Bringing Down the Towers of Oppression

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Putting Youth at the Centre of Transitional Justice in Southern Africa

By Dzikamai Bere

On the 12th of May 2022, I was privileged to deliver the key note address at the Regional Symposium to Foster the Domestication of The African Union (AU) Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) in the SADC Region. The Symposium was hosted by the Southern Africa Youth Forum (SAYoF) in collaboration with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR). Thanks to the good leadership of my brothers Webster Zambara and Misheck Gondo. They lead with compassion.

In my keynote address, I focused how young people can be at the centre of transitional justice processes. This was mainly a summary of the lessons I learnt in the past decade of TJ advocacy in Zimbabwe. But over these years, my approach to transitional justice has been evolving. As the activist that I am, I have come to understand transitional justice in a different way than when I started the journey. These are the insights I shared with the youth movement, with no apologies. It is my hope that young people find these useful, take them up and fulfil the Madiba prophecy – ‘bring down the towers of oppression.’

How should young people understand transitional justice? Over the years, we have found so many nice definitions of transitional justice. And it’s nice that we speak of transitional justice in ways that do not cause discomfort in the towers of power. The reality, however, is that transitional justice is about power shift.  It is a fight and a struggle. When we appreciate that the grave injustice that we are confronting today are a result of power being deployed towards the decimation of human dignity, then we must define our goal as transitional justice activists being to see a power shift. We desire to see power serving the common good. Now, that, though the language used by academics maybe polite, is indeed a revolution.

Young people don’t need an invitation into the transitional justice discourse because they are already in the heart of it. They have been, since time immemorial, at the centre of Africa’s historic transformations going back to the fight against colonialism, and in modern day times – the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Zimbabwean Lives Matter movement, the Rhodes Must Fall movement, Fees Must Fall Movement, #FreeMako movement,  among many others. These are transitional justice actions that are already targeting the towers of oppression as our young men and women are already seeing visions and futures where power is at the service of good.

Confronting power is not a joke. It is a war as power can never be handed away without a fight. How we challenge power in the 21st century demands critical investments in strategy. Passion and anger is not enough. Young people must design strategies for power shift without using violence because as Gandhi said, “There is no way to peace, Peace is the way.” The question is; how do you transform powerful and often violent systems without resorting to violence? Strategy!

Where do you begin the journey? Young people can begin with the current assets – What do you have today? The African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework (AUTJP) is a good beginning to tackle the issue. It sets out 5 key principles that open the avenue for young people not only to be included, but to shape the conversation and ultimately lead it. It is not enough to participate – lead. Today, not tomorrow. The critical mass – the numbers give young people the leverage to take the fight a level higher if need be. Because transitional justice is a revolution and young people must take it head on.

In this fight, through the AUTJP, young people must shape a genuinely pan-African transitional justice agenda. It is hypocritical to be outraged by Murambatsvina, Rhodes’s statue and other forms of injustices in Africa without being outraged by slavery and colonialism and their continued impact on the continent’s progress. These are continuing injustices that have not been addressed that young people must never ignore.

And finally, our strategies today, must go beyond awareness. When we say ‘critical mass’ we do not simply mean numbers, we mean citizens, taking positive action to bring down the towers of oppression. We must seeks to raise as many young people as possible, and equip them with tools to scale up the pyramid of participation from mere awareness to championship. Young people must lead this journey. And because they possess this zeal and energy, the continent hopes in them. This why Joshua Nkomo said those words;

“The country will never die; the young people will save it.”

The continent will not die. Because in the fullness of time, young people will rise and demand transitional justice.

Thank you IJR and SAYoF. You give us hope.

Dzikamai Bere is the National Director at the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) and the Deputy Chairperson of the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG). For more information on the thoughts shared here, read the Policy Brief published by IJR on the Role of Youth in Advancing Transitional Justice in Southern Africa, available here Comments on this article can be send to