Zim doomed as May, Merkel back ED

On August 28, British Prime Minister Theresa May arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, for a one-day working visit. This visit was part of a three-nation tour of South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria designed to strengthen Britain’s trade ties with African nations.

Guest Column: Tafi Mhaka

Tafi Mhaka

During the course of her visit, May made a brief appearance on South African TV channel eNCA, which all but confirmed her willingness to mollycoddle African strongmen and do business with administrations which hold shaky and homicidal claims to power.

When asked if she endorsed President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s strongly disputed victory in the July 30 presidential election, a wily-looking May immediately alluded to the commission of inquiry which the former vowed to establish to look into the army’s violent crackdown on opposition supporters.

On August 1, seven people died after the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) soldiers used live ammunition on hundreds of angry protesters and innocent pedestrians in Harare. Supporters of the opposition MDC Alliance were demonstrating against the alleged rigging of the election in favour of Mnangagwa and his Zanu PF party when the violence erupted.

Unimpressed by her cagey response, the interviewer asked May a second time whether she endorsed the Zimbabwean President. “Mnangagwa is an elected President,” said the British PM. “He is taking an important step in saying that he will set up a commission of inquiry. I think this is a very important signal from him about the Zimbabwe he wants to see.”

May also mentioned how South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa attended Mnangagwa’s inauguration ceremony, in an apparent attempt to justify her endorsement.

But May should not have endorsed Zimbabwe’s new President without condemning the needless loss of innocent lives and expressing concern over the much-documented electoral shortcomings and illiberal practices, which the European Union’s election observation mission to Zimbabwe also reported on.

Commission of inquiry as political ruse

This is not the first time ZDF soldiers have been accused of killing innocent civilians and a commission of inquiry set up to pacify public outrage and whitewash gross human rights violations orchestrated by high-ranking civil servants and army officials in Zimbabwe.

The ZDF, along with influential actors from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), was accused of committing torture, holding public executions, causing forced disappearances and murdering unarmed civilians during the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces between 1983 and 1987.


Human rights groups allege soldiers killed up to 20 000 people in a politically and ethnically-motivated violent crackdown on mainly Ndebele-speaking opposition Zapu supporters and officials in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.

As domestic and international condemnation and political pressure to explain horrific reports of mass killings of civilians in southern Zimbabwe mounted, then-President Robert Mugabe established a commission of inquiry, led by Justice Simplicius Chihambakwe, a former judge and highly-regarded lawyer.

Prior to this investigation, Mugabe had set up another commission of inquiry to investigate clashes between Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla) and Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) that took place during the 1981 Entumbane uprising. Justice Enock Dumbutshena, the country’s first black judge, had chaired this commission.

But the findings of both the Dumbutshena and Chihambakwe commissions have not been made available for public examination to this day.

According to a year 2000 affidavit by Mnangagwa, who was then serving as Justice minister, the Dumbutshena report had simply vanished into thin air and nobody could find it. Unsurprisingly, not a single person has been held to account for the Gukurahundi killings to this day.

There was a single man at the centre of this deadly drama from beginning to end: Mnangagwa. As State Security minister between 1980 and 1988, he exercised control over the much-feared CIO and is believed to have helped in the planning and implementation of the Gukurahundi massacres.

However, he refuses to apologise for his perceived role in the massacres and established a National Peace and Reconciliation Commission earlier this year to smother comprehensive investigations into the historical atrocities.

In light of all this, Mnangagwa’s decision to establish a commission of inquiry into the events of August 1 cannot be interpreted as an honest attempt to hold guilty parties to account.

His government is extremely reluctant to face judicial scrutiny and will likely use this commission for the very same purpose its predecessors used the ones that came before it: to whitewash the role the Zimbabwean government played in the violence.

The findings of the commission will likely not even be made public or acted upon if they do not match its political agenda or narrative of events.

Mnangagwa, ZDF Commander General Valerio Sibanda, Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu and the ZRP have already assigned the blame for the August 1 violence to opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and the MDC Alliance.

Human rights and economic engagement

May seems to have turned a blind eye to the new Zimbabwean government’s democratic shortcomings in order to secure trade deals, and she is not the only Western leader to do so.

When Mnangagwa became Zimbabwe’s interim leader on November 24, following the military coup that removed Mugabe from power, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a letter to him: “Germany will support you as a partner in your endeavours to start a new chapter in the history of Zimbabwe — one characterised by democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

Mnangagwa has failed to fulfil the above-mentioned democratic thresholds, but Germany remains unconcerned.

Late last month, only a few days after Mnangagwa’s inauguration as Zimbabwe’s new President, Germany once again demonstrated its intention to work closely with his administration. German Economic Co-operation and Development minister Gerd Mueller visited Zimbabwe and launched a joint commission with Zimbabwe’s Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa to identify areas of co-operation that could help promote economic development.

Mueller also met Mnangagwa during his visit and announced that Germany would open new lines of credit for Zimbabwean businesses.

Sadly, the German minister glossed over Harare’s dismal human rights record and only said Germany “believed the new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa would uphold the rule of law and pass friendly policies”. The German government says its foreign policy champions democracy and human rights, but it appears to be ready to ignore Zimbabwe’s human rights abuses for economic benefits.

The duplicitous approaches of May and Merkel towards Zimbabwe evokes memories of former British PM Margaret Thatcher’s policy towards the country. In 1983, Thatcher’s administration reportedly downplayed the killings of civilians in the Gukurahundi massacres, simply to protect its economic investments in the region. Now, Thatcher’s successor also appears to believe an equally unconscionable approach to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe is the diplomatic way to go.

Zimbabwe undoubtedly needs a massive injection of direct foreign investment. But it also needs to respect human rights and embrace political and legal accountability for its politicians.

Rewarding murderous political leaders with unconditional legitimacy when innocent people have been shot and killed is hardly suggestive of progressive international engagement.

At what point will political accountability extend beyond measured sound bites in public forums and well-scripted statements and result in legal convictions and lengthy jail terms for officials who flout basic laws and order the killings of unarmed civilians?

Overlooking political impunity for economic expediency will likely result in further deaths if Mnangagwa’s hold on power is ever challenged seriously again or, indeed, overhauled through constitutional means. This political and electoral dilemma has repeated itself time and again since 1980.

Suffice it to say, diplomatic silence and official solidarity with shady characters like Mnangagwa will always metamorphose into lethal complicity down the line. Worse still for Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people, May and Merkel’s awkward diplomatic dance with Mnangagwa hardly suggests democratic and electoral change is in the offing now — or in the 2023 elections.

 Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based social and political commentator

13 Comments

  1. SA restaurant chain to expand footprint in Zim

    By newsday

    – September 7, 2018
    Food for thought Mr. Jo’burg based Social and Political Comentator

  2. ED is going to put many people to shame during his mandated season. A lot of people hoping he fails and lobbying for the country to not get any support from outside. ED is unsaleable they shout. When the foreign countries trip over each other to engage Zimbabwe, you cry foul, what do you people really want for sho. Its not about ED, its about making Zimbabwe work again.

    The Gukurahundi reports.

    We have the REPORT ON THE 1980S DISTURBANCES IN MATABELELAND AND THE MIDLANDS
    Compiled by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, March 1997 , publicly available on the internet.

    The Chihambakwe and Dumbutshena reports. Ibhetshu LikaZulu secretary-general Mbuso Fuzwayo, Dumisani Mpofu of Masakhaneni Trust and Charles Thomas, January 9 2018 filed an application at the Bulawayo High Court seeking the release of the findings. And we wait for the courts.

    Mpofu and Thomas in their affidavits concurred with Fuzwayo and prayed for the release of the report demanding that the government should set up another commission of inquiry on the killings for healing to take place. ED has since setup a National Peace and Reconciliation Commission as you concede in your article.

    Regarding the post election violence and subsequent loss of life of 9 people, ED has setup another commission to investigate events leading to the unfortunate incidents and what transpired, and also you cry foul.

    Is it that if its not you and your mates who are not in control of Zimbabwe then the people of Zimbabwe should suffer. Pathetic stuff really

  3. uriduzvi Tafi

  4. Comment…why didn’t you just say MDC doomed not Zim doomed

  5. We should not have been told that Tafi is an analyst. Simply call him an avid MDC supporter. To hell with retrogressive people like you.

  6. Comment…Unofarira kutambura kwevanhu devil brother who is Chamisa

  7. There is this wrong presumption that all Zimbabweans are as filled with ill will as MDC fanatics.

  8. Zimbabwe will prosper like it or not

    Who is this guy and why does he think he is important. He is based in South Africa and yet wants to be vocal about the affairs of a country he doesn’t even reside in. Tafi is the definition of a sellout, busy writing articles that resonate the voice of an enemy of progress. Analyst is just a title that isn’t that special. When 2 leaders of world leading countries agree with the outcome of an election, what makes you think that your opinion is of worth compared to theirs. Your bitter about the leader you supported not being in power and that’s why you go off on a tangent writing stupid articles just so you can be featured on the headlines. E.D will lead Zimbabwe to new heights regardless of what you think or believe and he nor any of us that are working towards this will tolerate you or others alike as all you do is wish to slow progress.

  9. Tichingotonga Vachingovukura

    To hell with this Dafi analyst

  10. mr journalist…may i remind you that we dont eat politics. we dont care whether elections were free and fair or not. we care about our lives and the lives of our children. may and merkel did a good job to endorse mnangagwa because it will save our lives if investment flows from their countries into our country. where in the world cam you find a perfect democracy? where in the world can you find human rights practiced? america is the worst nation in respecting human rights. trump already said that africa is a s**t hole and what that means is that when he looks at africans he sees nothing but s**t. wake up mr journalist and love your country and pliz put re-engagemt before democracy not the other way round. democracy is a a lie sold to africa by the west in order to keep the continent divided, fighting, and under-developed. europe did not develop through democracy but autocracy and after it was developed, then came democracy. have you ever asked yourself why there has never een an enquiry into the anerican invasion of afghanistan or iraq? ummmm Africa.

  11. are you serious nhai iwe munyori? i dont see doom but boom for Zimbabwe.

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