In recent days, media houses in the region and around the globe have put a spotlight on the continuation of systemic human rights violations in Zimbabwe. This state of affairs is disturbing as far as the democratic space in the country is concerned, and needs to be closely monitored by the international community. Elie Wiesel, who was a holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate rightly said that the opposite of good is not bad, but rather indifference; Indifference against human suffering, indifference against serious violations of rights by the State agents in Zimbabwe is a serious threat to peace both locally and regionally. Wiesel comprehended well that the struggle against indifference is a struggle for peace.

In this spirit of fighting against indifference in thecontinuing human rights violations in Zimbabwe, on 18 August 2020, the Democracy and Civic Engagement Unit of the Centre for Human Rights University of Pretoria hosted a webinar discussing the deterioration of of the human rights and political state of affairs in Zimbabwe. The Centre convened this conversation to provide a platform for meaningful dialogue between representatives from civil society, institutional and governmental quarters, and to establish a common departure point in restoring the social and economic dignity of ordinary Zimbabweans. The discussion asked such questions as “What is the perceived status of human rights in Zimbabwe? From where do such movements stem?”, “What role politics play in addressing citizenry concerns?”, and most importantly, “In the face of public outcry, what will the responsible authorities do to respond?”.

The Webinar was moderated by Ms Ruvimbo Samanga, who is a Policy Analyst for Space Africa, Research Fellow for Open Lunar Foundation and an esteemed alumna of the Centre for Human Rights, Pretoria.
The panellists included Ms Ruwadzano Patience Makumbe, a Zimbabwean Lawyer and Human Rights activist, who in her presentation representing the many voices of young Zimbabweans, noted that young people are the critical intervention factor in fostering economic development in Zimbabwe. The current state of affairs where an estimated 5.7million people in Zimbabwe are living in extreme poverty is alarming. Therefore, young people in Zimbabwe must be at the heart of the country’s development because the future of Zimbabwe does indeed depend on them. Makumbe vehemently contended that limiting freedom of expression and assembly in Zimbabwe escalates the system of marginalisation and elitism.  In tackling the worsening human rights in Zimbabwe, she proposed a restructuring which involves adding the voice of young people to the process of change.

It is unconstructive to not include the youth in the development of the nation, as the primary beneficiaries of future development. The country belongs to all who reside within the country, but when speaking to the youth their only source of hope is often outside of the borders. There needs to be a restructuring that involves adding the voice of the youth, and also reintroducing certain processes and fundamental human aspects such as humanity. Collaboration of both young and old leaders will bring about idea generation. Despite this, the resilience of young people in Zimbabwe is remarkable. And they are indeed the custodians in good governance. Exercising your human rights is not a punishable offence.

The discussion continued with Ms Gladys Kudzaishe Hlatywayo speaking on behalf of the Movement for Democratic Change. She passionately argued that the current situation in Zimbabwe is a manifestation of two crises: governance and political legitimacy. The political legitimacy crisis emerged out of the disputed election and November 2018 military coup. She contended that the social contract between the Zimbabwean people and its government had collapsed beyond repair. In resolving this situation, Hlatywayo suggested that an inclusive dialogue framework would be a plausible solution. She further recommended that transitional justice needed to be at the centre of the dialogue. Justice for victims of past human rights abuses by the government and state agents was a priority.  Importantly, she stressed that all these reforms needed to be implemented before the coming election.

solutions amongst others include an independent complaints mechanism and compensation to victims, which all speak to matters of accountability.  Section 59 of the Constitution, provides the right to peaceful protests and demonstrations, which was exercised by citizens in response to perceived public dissatisfaction. She mentioned that there was a shrinking   democractic space, which speaks to the need for further dialogue and progressive conversation on both sides, between public and governmenmt. Dialogue is important, most pertinently inclusice dialogue, scaffolded by the international community, and more so facilitated by independent and objective members of society.

The last speaker, Mr Brian Kagoro, argued that various factors needed to be underlined for one to understand the crisis in Zimbabwe fully. He agreed that Zimbabwe has both socio-economic and political crises. Mr Kagoro passionately argued that the economy of Zimbabwe was historically structured to serve the white minority class. Important to note that he also put the race question within the political discourse of the nation. Politically, Kagoro argued that there is a crisis of ideology and ethics in Zimbabwe, and this crisis exists because systemic corruption has been normalised. He further advocated for the indivisibility and indigenisation of rights in Zimbabwe and at the same time critiqued the western sanctions on Zimbabwe.

In the question of regional stability, Mr Kagoro persuasively argued that repression and economic difficulty combined had the effect of producing economic refugees which further results in a threat to regional peace and security. Based on this, neighbouring countries such as South Africa, as well as regional bodies like SADC and AU, could not in good conscious be indifferent concerning the plight of Zimbabweans.  Moreover, Kagoro critiqued the conceptual understanding of the sovereign state; he said sovereignity does not reside in the State instead in the people.  The AU, through its resolution in the African Charter on Democracy and Good Governance, and the AU Shared Value document both aligned to make a paradigm shift from non-intervention or non-indifference. He backed up such position with the spirit of Pan-Africanism.  Pan-Africanism as a value is about equal humanity, dignity, freedom, unity and transformation. In essence, Pan-Africanism means one has to connect to people to ensure their humanity is fully realised against oppression and tyranny.

Therefore, true Pan-Africanism is the ability to fight domestic abuse and global architectectures of oppression. This dual struggle guarantees genuine self-determination. This is a multifaceted situation, with underlying determinants. This is a socio-economic crisis, with historical components such as racial politics. Other contributing components included:

  1. Land and agrarian reform
  2. Factory labour question
  3. Vision of economic structural transformation and inclusive economy

Finally, Kagoro warned and cautioned people against imperialist hypocrisy and trying to speak for people of Zimbabwe. Kagoro forcefully contended that critiquing tyranny and oppression in Zimbabwe does not equate to one being an accomplice. He underscored the false dichotomy that being Pan-Africanist is not consistent with patriotism.

Human Rights Talks – #FreeZimbabwe: Webinar on the continuing deterioration of human rights in Zimbabwe

For more information, please contact:

Ms Bonolo Makgale
Programme Manager Democracy and Civic Engagement Unit

Tel: +27 (0) 12 420 4199
Fax: +27 (0) 86 580 5743


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