Mukoko's struggle

2009-01-09 00:00

IN December, Jestina Mukoko, a former television journalist and director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was seized from her home near Harare by 15 unidentified men and driven off in an unmarked vehicle. For nearly three weeks she was held at various unknown locations, and assaulted and tortured by drunken men. Part of her mistreatment involved being beaten on the soles of her feet. It was behaviour that bears all the hallmarks of the notorious Central Intelligence Organisation.

Abduction of opponents of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF has become commonplace: 40 such cases are on record. Sixteen of the more fortunate victims, including Mukoko, appeared in court just before Christmas. The presiding judge demanded that they should be released for medical attention, but the Zimbabwe police, long accustomed to operating outside the law, refused.

More recently, a compliant magistrate, in a perverse interpretation of justice, decided that the detainees must remain in Chikurubi Prison until the Supreme Court rules on the validity of charges brought against them. These are transparently trumped-up accusations of plotting to bring about the violent overthrow of the Mugabe regime. The clear objective is to neutralise civil society activists who have documentary evidence that could convict rights abusers when democracy is restored in Zimbabwe. Mukoko is the Zimbabwean equivalent of South Africa’s human rights activist David Webster, murdered by the apartheid state 20 years ago. Mukoko’s country’s crisis echoes the emergency years in South Africa that rightly earned strong international condemnation. That situation was occasionally brightened by forceful, independent judges; and a robust corps of human rights lawyers. And conditions in jail were governed by legally enforceable regulations.

Zimbabwe’s civil rights record is in the same freefall as its now worthless currency and the rule of law vanished long ago. The South African government pronounces loftily on the coup in Guinea and the conflict in Palestine, yet it remains deaf, dumb and indifferent to severe oppression in a potentially failed state just across the Limpopo. It has abdicated responsibility on two levels, losing its moral compass while failing to guard the security of this state.

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