On 4-5 May, the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria hosted a civil society engagement with the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) SADC Chapter in partnership with the Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network and The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders for this two day workshop.

The primary objective of the event was to foster closer collaboration between CSOs on PAP related issues, with a view to advance and promote the mandate of the Continental Parliament. The meeting aimed to address issues such as the decline in human rights standards and threats of insecurity in the region and the role of CSOs in addressing these. The meeting also aimed to discuss ways in which PAP mechanisms can be used to fulfil its peace and security mandates. 

Ms Bonolo Makgale, Programme Manager of Centre’s DCE Unit in her keynote address stated that it is indisputable that democracy and civil society are inextricably intertwined. Democracy, without the pulsating lifeblood of civil society is but a hollow shell - without the indomitable spirit of human rights, on what anchor is democracy moored? This intricate dance between democracy and human rights is nothing short of a symbiotic relationship, each profoundly dependent on the other, each providing sustenance to the other. They are not just interconnected but mutually constitutive and inseparable in their essence.

Ms Makgale highlighted that historically civil society has played a pivotal role in the process of democratisation. During colonialism, CSOs were a formidable force. They were the heartbeat of the struggle for independence, collaborating with citizen-led movements in the fights against colonial governments, advocating for human rights, and championing better treatment of people. She argues that CSOs were proactive and influential actors then and even more so now. At a time when the relentless cycle of poverty hampers citizen participation, a landscape of uneven development and wealth distribution has been created. This has, thus, reinforced the absence of platforms to facilitate meaningful participation - often facilitated by civil society. Ms Makgale pointed out that for true democratic consolidation to occur in the engagement’s countries of focus - Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa - it is crucial to have an active, vibrant and well-supported civil society and noted that as a collective we must ensure that the sun of democracy does not set on our beloved continent.

The keynote address was followed by a panel discussion that looked at the state of human rights in the SADC region and relevant CSO interventions. The panel opened with Mary Pais Da Silva, Gender and Social Inclusion Advisor at the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network. Ms Da Silva provided a contextualisation of the current state of human rights violations in Swaziland. The Kingdom of Eswatini has been facing increasing waves of pro-democracy protests which have been met by brute force from the King Mswati III monarchy. The Internet has been switched off and citizens are being attacked by the military without much publicity to the rest of the world. The unlawful arrests of journalists like Eugen Dube who criticised the government’s mishandling of COVID-19 and assassination of Swazi human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko - demonstrate the government’s ill-will to commit to human rights and democracy. Ms Da Silva articulated that the silence from SADC, PAP and African Union on the matter has been deafening. Calls for independent investigations have been futile and civic rights remain under threat in the country. 

Next on the panel was Human Rights Lawyer,  João Nhampossa who proceeded to contextualise the state of human rights in Mozambique. The most obvious of the violations has been the ongoing jihadist insurgency in the province of Caba Delgado. The conflict has resulted in the death and displacement of millions. The security forces of Mozambique are clearly overwhelmed by the insurgency which has resulted in SADC mobilising for military deployment into the region. However, SADC forces and all forces active in Mozambique need to respect and uphold the human rights of citizens in Cabo Delgado. There have been reports of excessive use of force by government soldiers operating in that region which undermines fundamental freedoms and rights. Any peace process must be centred on respecting citizens’ rights and fundamental freedoms. Other than the insurgency, Mr Nhampossa argued that the culture of civic participation in Mozambique is increasingly declining. There seems to be a mindset that human rights are not for all - or at least human rights discourse is limited to a few in society. For Nhampossa, this is a concerning reality as it translates to the type of relationship citizens have with their government. This relationship is often one that is detached from accountability and the political will to participate - opening up authoritarian, populist possibilities. 

Last on the panel was Thobekile Matimbe, Senior Manager of Partnerships and Engagements at Paradigm Initiative. Ms Matimbe provided context on the state of human rights in Zimbabwe. There has been a renewed assault on human rights including the right to freedom of expression in recent months, especially targeting journalists, activists and human rights defenders who have spoken out against alleged corruption. 

The African Union affirms the fundamental importance of freedom of expression and information as an individual right, as a cornerstone of democracy and as a means of ensuring respect for all human rights and freedoms (in particular Article 19: “Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). However, the ongoing undermining of human rights in the region - the ones stated above - and many others not mentioned here goes vehemently against key principles of the AU. Therefore, AU organs like the PAP are crucial for CSOs to fight against human rights violations. It was through this context that DCE Project Officers, Tariro Sekeremayi and Yanga Malotana provided training on entry points for CSOs within the PAP. Attending delegates were informed on the mandate of the PAP and the different ways in which their civic organisations can work with the PAP. This training was accompanied by another training on the SADC Tribunal and its relationship with civil society, presented by Human Rights Lecturer at UKZN, Dr Simbarashe Tembo. Delegates were informed of the role of the tribunal, its efficacy and problem areas. 

Delegates got an opportunity to discuss a way forward with all the presented discussions and training. Some of the recommendations suggested included: having the budget of the PAP to increase in order for them to interact better with CSOs; the PAP should shift from being an advisory and consultative body to one with legislative capacity, therefore the PAP Malabo Protocol needs to be fully ratified; judiciaries in all SADC countries need to have human-rights based approaches for fair and equitable justice and the rule of law needs to be of priority in order to have the protection of human rights and civic spaces.

For more information, please contact:

Bonolo Makgale
Programme Manager: Democracy  and Civic Engagement Unit

Tariro Sekeramayi
Project officer: Democracy  and Civic Engagement Unit

Yanga Malotane
Project officer: Democracy  and Civic Engagement Unit


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