COMMUNITIES DEFENDING PEACE
By Sihle Nyathi
The community of Phakamani is located in Matabeleland South in ward 1 in Zimbabwe and like most of the rural areas in Zimbabwe has seen the setting up of military bases. Some rural areas in Zimbabwe have been hit by a wave of violence but Phakamani has been spared the violence as they promulgated strategies to ensure that peace prevailed in the community.
The Phakamani community shows that communities have adequate resources to deal with conflict in their communities as long as they are organized and they are conversant with their rights.
“The community of Phakamani feels that the Habakkuk Trust Action Team has been empowered by the local level advocacy training as we have been equipped with knowledge on advocacy. The training has enabled us to diffuse a potentially volatile situation, said James Nhlabano, Phakamani Action Team Treasurer.
The Habakkuk Trust Action Team convener for Phakamani, Mr Prince Mpala said that a military base was set up and they had had an input in its set up as they wanted to make sure that there was no violence in the area.
“When the base was set up, we insisted that it be set up near the police station so as to make sure that there is no violence”, said Mr Mpala. He also said that there is no violence in the area and they are only hearing about the violence in other areas.
The Habakkuk Trust Phakamani Action Team approached the police and war veterans in the area to state their view that they do not want violence in the area. The Action Team also stated in the meeting that genuine war veterans are those who are above the age of 35 and will not accept anyone who claims to be one and is below the age of 35. This was done so as to ensure that no unruly elements would be allowed to hide under the guise of being a war veteran in order to destabilize the area.
The community has also taken peace building initiatives such as holding a meeting with parents and telling them that they should caution their children against being violent and that they should make sure that adults are not attacked.
The Phakamani community has been proactive in determining the destiny of their community in that they have gone on to hold peace prayer rallies a fortnight ago and they are scheduled to hold another one at a date to be confirmed. The peace rallies have been very effective in that they have brought different community stakeholders together and they pre-empty any violence that is at stake.
“The peace prayer rally that was held was attended by everyone in the community including the police, those manning the military base and the war veterans. Religion helps to establish community cohesion and is also are an effective method of information dissemination and in this instance it was to stamp the fact that peace should be established in the community. At the end of the prayer, the tension that was there at the beginning of the meeting had been diffused, said Mr Nhlabano, the Action Team Treasurer.
The Phakamani community has also had useful insight in determining the cause of conflict and in line with their findings they have banned the use of the door to door campaign strategy as they say that it exposes people’ political orientation. This would be undoubtedly a breeding ground for strife.
“We have informed all parties that we will prepare a schedule were they will be able to address the electorate in the forthcoming runoff”, said Six Boys Ndebele, information secretary for the Phakamani Action team.
The Habakkuk Trust Phakamani Action team has said the environment is peaceful and they are saying that development is critical for the area rather than political squabbles. Whilst they acknowledge the importance of the offices of the councillor and members of parliament, they feel that they are the critical people for development. They have since resaved to work with traditional leaders to deal with issues such as the lack of serviced boreholes which has seen school children carrying water to school and women walking for more than 4 kilometers fetch water.
Mr Dube of Mahlabazihlangene also acknowledged the need for communities to take charge of their developmental goals and acknowledges that development starts with the individual and hence it is not the preserve of politicians.
The community of Phakamani is an interesting case study and bears testimony to the fact that a community which is aware of their rights is able to deal with situations which threaten their livehood. The communities realize the importance of peace in development and they are taking active steps in defending it. The community is very organized and this enables them to speak with one voice. The community has managed to ensure peace in their surroundings at a time when rural communities are under siege.