Mnangagwa’s rants against Mthwakazi alarming

MRP has previously participated in Zimbabwe’s general elections, in terms of the country’s laws, and is presently seized with the campaigns for the upcoming 2023 elections.

BY KHANYISANI SILWANE NCUBE Within a short space of three months, and on two separate occasions the Zimbabwean president has made some completely flabbergasting remarks on the Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP), a Zimbabwean political party.

On March 23, 2022 while addressing his Zanu PF supporters in Chitungwiza he openly threatened to arrest and/or “shorten” the lives of MRP’s political activists.

Again, on June 23, 2022 while addressing his Zanu PF supporters in Gweru he characterised MRP as a bunch of people possessed by the Biblical demon named Legion.

It is particularly appalling that neither the world nor the country of Zimbabwe, at the very least, quaked at those astounding utterances made by no ordinary Zimbabwean citizen, but a whole president of the nation — the number one citizen of Zimbabwe!

MRP has previously participated in Zimbabwe’s general elections, in terms of the country’s laws, and is presently seized with the campaigns for the upcoming 2023 elections.

But the supposed custodian of the Zimbabwean constitutional democracy has repeatedly demonised a lawful political outfit as if it is a gang of hoodlums.

In fact, even some outlawed organisations are treated far much better than MRP has been in Zimbabwe.

Glaringly, MRP’s “crime” is none other than that they are relentlessly lobbying for independence from Zimbabwe.

Their grounds for separation are no secret — the unbridled marginalisation of the Matebele people in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces (uMthwakazi), and the unilateral annexation of uMthwakazi nation to Zimbabwe by the British colonists.

For daring to express the foregoing, the president is evidently staunchly persuaded that MRP activists must be crucified!

Do facts on the ground belie MRP’s outcries on the continued marginalisation of Matabeleland?

By way of example, I hear the Bulawayo-Tsholotsho road stretching 115km was constructed by the evil Ian Smith regime between 1970 and 1971.

Under normal circumstances, it should take no more than one  hour to traverse that distance by car, and I gather that travelling timeline was possible during the colonial era and even in the immediate aftermath of independence from Britain.

But it is no longer happening because the road is presently a sore public hazard — it now takes between four and five hours to traverse a mere 115km!

Obviously having maintained a strong physical presence in the just-ended Tsholotsho by-elections of March 26, 2022, Mnangagwa and his lieutenants witnessed first-hand the grinding underdevelopment and poverty presided over by his government.

Not only has the Zanu PF government failed to maintain and/or upgrade public infrastructure inherited from a colonial regime, but it has run down the same.

The sanctions rhetoric that has been liberally invoked by the Zanu PF government does not have even the remotest of application whatsoever seeing the dereliction persisted unabated in the 1980s through the 1990s and to this date.

The diesel engines, also inherited from the Smith regime, that used to power rural boreholes in Matabeleland have all vanished into thin air.

All the border posts in Matabeleland are staffed by employees of Shona origin and to the exclusion of the people of Matabeleland.

Why is the Zanu PF government sidelining the people of Matabeleland and employing teachers, nurses and other civil servants of Shona origin in Matabeleland?

The grounds on which MRP pins the marginalisation of Matabeleland are actually endless.

At the very least one would expect a responsive government to engage in discourse, probably backed up by credible statistical data or something of that sort, to controvert the MRP claims if indeed the claims are controvertible.

But that has not happened, and it is understandable.

One would be hard-pressed to plausibly dismiss the charges as wild and baseless, seeing such proof does not even need to be hinged on complex scientific facts.

Surely, walking into the nearest public office anywhere in Matabeleland to check on who is employed there is no mammoth task.

Against this backdrop, perhaps that explains Mnangagwa’s threats of violence in response to apparent legitimate criticism and political dissent.

How else would he and his government gainsay the averments of conspicuous marginalisation in Matabeleland?

As a legal practitioner who has practiced law for many years, and an ardent student of international law and trends, I know of no illegality, let alone criminality, endemic in MRP’s political ideology.

The supreme law of the land  that is Zimbabwe’s constitution enshrines the fundamental rights and freedoms afforded to all citizens including MRP activists and its supporters.

Section 60 of the constitution guarantees freedom of opinion, thought and conscience for all Zimbabweans.

Specifically, section 60(1) of the Constitution stipulates: “Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, which includes– a. freedom of thought, opinion, religion or belief; and b. freedom to practise and propagate and give expression to their thought, opinion, religion or belief, whether in public or in private and whether alone or together with others”.

Further, section 67 of the constitution guarantees political rights of all Zimbabweans including MRP activists and their supporters.

Section 67(2) provides: “Subject to this constitution, every Zimbabwean citizen has the right: a. to form, to join and to participate in the activities of a political party or organisation of their choice; b. to campaign freely and peacefully for a political party or cause; c. to participate in peaceful political activity; and d. to participate, individually or collectively, in gatherings or groups or in any other manner, in peaceful activities to influence, challenge or support the policies of the government or any political or whatever cause”.

Needless to state, the foregoing provisions of the supreme law of Zimbabwe unequivocally confer a right not only to hold the political views held by MRP, but to act on them as well as MRP has done by forming a political organisation whose lobbying for political support is predicated on its afore-couched political persuasions.

Crucially, the constitution enjoins the beneficiaries of those rights to adhere to legal prescripts including “peaceful” participation in political activities in the exercise of the rights afforded therein.

I reiterate, these are provisions enshrined in the supreme law of the land – any other laws or views or innuendosthat are inconsistent with the constitution are of no consequence.

Constitutional provisions are not recommendations which one may elect to observe at whim.

Instead, they are peremptory and, thus, to be fully adhered to in letter and spirit until amended or repealed.

Without a shred of doubt, the head of the state ought to lead by example on this score.

Moreover, Zimbabwe is also bound by international law constituted of treaties and customary international law.

In simple terms a treaty is a written and legally binding agreement voluntarily entered into between states or countries.

I deliberately emphasise the element of voluntariness because a treaty is not imposed on a state – states walk into treaties and must append their signatures to signal their acquiescence to the provisions thereof.

A treaty creates corresponding rights and obligations between the contracting states.

Customary international law on the other hand consists of international obligations arising from international practices.

It results from the general practice of states and which practice is coupled with a sense of legal obligation (also known as “opinio juris”). Sections 326 and 327 of the Zimbabwean constitution unambiguously stipulate that Zimbabwe is bound both by customary  international law, and by treaties that it has signed and/or ratified, respectively.

Numerous provisions engraved in international legal instruments that are binding on Zimbabwe also lend further credence to the legality of MRP’s political ideology.

Crucially, the United Nations Charter (“the Charter”) – the very legal instrument on which the UN is founded – recognises and guarantees, in favor of the “peoples” under the control of its members states, the right to self-determination in Articles 1 and 73 of the charter.

At international law the right to self-determination relates to a right of process belonging to the peoples and not to states or governments.

It refers to a people’s right to determine  their own destiny including to choose its own political status and to determine its form of economic, cultural and social development.

More precisely, common Article 1 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“the ICCPR”) and the International Covenant Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“the ICESCR”) provides: “All peoples have the right to self-determination.

By virtue of that they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.

One could go on and on citing endless international sources and authorities in this regard including hard law, but the few listed instruments should suffice to buttress the point that the right to self-determination of peoples is firmly established in international law.

The pursuit of the right to self-determination has resulted in the emergence of South Sudan (from Sudan) and Eritrea (from Ethiopia) in addition to the independence of numerous other states elsewhere in the world.

Therefore, I am firmly of the view that MRP’s afore-sketched cause of struggle is not in violation of any Zimbabwean law, let alone any criminal law.

Instead, the Zimbabwean constitution and international law guarantee MRP’s multi-pronged rights underpinning their outlined struggle as afore demonstrated.

It is one thing to object to a political organisation’s political ideology, but it is another thing to demonise and portray a political outfit as an outright bunch of thugs to the extent of drumming up for the extermination of its membership.

Without doubt, we are all fully entitled to do the former, irrespective of what political organization it is, but certainly not to do the latter.

Even if MRP’s cause for struggle was criminal, which I am still staunchly disinclined to accept, genuine democrats, and students of Zimbabwean history across Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the world would have been, and must be, moved and fazed by Mnangagwa’s rants.

A whole president threatening defenceless MRP activists with “shortening” their lives (presumably, extermination), unlawful arrests and/or likening them to demons ought to trigger shivers of concern down one’s spine.

By connecting the dots in the past and the current affairs in Zimbabwe it is not difficult to surmise that his threats were no hollow tirades.

He made good on his threats and unless that is stemmed more threats will come to fruition.

Subsequent to his afore-stated first set of threat in March 2022, we witnessed in June 2022 nine MRP activists bizarrely sentenced to diverse prison terms of up to three years for merely toy-toying at a Bulawayo police station.

The magistrate, who had earlier hinted at imposing community service on the activists mysteriously made a complete somersault overnight to impose those debilitating prison sentences.

Was it not the renowned massacred global icon Martin Luther King who eloquently articulated that the prevalence of injustice anywhere in the world is a threat to injustice everywhere in the world?

Has history not taught us that evil thrives on the good man’s silence?

More pointedly, I dare rhetorically prod: Would Zimbabwe have sunk to this spine-chilling and nagging repression had our compatriots on the eastern part of the country and the world at large, especially the “super powers”, frantically rang the alarm bells from the rooftops and mountaintops in 1983 when Robert Mugabe and his ilk, including Mnangagwa himself, began to unleash the heartless Fifth Brigade on the unarmed civilians in Matabeleland and Midlands?

In January 1983 while addressing a rally in Matabeleland this very Mnangagwa had likened opponents of Zanu PF, in the opposition Zapu strongholds of Matabeleland and Midlands, to cockroaches and bugs that necessitated DDT (a pesticide) to be brought in to eradicate them.

True to his word, in the subsequent days thousands of unarmed civilians indeed succumbed to the blood-dripping bayonets of the Fifth Brigade – evidently the DDT that he had alluded to.

Arguably, when the Gukurahundi architects “got away” with the massacres of no less than 20 000 innocent civilians over a sustained period of five years, and with those who could have audibly spoken out electing to proverbially bury their heads in the sand, they (the genocidaires) were invigorated to readily deploy violence whenever and however their stranglehold to power was threatened.

In the premises, one is inclined to surmise that the numerous subsequent episodes of violence from the farm invasions at the break of this millennium, the 2002 election shenanigans, Murambatsvina, and to the 2008 and 2018 postelection violence visited upon the Zimbabwean people were all the fruits to a foul seed first sowed, fertilised and watered in the immediate aftermath of attainment of Zimbabwe’s independence.

Had the first spate of violence and/or injustice been nipped in the bud Zimbabwe would, in all probabilities, not have been plunged into this quagmire.

Lamentably, when Gukurahundi rampaged some on the other side of Zimbabwe thunderously ululated and spurred on the perpetrators because the victims were either wearing a different political coat or were not their kith and kin.

So, they were unfazed.

Still others were fully convinced of the injustice meted out on the innocent civilians but they feared speaking out and acting appropriately.

History will judge such cowards as no different from the perpetrators of injustice.

Evil triumphs on the good man’s silence in the face of a pressing need to speak out and act befittingly.

A call to speak out and not look away.

It behooves every genuine democrat and patriot elsewhere in the world to roundly condemn injustice and violence, whether threatened or actual.

Such ills, even if directed at one’s worst enemy, have no place both in the building blocks towards sound democracies and in model democracies.

The oppressor will not hesitate to deploy his repressive mechanisms anywhere if such mechanisms have worked “miracles” for him elsewhere.

  • Khanyisani Silwane Ncube is a South African trained and practicing human rights lawyer. Ncube recently earned a Master’s Degree in Transnational Legal Practice in the United States

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