#ZimbabweanLivesAlsoMatter

2016-07-10 19:21

Armed Zimbabwean police hunt down innocent civilians (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Recent events In the USA over the killing of a black man by police have once again raised the question of the value of black lives in that country and rightfully so. It is with interest that I noted many Africans also commenting and expressing outrage –as they should. It would be wrong for me to say that attention should shift from that part of the world to focus on another. Instead, I am asking that while people also comment and express outrage over the American situation, the same attention should go in the direction of Zimbabwe where the government has embarked on a jolly ride of senseless attacks on civilians in the past week.

Police brutality is nothing new in Zimbabwe and Amnesty International has constantly reported this to be so for a number of years now. This is of course in addition to other human rights bodies that have consistently noted with concern that the most fundamental of human rights continue to be infringed by the government.Furthermore, the African Commission on Human Rights heard a case of such brutality in the case of Gabriel Shumba v The Government of Zimbabwe in 2004 but the types of torture and brutality described in that case have not ceased. If anything, they have increased.

The Zimbabwean government has never been fond of being criticised and where it has been accused of wrong doing, it has either left the group or thrown insults to groups calling it out. A good example of this is the SADC Tribunal which ruled in favour of the late Mike Campbell in his case against the Zimbabwean Government where he sued the government for violating the rule of law and several of his human rights. This abuse stemmed from the acquisition of his land without compensation and the torture he endured at the hand of State agents. Rather absurdly, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe dismissed his challenge stating that challenging the acquisition would be an abuse of the right to protection of law. Long story short, the Tribunal agreed with the Campbell but by that time the Zimbabwean Government’s legal representatives had stormed out of the Tribunal leaving the Tribunal to hand down judgment in the absence of the Zimbabwean Government.

Naturally, the government refused to accept this judgment and the judgment was not given effect to. The government later rejected the authority of the Tribunal and declared that it would not be bound by its ‘previous or future decisions’. Ironically, the Government did not raise any objections to the jurisdiction when it sent its lawyers to the Tribunal. Anyways, eventually the Tribunal was disbanded largely because of this event. Campbell passed away in 2011 from what his family avers were complications that arose from the injuries sustained while being tortured and his struggle with the government was documented in ‘Mugabe and the White African’

From that narrative above , one might think it is only white Zimbabweans that are on the receiving end of state sanctioned torture and  brutality but this is not so .

Former Zimbabwean Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirayi, was savagely assaulted when he was arrested on charges of treason in 2007. Human rights activist and Director of Zimbabwe Peace Project, Jestina Mukoko was subjected to several weeks of torture and her narrative is the basis of the book ‘The Abduction and Trial of Jestina Mukoko: The Fight for Human Rights in Zimbabwe.’ These are just two examples from thousands more that could be cited. Worse still is the fact that there are there are many more people who have simply been abducted by the State as far back as 1981.

Many activists and opposition members have disappeared without a trace- a common feature of the tactics used by the State to silence and crush dissent. Many of these individuals are feared dead and some might be in secret detention centres. 20 000 Zimbabweans were killed in the Gukurahundi massacres of the 80s that the government has refused to account for and has only described as ‘a moment of madness.’ Such is the disregard for the value of human lives by this government.

The past 10 days have been a nightmare for the Zimbabwean government because the people they previously thought to be passive, united against them to make certain demands. For those of you who are not aware of the issues in Zim right now. Here is a quick crash course:

  • Civil servants have not been paid their June salaries

  • Government imposed a ban on imports for most things that are not readily and cheaply available in Zimbabwe since most of the industries have closed down

  • Unemployment is estimated to be at 92 %

  • Several members of the Executive have built mansions and sent their children overseas at the expense of the taxpayers.

  • Rampant corruption by some top ruling party officials, ministers and heads of governmental institutions. Corruption by police who mount numerous roadblocks. In Zimbabwe, it is an offence to travel without a fire extinguisher in your car and many motorists are threatened with jail time for this. Most police at these roadblocks demand bribes to let motorists go.

  • Most places in Zimbabwe have water cuts for periods of up to three days and in some places , there has been no running water for over two years forcing many to sink boreholes. In any event , water in Harare (the capital city) is unfit for human consumption.

  • Poverty is at an all- time high with most graduates becoming cross border traders to put a meal on the table. Street vending has become a huge part of the Zimbabwean economy. 76% of the rural population which accounts for 67.5% of the population ,lives on less than US $1.25 per day according to the WFP. Zimbabwe is ranked 156 out of 187 on the Global Hunger Index.

  • President Mugabe suggested earlier in the year that close to US $15 Billion was looted and or stolen in the mining sector and to date that money has not been recovered. Investigations have not revealed anything in this regard.

  • One of the Vice Presidents has been staying in one of Zimbabwe’s finest hotels for over a year and adamantly insists that he will not be leaving the hotel any time soon.

As a result of this and mounting calls from movements such as #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka amongst others, Zimbabweans largely stayed away from work on Wednesday. Police however shamelessly went beating up citizens found in the streets and in some cases, they went after perceived protesters inside their houses. This has all been captured on social media and many media houses have posted pictures and videos of the violence that ensued. The government proceeded to interfere with access to social media on the day of the protest in contravention of the Zimbabwean Constitution and a recently passed UN resolution on the access to media and the internet which cannot be blocked in the manner that the government did.

This protest came hot on the heels of the Commuter Omnibus operators strike meant to express dissatisfaction with the roadblocks and brutality by police. This again was met with resistance from the State which brutally assaulted protesters and arrested many of them. Before this strike, there was the Beitbridge Border protest against the import ban. It resulted in 71 people being arrested and scores of people being assaulted by police who were sent to disperse the crowd.

While protest in Zimbabwe is legally protected in the same way that it is in South Africa, the government does not take too kindly to people that question it or advocate for government accountability. There has been no official position on the recent developments by the SA government but this is also the case with both SADC and the AU. In fact, the AU is busy pushing through AU passports but has failed to condemn the actions of the Zim government.

South Africa could be a game changer as far as Zimbabwe is concerned because a lot of the money that has been looted and stolen is invested in South African properties. Furthermore, many of these ministers come to spend that wealth in South Africa since they have been barred from most European countries. During the hyper-inflation period, many of them did their grocery shopping in South Africa while ruining lives for their people back home.

My suggestions are simple:

  • The SA government must not extend any loans to the government because these are likely to be abused to campaign for the 2018 election or to boost arms and other equipment that will be used to crack down on opposition leaders and supporters or to enrich the ministers themselves while the ordinary citizens continue to suffer.

  • In any event , Zimbabwe has shown to be a bad debtor that does not repay the loans which can only mean that any funding to this government will further impoverish the Zimbabwean people who will have to pay for these loans after the departure of the government. In the absence of good governance and accountability it is futile to finance the government.

  • The SA government must unequivocally condemn the use of violence by the Zim government on its people and the blocking of social media sites.

  • The SA government must not supply or cause anyone else to supply arms to the Zimbabwean government .Previous reports by human rights bodies have indicated that these arms are used against the Zimbabwean people themselves as opposed to external threats. The government must therefore block attempts to use any of its ports of entry to supply the government with these.

  • The SA government should proceed to impose embargoes, sanctions and restrictions on known human rights violators in Zimbabwe. This action should extend to freezing of accounts and seizing any assets owned by the perpetrators of such abuse.

This in no way should affect humanitarian assistance that benefits ordinary citizens such as food aid but the focus should be on targeting the government itself. In the same way,   the regional and international community supported the fight to end apartheid and imposed several measures on the government to ensure this happened, it would be great for South Africans and Africans at large to stand with the people of Zimbabwe at a time when they need all the support and help they can get.

Here’s a link to one of the videos that shows the extent of this brutality

https://www.facebook.com/takingbackourzim/videos/vb.100288853741298/105496453220538/?type=2&theater&notif_t=like&notif_id=1468085440763744

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