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Mediation Perspectives: Learning from Freedom Nyamubaya

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Freedom Nyamubaya
Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.

“In the absence of vision
The earth starts to vomit skeletons long buried,
Once swallowed by time,
As politics become a means to amass wealth,
You can buy a vote at thirty pieces of silver …”

Excerpt from “In the Absence of Vision.”[1]

                                                   – Freedom Nyamubaya

Daniel Bowling and David Hoffman argue that mediators go through three stages in their training. They first learn skills and techniques, then they learn to
intellectually understand how mediation processes work, and finally they take the most challenging step – i.e., they develop “self-awareness, presence, authenticity, congruence, and integration,” which are qualities that “can be learned but . . . cannot be taught.” [2]

One way of learning such qualities is letting oneself be inspired by other people – mediators and non-mediators alike – who have such presence. The late Freedom Nyamubaya (1957–2015) was such a person, as I would now like to discuss in this partial commemoration and partial reflection on how to mediate well.

Freedom Nyamubaya was a freedom-fighter in Zimbabwe’s war of liberation. She joined the struggle at age fifteen and later advanced to the rank of Female Field Operation Commander. After the war she was active as a farmer, development worker and poet. In recent years she also became involved in peace and security issues as a Trustee for the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme. While she would not have called herself a mediator, she did work tirelessly to build bridges across conflict divides and was a powerful source of inspiration to many people within and outside of Zimbabwe.

The key to understanding the reasons for this can be found in the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “And no sooner will falsehood be dispersed than the nakedness of violence will be revealed in all its ugliness ‐ and violence, decrepit, will fall.”[3] Freedom Nyamubaya provides an example of how this can be done in our world. Her personal example and poetry speak truth to us and they do it fearlessly. They unmask violence and enable freedom and peace to grow. Indeed, her last public words were: “Freedom is what we miss.” [4] She showed people how to gain freedom not just externally, but also on an internal, personal level.

When I look around, I see too many of us who live in democratic societies, enjoy the rule of law, have job opportunities and benefit from social services, but who are not internally free. In other words, too many of us have lost the ability to be totally true to ourselves; we have lost our way by trying to become successful careerists; we have lost ourselves in dysfunctional relationships of our own making; and we have lost ourselves in consumerism and the inevitable distractions of luxury. Freedom Nyamubaya, in contrast, continues to ask us a very direct and personal question: “Are you free? Are you being true to yourself? Are you being “one good piece of music”?[5]

For mediators to “bring peace into the room” more is required than learning skills and understanding how the mediation process works. They need to ask themselves some tough personal questions – much like the one which Freedom poses to us. The internal work for inner peace, freedom and truth does not need to happen before the external work for peace and justice. The two can go hand in hand. What is vital, however, is that one should not forget the inner work in the midst of external activism. Here too, Freedom is a source of inspiration.

Besides struggling for the liberation of her country, Freedom Nyamubaya also fought every inch of the way for her own personal freedom and inner peace – economically, politically, psychologically and spiritually. She experienced violence but refused to become a victim. She was not born free, but became free. By seeing her life and listening to her poetry, the realization dawns: “If she became free under such difficult situations, there is hope that I can also become free.” Her life and words help us liberate ourselves; this is why she continues to resonate far beyond Zimbabwe.

So here’s what I ultimately want to say. Thank you Freedom Nyamubaya for showing us how we can achieve freedom and peace:

By speaking out about injustice and engaging in politics without polarization;

By being honest with others, but also true to ourselves and listening deeply to our inner wisdom;

By relating to others with respect and love, but without sacrificing ourselves in the process;

By dancing, writing poetry, laughing, mediating and speaking the truth.

Thank you!




[2]Bowling, D and D. Hoffman, (2007) Bringing Peace into the Room: p. 21




Simon J. A. Mason is a senior researcher and Head of the Mediation Support Team at the Center for Security Studies (CSS).

For more information on issues and events that shape our world, please visit our CSS Security Watch Series or browse our Publications.

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