ZIMBABWE’S worsening political and human rights crisis has seen African civil society jointly calling for an end to impunity against dissenting voices, with activists saying this is destabilising the entire southern African region.
The political atmosphere has been tense since Zanu PF won the discredited 23 and 24 August general election that was red-flagged by key election observer missions, including the Southern Africa Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM), which has foe the first time openly condemned Zimbabwe’s shambolic polls.
SEOM, led by former Zambian vice-president Nevers Mumba, denounced the polls for failing to meet requirements of Zimbabwe’s constitution, Electoral Act as well as Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
Zimbabwean leaders went on the warpath against the Zambians, raising fears of damaged relations, as they fought tooth, nail and claw to sanitise the condemned polls.
Revelations from the just-ended 77th African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Session (ACHPR) have shown that key human rights organisations, including the International Federation for Human Rights, have condemned the ongoing impunity against dissenting voices, calling for the removal of laws that are further shrinking civic space.
“We may say that tonight is about Zimbabwe, but in fact, this is about our southern African region. In my language, basically, if my neighbour’s house is on fire, my house is on fire. This is the story of our neighbours Zimbabwe. Human rights defenders as we have been hearing have been increasingly under threat in Zimbabwe for several years, to the extent that they are operating in shrunken spaces,” said Alice Mogwe, IFHR president, in a side meeting held at the conference, aired by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Organisation (ZimRights).
“This has been effected in several ways, including imprisonment and enforced disappearances such as Itai Dzamara, and that happens to critics of the government, through legislation like the Patriotic Act, which violates fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of association; through the recent elections which the Sadc Observer Mission found as short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, Electoral Act and Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections 2021, and through the state capture of democratic institutions, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).”
Mogwe also condemned the recall of opposition MPs from Parliament and local authorities by self-proclaimed interim secretary-general of the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) Sengezo Tshabangu, saying it shows the further shrinking of civic space.
“With the recent recalls of elected members of Parliament and the consequential disengagement of the opposition party CCC in Parliament, civil society space has indeed continued to be shrunken. This evening, as we continue to express our solidarity with Zimbabwe, we also call upon the African Commission on Human Rights, to also act for the people of Zimbabwe, as they seek to reclaim the civic space,” she said.
“We are first of all calling for a repeal of the Patriot Act. Secondly, the cessation of the ongoing recalls of members of parliament and thirdly, the release of all political prisoners, including Job Sikhala. And forth, the initiation of a path to dialogue, and full implementation of the recommendations of the Sadc EOM. These actions will help to douse the flames of injustice, and prevent them from spreading from neighbour to neighbour in our Southern African region. Effective solidarity is urgently required for the protection of human rights for both the present and future generations.”
Another major organisation, The Pan-African Lawyers’ Union (PALU) said Zimbabwe’s crisis has been worsening since the days of the late president Robert Mugabe.
“I stand to speak for the Union in full authority of the Pan-African Lawyers’ Union. I stand to speak in the full authority of colleagues of the Stop the Bleeding consortium. Seven membership institutions that work on economic justice in Africa and come from all over Africa. I stand to speak on behalf of my colleagues from the Africa Court Coalition and I stand to speak as Don Deya, an African, a Pan-Africanist,” said Donald Deya, PALU chief executive officer.
“In 2008, Zimbabwe looked like Kenya, and in 2023, Zimbabwe now looks like Uganda, marauded by a beast, and unleashing soldiers on citizens. Dropping all pretense to a democracy. In fact, the only people that still think that we should be talking about Zimbabwe might be in the AU. Because, even Sadc for whatever reason is now saying we cannot do this anymore.”
Deya continued: “I will call it. I hope we have some South African brothers in the room. In 2008, Levi Mwanawasa was willing to turn the tide, and it is Thabo Mbeki who stopped him. And, I will not even blame the Republic of South Africa, I will not even blame the government of South Africa. I will blame our older brother Thabo Mbeki. He in one way interrupted and disrupted what may have been, however imperfect.”
“What am I saying? It may take much longer, but we the PALU, we the Stop the Bleeding Consortium, we the African Court Coalition and we many individuals are invested in being there with you, our colleagues as you do the hard work of turning the tide. And the solidarity that I have mentioned, like my sister Alice said, that we have to think more regional because we have the same problem, different intensities, I would not wish the intensity that the Zimbabwean colleagues are suffering on anyone. Your intensity is higher than most. But, we are invested in being together until we turn this tide.”
Another human rights watchdog, the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders’ Network, said that there is a need for increased solidarity with the Zimbabwean people.
“First of all I am Zimbabwean, although I am not there. It is important to understand what solidarity means to each and every one of us, and the angle of solidarity can take different shapes depending on where we are,” said Joseph Bikande, PAHRDN coordinator.
“As African defenders. We believe that solidarity is to accompany colleagues, comrades to the different steps of their struggles. Of course we have layers of protection. Of course we understand the difficult democratic and electoral processes. But also, we understand that it is connected to other things that we do not understand.” Bikande said the African Union and civic society should reconsider its strategy in promoting solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.
“We strongly believe that solidarity should be done in the way that our founding fathers of Pan-Africanism from East to West, there is this support for each other’s struggle. We need action. I think since I joined this space, we have been speaking about Zimbabwe. Perhaps we need to change the strategy and reflect what could be bringing solidarity to our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe,” he said.