Paying Respect or Playing to the Gallery? Truth, Justice, and Performative Politics in the Commission of Inquiry into Zimbabwe's Post-Election Violence of 1 August 2018
Susanne Verheul (Oxford University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper interrogates the dynamics of storytelling within testimonies given to Zimbabwe's Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence. I aim to explore how both the public and political dimensions of the Commission shaped its credibility, its impact, and its ability to ensure 'justice'.
Paper long abstract:
This paper examines statements made to the seven-member Commission of Inquiry into Zimbabwe's Post-Election Violence, and the public reactions to these statements, to ask how politics and the search for 'justice' interacted on this stage. To do so, I will in part contrast the form and functions of the Commission to those of a court of law. Sworn in on 19 September 2018 by President Mnangagwa, the Commission led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe was charged with scrutinising the events of 1 August, when six people were killed, allegedly by members of the Zimbabwe National Army. Further tasked to make 'suitable recommendations' in line with their findings, the impartiality and credibility of the Commission were quickly called into question. Human rights groups challenged the legality of the Commission within the High Court, while the independent media drew attention to the political affiliation of witnesses appearing before the Commission, and to their 'interesting and dramatic testimonies', many of with were responded to directly by the public present at the hearings, and were live-streamed on social media sites. The public reactions, alongside the content of the testimonies, gave the Commission an air of political rallies. With this paper, I thus aim to explore how both the public and political dimensions of the Commission shaped its credibility, its impact, and its ability to ensure justice was not only done, but was 'seen to be done', with an eye to the events unfolding in Zimbabwe in January 2019 as well.
Storytelling and social order in Africa