Human rights defenders in Zimbabwe rejoice but realize still long away to go

November 23, 2017

With Mugabe’s departure there is light at the end of the tunnel but there is a lot of cleaning up to do. Two recent opinion pieces make the point:

'Mugabe’s departure offers Zimbabwe an opportunity to make a break from its past,' writes Deprose Muchena (Zinyange Auntony, AFP)
‘Mugabe’s departure offers Zimbabwe an opportunity to make a break from its past,’ (Zinyange Auntony, AFP)

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southern Africa, wrote a piece in the Mail & Guardian of 23 November 2017 under title From reconciliation to repression: Mugabe’s painful legacy“.

Muchena traces first Robert Mugabe’s political career that saw early successes ultimately wiped out by a litany of human rights abuses.

Mugabe started well in his early years as leader of Zimbabwe following the transition from British colonial rule. He oversaw heavy investment in Zimbabwe’s social services. Areas including health and education saw dramatic improvements, with the country still enjoying one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. The results of this significant investment in education are there for everyone to see. But Mugabe later undermined his own legacy. During his 37 years in power, he presided over the brutal repression of political opponents, established a culture of impunity for himself and his cronies, and his government implemented a series of policies that have had disastrous consequences for Zimbabweans…Mugabe began his political life fighting against injustice. Imprisoned, and later exiled for his political activities, he was one of more than 900 prisoners of conscience in Zimbabwe adopted by Amnesty International between 1965 and 1979.

After independence political opponents, (repression of Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe Africa People’s Union, military crackdown across Matabeleland and Midlands provinces) ……With nobody held accountable for the killings, a dangerous precedent of impunity was set early on in Mugabe’s reign. It was one he went on to exploit time and again.

Throughout his presidency, general elections were characterised by spikes of serious human rights violations and abuses by state security agents and Zanu-PF activists. Opposition supporters suffered torture, harassment, intimidation and death…A wave of violence unleashed by the army against those suspected of voting for the MDC ensured that Mugabe won by a comfortable margin after the second round of votes was counted.

An increasing reliance on security services to suppress dissenting voices in and outside his party became a hallmark of Mugabe’s rule. Human rights defenders, journalists, those with dissenting views and opposition party activists were locked up on politically motivated charges or under draconian laws. Some were tortured or “disappeared”. Much early progress made on economic, social and cultural rights was wiped out by a series of disastrous government policy decisions. Carried out in 2005, Operation Murambatsvina — a Shona word for “drive out trash” — was one of the most devastating forced evictions in Zimbabwean history…

Although land reform was clearly needed and resulted in some legitimate large-scale redistribution, it was also used as a system of patronage. It rewarded Mugabe’s supporters with land but denied it to those considered supporters of opposition parties. Escaping repression and a shrinking economy, three million Zimbabweans have left the country since 2000…

 

Mugabe’s departure offers Zimbabwe an opportunity to make a break from its past. Zimbabwe’s future lies in renouncing impunity, addressing the human rights violations of the past, ensuring reparations for the victims and respecting the rule of law. The next generation of leaders must commit to upholding the Constitution and live up to Zimbabwe’s international and regional human rights obligations.

———————–

Supporters of Zimbabwe’s former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa await his arrival in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 22, 2017. PHILIMON BULAWAYO/ REUTERS

Mandipa Ndlovu says that “during Mugabe’s reign, over one-third of the population (4-million people) was forced to relocate to abroad to seek better opportunities for them and their families, as well as escape the iron-fisted rule of the former president. The end of an era marked the beginning of a newfound hope that released dormant life in the Zimbabwean community both in the country and around the world.

That long-time Mugabe ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, will become the new president.. has been welcomed in regards to change for the southern African country, but must be engaged with from a nuanced position regarding the sustainability of human rights and good governance in the country…Zimbabweans are past bitterness and anger, we just want recognition and acknowledgement of past wrongs. This is the only way the country can move forward.

The fact is that Britain’s and the West’s policy was that of turning a blind eye to the black Zimbabwean persecutions of 1980 to 1987 and only reacted with economic sanctions when white-occupied farms were invaded in 2000. Moreover, the legacy of colonialism up until this point had remained one which the Zimbabwean people now realise was exploitative. This, for many Zimbabweans, highlights the interests of which demographic of the Zimbabwean population they seek to strengthen. This lack of historical recognition remains a sticking point to the black population of Zimbabwe, who have both lived through and experienced the effect of economic sanctions placed on the country as a result of Mugabe’s rule. One which needs to be rectified…

It would therefore be a disservice to the future of human rights to disregard the need to address this. Zimbabweans need to have these fears allayed through the initiation of both restorative and distributive justice in order to legitimise real change. In this, however, it is imperative to note that Zimbabweans are past bitterness and anger, we just want recognition and acknowledgement of past wrongs. This is the only way the country can move forward.

.. We have not forgotten people such as Itai Dzamara, whose whereabouts still need to be accounted for. It is not enough to remove the face of fear and violence when the potential for the re-engagement with the system still exists under untainted structures of governance. It is imperative that the narrative of ‘Operation Restore Legacy’ under the new regime does not gloss over the grief of loss (material, physical and in time) as linked to trauma and its subsequent memory..

In the new Zimbabwe, there should not be room to romanticise about the past and its legacies. The culture that tip-toes around the acceptability of violence within the public sphere for the perpetuation of political gain must be thwarted. This can be particularly translated to the politics of grief in reconciling the “violence” narrative…Regardless of what reforms are dormant in Mnangagwa’s hat as he ascends to the presidency, the sentiments of cooperation and the respect of human rights expressed in his press statement on November 21 will go a long way in legitimising bodies. These are the ideals to which the Zimbabwean people must continue to hold him and his administration to account.

For some of my earlier posts on Zimbabwe: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/zimbabwe/

Sources:

https://mg.co.za/article/2017-11-23-from-reconciliation-to-repression-mugabes-painful-legacy

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/mandipha-ndlovu/is-there-a-future-of-sustainable-peace-and-human-rights-for-zimbabwe_a_23286098/

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