LOCAL human rights groups have slammed government for allegedly “hijacking” visiting American civil rights campaigner Reverend Jesse Jackson’s itinerary and blocking him from meeting civic society groups as initially planned.
Report by Everson Mushava
The civic groups also accused government of turning Jackson’s private business trip into a State visit, this minimizing his contact with other stakeholders.
The groups yesterday claimed Jackson had scheduled appointments with their leaders during his four-day visit which ended yesterday, but ended up holed up in meetings with political leaders including President Robert Mugabe and Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe. He was later taken on a guided tour of Victoria Falls by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Macdonald Lewanika, director of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a grouping of close to 300 non-governmental organization, said Jackson was supposed to meet his outfit on Wednesday at 9am. He said they were later told the meeting could no longer take place because Jackson’s visit had been turned into a State visit.
“I was supposed to have a dinner with him Tuesday evening but he did not turn up as planned and that was when I was told he was now on a State visit and any engagement with him would be cleared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Lewanika said.
“This was not the initial plan. It was a private visit that was hijacked by the government ostensibly to ensure that he could not meet the people he was supposed to meet. I don’t know why government is not comfortable to have visitors meet civic groups.”
Jackson arrived in the country on Monday after meeting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in South Africa. He met Mugabe for two hours in Harare on Tuesday and he is reported to have met Khupe.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights board chairperson Andrew Makoni said his organisation was also supposed to meet Jackson on Wednesday but the top civil rights campaigner did not show up at the agreed rendezvous.
“We were told he was now on a State visit and would no longer come. But that was contrary to the earlier plans where he was supposed to meet civic organisation and attend one of the workers celebrations,” Makoni said.
Jackson was also scheduled to attend the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions celebrations at Gwanzura Stadium in Harare on Wednesday afternoon, but failed to turn up.
The American Embassy was not immediately available for comment yesterday, promising to check on his itinerary and come back to NewsDay today. Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi was reported to be out of office and unreachable on his mobile phone.
His permanent secretary Joey Bimba was also said to be out of the country. Officials at Mumbengegwi’s office referred all questions to government spokesperson George Charamba, whose mobile phone was also not reachable.