Take a revealing roadtrip through Zimbabwe with a woman determined to bring peace and reconciliation to her country.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012 - 21:30

As Zimbabwe gradually recovers from its violent past, there are concerns the forthcoming elections could reopen old divisions.

But one woman is determined to stop that happening; Sekai Holland is a Minister for Healing and Reconciliation and has just been awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.

Yaara Bou Melhem joins her on a revealing roadtrip through Zimbabwe as she tries to heal the country's physical and emotional wounds.

Her MDC party was once the target of violence from the rival Zanu PF party, and she was badly tortured and nearly killed.

Now the parties share power in a unity government led by Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai,  but can the marriage last? And can the tortured country ever be truly healed?

WATCH - Click to see Yaara's report.

REPLAY - Look back at Dateline's previous stories from Zimbabwe, including our 2008 interview with Sekai Holland.



Zimbabwe's Sekai Holland is no stranger to Australian audiences, is this year's winner of the Sydney Peace Prize. As a member of the opposition MDC party, she was almost beaten to death in 2007 by Robert Mugabe's thugs. Now she's a senator in Zimbabwe's unity government, overseeing a program of national reconciliation. Yaara Bou Melhem recently travelled to Zimbabwe and reports that the hard-working senator walks a political tightrope in a nation still recovering from past violence.

REPORTER: Yaara Bou Melhem

I'm told this is not a political rally. They're still banned in Zimbabwe. Instead, the supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change or MDC call this a prayer rally. Three years ago, this crowd would have been set upon by thugs from the rival Zanu PF, the party of President Robert Mugabe - the day ending in chaos.

But now the party share power in a unity government, albeit it a fragile partnership. With another election due to be announced, the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai, now Prime Minister, is preaching reconciliation.

MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: Love thy neighbour as you love yourself. We must love one another.

One of those who laid the foundation for this unity government is this woman, Sekai Holland, now a Senator in the parliament and a Co-Minister for Healing and Reconciliation.

SEKAI HOLLAND, CO-MINISTER, NATIONAL HEALING AND RECONCILIATION: The violence is part of Zimbabwe's second nature. Everybody who has come here for the past 1,000 years has used violence to take over the country, violence to maintain their power.

The senator knows all about violence. In 2007 she was almost battered to death by Robert Mugabe's police.

SEKAI HOLLAND: They locked us up and I could see they were preparing to kill us.

When her leader Morgan Tsvangirai tried to intervene, he received the same treatment.

SEKAI HOLLAND: He said, "I hear you have got some of my people here." We were already in the middle of the torture. When they got him, they kicked him and all his security and focused on him and his security for an hour. When they saw blood, they came back to us because it was for nine hours.

Her rescue and rehabilitation in Australia sparked a war of words.

JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER (SPEAKING IN 2007): Frankly, I've run out of patience, most people have run out of patience about what's happening in Zimbabwe. We pussyfoot around far too much using diplomatic language. This man is a disaster - his country is just a total heap of misery.

SEKAI HOLLAND: We would like the issue of the violation of human rights in Zimbabwe to be taken up in the United Nations so that Mugabe can actually be taken to the International Criminal Court of Justice.

Now like Tsvangirai, she's also working to heal old wounds.

SEKAI HOLLAND: And in really understanding that this is one country with one people, where everybody should have a fair go.

She's travelling deep in to opposition country, one of the most fertile areas in the country and one of its most violent.

She's here to look over one of her ministry's pilot projects aimed at bringing this strife-torn country together. Most of the people living here are supporters of President Robert Mugabe and his party. But the talk now isn't about guns and machetes, it's about the drought-resistance maize that's been used introduced to help farming communities.

REPORTER: They're forced to reconcile because they live with each other?

SEKAI HOLLAND: Yes, but it doesn't make it easy for people to then regularise and normalise their relationships. We are setting up an instrument where this can happen.

STUART REES: My experience, if it's task-orientated and people have to work together to achieve the task, then they forget the divisions between them.

Stuart Rees is from the Sydney Peace Foundation. He's here with former president of the NSW Legislative Council, Meredith Burgmann, to award Holland with the prestigious Sydney Peace Prize in recognition of her lifetime's work for peace and dialogue in Zimbabwe. But with an election waiting to be called, tensions are again rising.

REPORTER: So who did you want to introduce me to?

MAN: This lady here. Her husband was murdered by Robert Mugabe's thugs.

Loveness Chigega's husband was murdered by Zanu PF thugs.

LOVENESS CHIGEGA (Translation): They came; a group of around 50. They started throwing stones, my husband asked them why they were attacking us - they said it was because we supported the MDC. I feel hurt because they came to destroy my property, to kill my husband. I never expected to lose my husband so soon, now I am left to suffer alone with my children.

When they murdered my husband; I could not be at my husband's burial, I was in hospital. When I came home, there was nothing and no one, just my husband's grave.

Despite Sekai Holland's tireless efforts, reconciliation isn't working for Loveness.

LOVENESS CHIGEGA (Translation): I am scared that they might attack me again; the same people. Out of 50 people, I managed to identify four of them.

Stories like this are common all over Zimbabwe and many want justice, not reconciliation.

DEWA MAVHINGA, CRISIS IN ZIMBABWE COALITION : In terms of the cases that we have recorded, we have not got justice. Out of over 200 deaths that occurred in 2008, there has only been one prosecution that has resulted in a conviction of those responsible for the murder.

Dewa Mavhinga works for the local human rights group, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

DEWA MAVHINGA: The perpetrators remain free on the streets. This is an absolute sense of impunity that they're enjoying because of their alignment with Robert Mugabe and those who are controlling our institution of justice.

Loveness is a part of Sekai Holland's agricultural healing program, but can't face her attackers.

REPORTER: Do you work with the people in this community who killed your husband?

LOVENESS CHIGEGA (Translation): No, we do not work together. When I see them I am scared.

Loveness is not alone. According to Doctor Isaac Chidavaenzi, all of the 400 villagers in the healing program have survived attacks of violence. Not one is a perpetrator.

REPORTER: So this is non-partisan?

DR ISAAC CHIDAVAENZI: This is non-partisan - we don't even want to know what their background is. We say, "Please come and work together." As soon as the victims come in, the perpetrators leave because I think they are ashamed of what they did.

He said upcoming elections are polarizing the country.

DR ISAAC CHIDAVAENZI: Everybody is afraid of it. Yeah. Everybody is afraid of that. Unless something is actually put in place like the involvement of the United Nations or the other international organisations to make sure that what happened in 2008 doesn't ever happen again.

REPORTER: So you're working with three different political parties in Zimbabwe which is basically what the unity government is - is it a happy marriage?

SEKAI HOLLAND: It is inclusive government. What brings people to say they want to be married are the positives of every situation. But every marriage has got some negatives.

REPORTER: Do you think they'll fight you in the next elections in the same way that they fought you in 2008, with violence?

SEKAI HOLLAND: We cannot because we have all these agreements.

REPORTER: What does that mean? Do you think they'll stick to those agreements?

SEKAI HOLLAND: I think these agreements are not being done in a vacuum. SEDAC are the guarantors The AU are there, the United Nations are there. We're part of the international community.

But with scenes like this from 2008 still fresh in people's memory, not everyone is as confident as Sekai about the future.

DEWA MAVHINGA: One of the reasons is that the infrastructure of violence, the mission that has been deployed in the past remains intact. In 2008, there was a deployment of soldiers across the country and they were responsible for the violence. We still have those soldiers in the areas, they lead militia groups. Now it is even worse because we have militia groups in urban areas.

Today we've been invited to a rare meeting with John Nkomo, Zimbabwe's Vice-President. He provides a rare admission about Zanu PF and his own history.

JOHN NKOMO, ZIMBABWEAN VICE-PRESIDENT: I've been a victim where you have a situation from being a victim, you become a perpetrator, so I know both sides. And when you want me to resolve these matters, it's easy for me because I understand what it feels like in either situation. Healing begins with me. Healing begins with you. Healing begins with all of us.

And it seems that the Vice-President, a Zanu PF warhorse, is thinking of his and his party's legacy.

JOHN NKOMO: We are at this age and it worries us, imagine what inheritance we are leaving for those who are coming in here behind us. That's what worries us.

SEKAI HOLLAND: Tsvangirai has always saying, always, Mugabe is part of the problem. He has really got to be part of the solution.

MAN: Until today, no African woman leader has ever received this prize. Wow!

The Sydney Peace Prize is being announced at the Australian Ambassador's residence.

WOMAN: The winner of the 2012 Sydney Peace Prize is Minister for Healing, Reconciliation and Integration, Senator Sekai Holland.

SEKAI HOLLAND: I really am overwhelmed that finally African women have been recognised because we are at the bottom of the pile. I never thought we would end up with you as Prime Minister, me as an elder in an organ for national healing, reconciliation and integration. I think we have really done it, if we are to die today. Thank you.


Supervising Producer


2nd October 2012