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‘Zim heading towards bloodbath’



…only dialogue will resolve the crisis

ZIMBABWE is faced with a multifaceted economic, political and social crisis. Observers say the challenges bedevilling the country will likely get worse ahead of the 2023 general elections as rival political parties clash. The NewsHawks’ Moses Matenga (MM) speaks to Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) national director Dzikamai Bere (DB) on the human rights situation, the organisation’s agenda and solutions to the country’s crisis.

MM: What is your assessment of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe?

DB: The human rights situation in Zimbabwe keeps deteriorating at all levels, eroding the dignity of families, communities and individuals.

The economy is going wild, inflation is 595%; according to Steve Hanke’s inflation dashboard, we are at number one in the world. The prices of basic needs have surged while salaries have remained stagnant.

Instead of addressing these pressing needs, the clueless and heartless government is fighting the workers, imprisoning activists and trade unionists without trial, shutting down NGOs, invading communal lands, confiscating people’s food in farms and the marketplace, rigging the census and ignoring wise counsel from the international community.

 The right to free expression, association and the right to protest have all disappeared.  You can almost get convinced that they are determined to fail at any cost. The situation is just terrible and there is no end in sight. Elections will just make it worse as violent repression will increase.

MM: How can the issues you raise be addressed?

DB: First there is need to acknowledge that we are in a man-made crisis. Many times, we only take dramatic action when blood is flowing in the streets but right now a lot of blood is flowing in the hospitals and in the streets.

We need – just like a nation at war – to stop everything and initiate a broad-based multi-stakeholder dialogue process aimed at first stopping the bleeding and finding each other, realising that elections are not the answer. In fact, in Zimbabwe, they are part of the problem.

They deliver nothing but dead bodies and increasing authoritarian consolidation.

The government must stop the persecution of activists, stop the persecution of NGOs and stop the looting.

There is need to initiate an inclusive and comprehensive reform process that touches both the political reforms necessary for a return to constitutionalism and a return to a life sustaining economy that saves all of us.

These are difficult steps that cannot happen without acknowledgement from the current leadership and necessary support from the good people in Zimbabwe and the international community.  

What stands in the way? Lack of ethical leadership that cares about the people. For that reason, we are most likely going to remain on the road to perdition until the contradictions have reached their limits and the nation will pay a price that is unavoidable.

MM: There have been fears that Zimbabwe may be heading towards a volatile situation ahead of the 2023 elections, with human rights defenders and dissenters under siege. What is your view on that and what needs to be done to avoid chaos?  

DB: That is an understatement – we are heading towards a bloodbath. But if anyone thinks only human rights defenders are under siege, they are deluded. Everyone is under siege. The pattern is emerging. They started with the attack on the opposition – the recalls – aimed at capturing the opposition. They moved to the judiciary with the Amendment Bill Number 2 and the infamous (Chief Justice Luke) Malaba debacle. They are coming after the Law Society. With the Health Services Bill, they are coming after the doctors. With the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill – they are coming after the NGOs. There will be the Patriotic Act and many others. We are heading into the dark ages – not the human rights defenders – all of us and we must wake up and smell the blood – it’s not coffee time.

MM: Can you take us through what ZimRights has done and continues to do in promoting human rights in Zimbabwe and also protecting HRDs.

DB: As a mass movement our primary mandate is to keep building a critical mass to fight for human rights. Those who violate human rights have the power of money and arms on their side. The people have nothing but each other. Our only tools to push back are our numbers – when many of us come together and speak out powerfully with determination, innovation and creativity – power shifts in our favour.

And as ZimRights, we want as many people to join the movement and form a powerful force that pushes back against human rights violations. Of course, we do a lot of this – we write reports, we approach the courts, we send communications to multilateral bodies – but our most critical work is empowering ordinary people to step forward and take action collectively in defence of human rights.

MM: Briefly take us through the ZimRights turnaround programme and what your team has achieved over the period you have been in charge.

DB: It’s almost three years now since we started this journey to re-energise the movement. ZimRights is Zimbabwe’s first post-independence indigenous human rights advocacy group. We were formed 30 years ago and the turnaround process is aimed at reigniting the power of community – the power of us. Over the years, power has shifted into the hand of the few in Zimbabwe leading the kind of crisis that we have.

We believe our contribution to resolving the current crisis is to rebuild our grassroots organising capacities and bring ordinary people back into the conversation. We have therefore spent the last two years plus trying to understand ourselves as the country’s biggest grassroots human rights movement. With over 250 000 members across the country, we are asking ourselves: What can we bring to the table to help resolve the Zimbabwean crisis?

As such, on 24 March 2022, we adopted a new Strategic Plan for ZimRights – the Shifting Power to the People – ZimRights Reset (SP2P). There are five strategic pillars to the SP2P.

First is ‘Building a Critical Mass.’ In building a critical mass, we are guided by the philosophy of ‘preserving the core while stimulating progress.’ What is at the core is ‘community organising’ which is what ZimRights has always been known for. But in stimulating progress we are learning that we have emerging grassroots communities that are not found in the traditional communities and we are saying – how do we build a convergence between the two and increase our momentum.

The second pillar is high impact programming. What makes a critical mass progressive and transformative is not merely the numbers – but the action that they take. Hence through high impact programming we are triggering progressive creative positive actions that transform our situation. We are deploying an eight-action zone framework – a full arsenal of people power targeted at eight pressure points.

The third strategic priority is transforming the governance framework. This has got a lot to do with the internal systems that drive a movement without choking it with bureaucracy. Our forefathers and foremothers created in Zimbabwe a movement. In this strategic priority we are creating the software, systems, processes and infrastructures that strengthen, solidify and sustain the movement. That is our mandate as the new leadership under this third strategic priority.

The fourth strategic priority is leveraging on innovation. Now, this is important because it is the awakening that reminds us that in confronting powerful systems that violate human rights, systems that are armed from top to toe – how do we win without violence? Innovation and creativity is the answer.

The fifth strategic priority is achieving resilience and sustainability. What is a movement? Is it is not planning for the long haul? Movements today in Zimbabwe and the world over are dying. Our problems are more than just the PVO Bill. They are varied.

Including imperialistic funding models that decide for us what issues we must pursue and with who we must do it. Our resilience and sustainability strategy is meant to build a truly people-oriented human rights movement able to build and sustain itself in these days of movements that are losing connection with their roots because the leadership is pursuing their own livelihoods.

These five pillars are connected and summarise the work that we have done in the past three years and the work that we will be doing in the next three years. We are pioneering a new path of resilience and sustainability for civil society. We are shifting the power without any apologies for doing so.

MM: Have you also engaged government, the ruling Zanu PF party and opposition in dealing with challenges?

DB: Both the ruling party and the opposition are part of our members. While the leadership may take time to understand the path towards returning power to the people, ordinary Zimbabweans are frustrated with the shenanigans and are ready for broad-based dialogue – led by grassroots communities and giving a voice to their struggles.

We have shared our concerns with parliamentarians, with the last engagement being on 23 June 2022 when we presented the 2021 State of Peace Report, clearly showing the precarious state of our communities. As a registered PVO, we always share our reports with the government through the ministry of Social Welfare. But we also work with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to find redress to the human rights issues that our members are facing.

MM: Outside political crisis, what other human rights issues do you deal with as ZimRights and how have you handled them?

DB: We are seized, as our constitution states, with the issue of detention without trial, which is an evil practice that dates back to the colonial era. It has no place in independent Zimbabwe and we are concerned that the new dispensation seems to have fallen into the trap of using pre-trial detention to punish dissent. We are calling the ZHRC to investigate this as a serious violation of human rights especially the presumption of independence that is enshrined in our constitution.

We are also occupied with the work of building community women grassroots civic leadership. Through our Open Up Campaign, we are working women across the country to make sure that not only are they included but that they lead in civic engagement. Through the YouthZone, we are supporting over 15 Constitution Clubs in high schools as a way of building the next generation of active citizens that are grounded in the principles of constitutionalism.

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