity. We must fight for it. The medals were finished a week before the event and I had a hard time keeping it a secret I was so excited.
For the two weeks prior to the event I had followed all the protocols asked of me to make sure this event happened. We assured everyone that it was a church service not a political event and everything looked to be in order. The CEO of the Rural Council was very excited about what we wanted to do and started inquiring if I would please do more of these types of events in the future. He really got it! I talked with the President’s office, the Security Services and everyone was telling me how happy they were that we were doing this event. The community was ready to heal and move on. We were even discussing possible economic development strategies.
Something disheartening I have learned over the years is how some thrive in the darkness of conflict and have no interest in setting people free from the pain of their past. They rule with fear and keep the masses enslaved and poor while they prosper. That dynamic raised its ugly head against us the night before the event. We started hearing rumors that the local MP had canceled the event! This was quite curious as Section 60 of the Constitution says the government cannot interfere in religious services. We weren’t sure what was going on as we were in the city and the rumors were out in the villages. I contacted the CEO who told me someone was trying to subvert the event by spreading rumors which of course weren’t true. Unfortunately, this then scared other government officials who decided not to attend the event out of fear. I was reminded of a line out of the book Dune “Fear is the mind killer”. People froze and didn’t know what to do. I decided we weren’t going to back down to fear or those who wanted to prevent these communities from healing.
My friend Pastor Peter McKenzie, David Beevers, Joice, Sipho and sundry others all made our way out to the village despite what we might face. As we came in, we saw two of the guest speakers, Sheri Eppel and Chairman Selo Nare of the National Peace & Reconciliation Commission heading the other direction. They rolled down their window to tell us that they had been told the event had been canceled. I told Chairman Nare that Reverend Mckenzie and I were not going to back down and intended on holding the event. He concurred, and they followed us back. When we got there, no one was there so the Peter and the other pastors went to work rallying the people.
It was a ridiculously hot day and the tents we were promised never arrived so there we were exposed in the baking hot sun but not deterred. The team that was supposed to have prepared the food refused as they were terrified of repercussions. We were a few hours late but soon people started arriving and the service went on. I found myself in a most reflective mood as I was reliving 1987 all over again! On the same day 31 years ago, the weather was identical…Sunny & Hot! The people who had killed my friends had threatened the villagers if they ever set foot on the Community of Reconciliation land they would be killed. On that day they defied them and showed up at the burial service in mass to honor their friends. Here we were three decades later and the scenario was repeating itself, the people came again!
Honoring the Peacemakers
Rev. Useni Sibanda was the program MC. Joice Dube lead off the speakers followed by some singing and a very inspiring exhortation from Shari Eppel of Solidarity Trust not to forget the 20,000 other victims of violence in the region. I was next up and had prepared a speech which I read and my friend Sibonokuhle Ndhlovu-Ncube of the Brethren in Christ Compassionate and Development Services Director interpreted. I was told afterward that she did an outstanding job. Little did anyone know what I had planned next. I asked NPRC Chairman Selo Nare to join me up front and had him bestow the Peace Warrior medal of honor on the recipients.
I first called up Peter McKenzie who was a member of the community from 1984 – 86. After that was my hero 93-year-old Stephen Ncube. This was a highly charged emotional moment for me knowing all that Stephen had suffered not only the night everyone was killed but the years since. Stephen had been very ill the months previous and we didn’t know if he was going to make it. Peter went and got him, and his wives and he came dressed in a stunning white suit which was so appropriate. He and his wives were in tears at being recognized after all these years. I went over later to give him a hug and he grabbed my head and pulled it near his and with the most tender voice said, “Thank you Bob, thank you so much”. I had a hard time holding the tears back. One by one people were called out and made that walk forward from the crowd with tears streaming down their cheeks. The healing was deep and profound. For the first time they were being told “We See You!!!” we know who you are, you are Peacemakers and your nation thanks you for your contribution.
After the medals I presented the primary school Headmaster with copies of “Saving Zimbabwe” so that the children would never forget their heritage and what an amazing thing had happened here. People of different races had learned to forgive, reconcile and live together. I also gave them soccer balls donated by my friend Mike Morris of Children’s Evangelistic Ministries in Missouri. We also donate balls to the local soccer team. Despite the concerted efforts of the enemies of peace, peace and healing prevailed! A few days later the CEO contacted me again to say that in hindsight people were embarrassed they didn’t come, and the District would be grateful if in 2019 we came back and did more of these events!
If you are interesting in watching the ceremony here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cv5y6uHPJs&feature=share
We are ready and have a strategy in place as to how to do it. Now I need to raise the funding!