BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE
SPECIAL envoys appointed by African Union chairperson, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to probe reports of gross human rights violations in Zimbabwe jetted out of the country yesterday after aborting their proposed meetings with the opposition and civic society groups under unclear circumstances.
Baleka Mbete, Sydney Mufamadi and advocate Ngoako Abel Ramatlhodi met President Emmerson Mnangagwa at State House and were expected to meet main opposition MDC Alliance leader
Nelson Chamisa and civic society organisations.
The trio arrived on a fact-finding mission “following recent reports of difficulties that the Republic of Zimbabwe is experiencing”, according to a statement by Ramaphosa’s office last week.
MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said they had been formally requested to attend a meeting yesterday with the special envoys, but were surprised after being advised that the envoys were returning to South Africa without meeting them.
“Our delegation remained on standby from 10am, but only to be advised at the end of the day that the special envoys would be returning to South Africa without meeting the MDC Alliance delegation in order to brief President Ramaphosa on the outcomes of their meeting with Mnangagwa,” she said in a statement.
“We can only assume that the failure to meet the MDC Alliance delegation was as a result of demands made by the Zanu PF delegation.”
The MDC Alliance said they had reiterated that Zimbabwe was in a state of crisis that was characterised by a de facto state of emergency, a crackdown on citizens, abductions, and arbitrary arrests of government critics and the political persecution of journalists.
“The government in Harare is incapable of resolving these challenges because it lacks legitimacy. We are of the firm view that any solution to the ongoing socio-economic challenges lies in resolving the political crisis and answering the outstanding legitimacy question,” Mahere said.
The MDC Alliance spokesperson said it was clear that Mnangagwa was not ready to resolve the national crisis through genuine dialogue.
“However, the deteriorating plight of the Zimbabwean people means that a political settlement is more urgent than before,” she said.
However, a reliable source said the envoys were denied access to opposition politicians and civic society, with Mnangagwa insisting that there was no crisis in the country despite the blatant human rights violations since the run-up to the July 31 anti-corruption protests.
Addressing journalists after meeting Mnangagwa, Mufamadi yesterday said the envoys were reading the situation in Zimbabwe.
“We were listening to the reading of the situation, what is being done or the intention to do what strategy. I know you will not ask us to report to our President through the media. We will be reporting to the President who will interact with the public,” he said.
Mnangagwa called the allegations “divisive falsehoods” in his Heroes Day speech, repeating his claim that he was under renewed attack from domestic and foreign opponents.
The development comes as African Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat urged the Zimbabwean government to uphold the rule of law “allowing for freedom of the media, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and the right to information”.
“The African Union is following closely political developments in Zimbabwe as the country mounts concerted efforts in response to the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mahamat said.
“The chairperson is concerned about reports of disproportionate use of force by security forces in enforcing COViD-19 emergency measures. He implores the authorities to exercise restraint in their response to peaceful protests.”
The statement added: “The chairperson further encourages the government of Zimbabwe to uphold the rule of law allowing for freedom of the media, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and the right to information. Violations of these rights are a breach of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.”
MDC Alliance deputy chairperson Job Sikhala in a statement said: “We will not accept an elite pact that will serve only the interests of politicians, but does not address fundamental structural issues related to accountability, democracy, and the rule of law. We deserve a people-centred government answerable to the people and by the people.”
Opposition National Patriotic Front spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire said Ramaphosa’s envoys should engage the military as part of their fact-finding mission saying the security sector was embedded in politics and Zanu PF factional wars.
Mawarire said engaging only the ruling party and Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) would be skirting around the real cause of the challenges facing Zimbabwe.
“Hopefully, the ANC will understand that we need to dialogue with the army which took over Zanu PF, the State and government. If we don’t, a worse situation will explode, especially now that there are two militarised factions in Zanu PF dabbling in politics.
“If we turn a blind eye to the fact that the military involvement in our national politics is the elephant in the room, we are likely to go back to 1983-87, albeit, on a national scale.
It is clear the military factions in Zanu PF are fighting to control the country and this fight will surely turn bloody if not addressed now,” he said.
MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora said: “Our approach in the impending discussion is to find a lasting solution to Zimbabwe’s problems. In this regard we will be guided by what is in the best interests of Zimbabwe’s long-suffering masses.”
The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) endorsed Ramaphosa’s mediation efforts saying a plethora of challenges faced by the country needed to be brought to an end through dialogue.
“The arrest and persecution of the journalists and the civil activists who amplified and detailed the depth of corruption is worrying. The continued persecution of activists, some of whom have been tortured and treated inhumanely while others are still in hiding for fear of similar treatment is a cause of serious concern. The violent presence and involvement of the army in the sphere that must be taken care of by the police is also a worrying development since the beginning of the new dispensation in November 2017,” the ZHOCD statement read.
However, former Botswana President Seretse Ian Khama called on Zimbabweans to make personal sacrifices to free themselves from the repressive Zanu PF-led government.
Speaking on Botswana’s Duma FM, Khama said: “Time has come for Zimbabweans to do something much more. Even if it means a personal sacrifice, withdrawal of labour crossing the borders to make neighbouring States pay attention to what is happening in Zimbabwe.”
Additional reporting: Brenna Matendere/Harriet Chikandiwa