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This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Zimbabwe: African Rights Letter

Zimbabwe: African Rights Letter
Date distributed (ymd): 010922
Document reposted by APIC

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at http://www.africapolicy.org

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Southern Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +security/peace+

SUMMARY CONTENTS:

This posting contains a press release and open letter from African Rights in London, concerning the crisis in Zimbabwe. The letter supports the efforts by leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to pressure Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on issues including human rights and political violence, but warns that continued involvement from regional leaders, including engagement with Zimbabwean civil society and human rights groups, is required.

The African Rights letter follows the most recent summit of a SADC delegation of heads of state with President Mugabe and his political opponents in Harare, and the Nigerian-initiated Commonwealth meeting in Abuja at which Zimbabwe joined in a declaration addressing land reform and the rule of law. The text of the Abuja agreement is also included at the end of this posting.

For related current news, see:
http://allafrica.com/zimbabwe
and
http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN/archive/zimbabwe.phtml

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

African Rights

The Crisis in Zimbabwe
An Open Letter to President Bakili Muluzi, Chairman of SADC

September 17, 2001

For further information contact African Rights at: (+ 44 207) 947 3276 or by fax (+ 44 207) 947 3201 or by e-mail: afrights@gn.apc.org

Zimbabwe remains hostage to the demands of so-called war veterans and the leaders who direct their activities, despite recent initiatives aimed at resolving the crisis. African Rights has written to the chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to express support for the SADC leaders' efforts to halt Zimbabwe's political and economic decline. In the letter we highlight our remaining concerns.

During meetings in Harare last week, the SADC heads of state acknowledged many of the problems facing Zimbabwean people, resisting state propaganda claiming that a legitimate struggle for black economic liberation is taking place. The leaders' collective decision to discuss human rights violations as well as the farm invasions and the issue of land redistribution was significant and welcome.

The forthright approach of the SADC task force in Harare is to be commended, but African Rights believes that it must be followed up immediately with a more comprehensive initiative to understand and respond to the roots of the crisis. Based upon previous research and monitoring of human rights and justice issues in Zimbabwe, African Rights points out that the events in Zimbabwe are the consequence of a political strategy. Although the need for land redistribution has an origin and a life beyond its manipulation by the ruling party, it has been used in this instance as a smokescreen for political violence aimed at eradicating organized opposition and dissent. Unless the SADC leaders confront this reality directly and consistently, their initiatives aimed at promoting stability will fail to have impact.

African Rights notes with regret the omission of important Zimbabwean civic organizations and human rights groups from the agenda of the SADC leaders during their meetings in Harare. If the proposed SADC ministerial task force is to grasp, and find ways to address, the full dimensions of the crisis in Zimbabwe, it must engage fully with this sector of Zimbabwean society. Zimbabwe has a vibrant civil society with a wide variety of groups committed to, and capable of representing, the interests of citizens who lack a voice in the political arena. SADC representatives should urgently meet with the members of the National Constitutional Assembly, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, and the Zimbabwe Crisis Committee, amongst others, and should take their assessments into account as they try to determine the best way forward.

Looking to the immediate future, the SADC, and the international community as a whole, must find ways to convince the Government of Zimbabwe to establish a series of mechanisms aimed at preventing human rights violations and securing political stability.

African Rights has listed in its ten-page letter some of the cases of torture described by victims of election-related violence in the parliamentary ballot in 2000. Overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violence during this period were organised gangs of Zanu (PF) supporters, often with links to high-ranking members of the party. Their activities continue, as Zanu (PF) thuggery and intimidation during elections, by- elections and election challenges over the past 18 months has shown. The most recent example was the violence surrounding the Bulawayo mayoral elections last week.

The Zanu (PF) perpetrators of political violence during the elections have remained above the law, in part because of a presidential amnesty. As long as the individuals responsible for torture are given impunity by the state, there can be little hope of reining them in. African Rights point out the need for an inquiry into the political violence since 2000 and for a tribunal to bring the perpetrators to justice.

In recognition of the fact that presidential elections are imminent, African Rights calls for international election monitors to be present in the country from now until the ballot and in the sensitive period which will follow the result. Equally, without reform in the electoral machinery, allegations of state rigging, such as those made during the Bulawayo mayoral elections, will remain highly credible. The present system is not capable of preventing state manipulation of the results.

Zimbabwe cannot afford the disastrous consequences that an election marred by allegations of intimidation and violence would produce. The legitimacy of the current government is already weakened by popular awareness that it pursued victory by means of violence in 2000. Without a framework to secure peaceful presidential elections, the lives of more Zimbabweans will be lost or devastated and the economy and stability of the country and the region will become even more perilous.


The Crisis in Zimbabwe

An Open Letter to President Bakili Muluzi, Chairman of SADC

President Bakili Muluzi
The Office of the President and the Cabinet
Central Government Office
Private Bag
Lilongwe 301, Malawi

17 September 2001

Dear President Muluzi

African Rights is an organization which carries out research on human rights, conflict and justice, and provides a platform for Africans who are the victims of injustice and oppression. We are writing to you, as chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to voice support for the work of the task force recently set up to address the situation in Zimbabwe and to highlight the issues we believe it should now focus upon.

The meeting of six Southern African heads of state in Harare on 10-11 September demonstrated a commitment to the search for solutions in this troubled nation, which we welcome. In the aftermath of this visit, we urge you, as SADC chairman, to monitor the situation closely and take concrete steps to improve the prospects for an end to all violence, tackling the roots of the political crisis which is shaking the country. We are concerned that, within days of its signature, the Government of Zimbabwe stood in violation of the terms of the Abuja agreement reached with the Commonwealth delegation in Nigeria on 6 September. It is apparent that neither the Abuja agreement nor the SADC mission will have a significant impact unless, in the weeks to come, the proposed SADC ministerial task force addresses the full dimensions of the crisis in Zimbabwe which, as all concerned are aware, extend beyond the land invasions.

There is a pressing need to seek solutions for the rural poor in Zimbabwe and to introduce a comprehensive land redistribution programme. The agreement reached by the Commonwealth delegation in Abuja may yet offer an opportunity to launch such a programme. However, it would be mistaken, in the present environment, to imagine that solutions can be found by this route alone. Agreements on the land issue might provide some relief for white farmers; they may even help to quell violence in some rural areas. They will not, however, provide security for the people of Zimbabwe and guarantee their democratic rights in the months to come, even if linked to commitments to restore the rule of law.

Attacks upon farmworkers and white farmers cannot be divorced from the state- sponsored onslaught against members and suspected supporters of opposition parties, journalists and members of the judiciary. The determination to eradicate the political opposition, which began around the parliamentary elections and is being sustained in the run up to presidential elections, is at the centre of the crisis. Unless SADC leaders confront this fact directly and consistently, their efforts will achieve little and will prove a huge disappointment to the people of Zimbabwe¾an outcome that you will of course wish to avoid.

The SADC leaders have already proven their determination to find answers to the crisis, which has had an effect beyond Zimbabwe's borders. It is clear that they, above all, are conscious of the urgency. Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa and other countries are making contingency plans for refugees, a burden they can ill afford. However, it is important that, as you seek to ensure the restoration of the rule of law in Zimbabwe, your energies are not deflected by the nationalist rhetoric in which President Robert Mugabe has dressed his struggle for political survival.

All Africans should support efforts to redress the wrongs of colonialism and President Mugabe was once regarded as a liberation hero by many Africans. But he no longer stands for the rights of all black Zimbabweans. He now represents the interests of a minority who are beneficiaries of the short-sighted and destructive policies he has pursued in recent years. Black Zimbabweans, like their white counterparts, are suffering from misrule and denial of freedom under his regime. Without the continued intervention of African leaders, in collaboration with the wider international community, the lives and livelihoods of many more people inside the country will be destroyed. The consequences will not only be suffered by Zimbabwe, but threaten to undermine positive moves towards the rehabilitation of the continent as a whole.

African Rights has published several reports on justice issues in Zimbabwe, including examining the need and potential for land reform. We would like to bring to your attention our assessment of the nature of the problems currently afflicting the nation, and suggestions for the way forward. Our understanding is based upon past interviews with victims of human rights abuses in rural and urban areas, as well as observations of events in the past year. In particular, our findings in the run up to parliamentary elections in 2000 gave us insight into the reasons for Zimbabwe's downslide into insecurity and economic ruin and the prerequisites for establishing stability and growth. We write to you as fellow Africans with deep concern for all the people of Zimbabwe whose civil and political rights, as well as their social and economic rights, are being crushed. What is at stake now is not simply the right of black Zimbabweans to reclaim the land they were robbed of under colonial rule, but the right of all Zimbabweans to a life without fear and hunger and their entitlement to the protection of the state.

The background to the volatile climate now prevailing in Zimbabwe is worth reflecting upon. Although political discontent has been expressed in popular protest since 1997, not so long ago Zimbabwe was an economic and political asset to the SADC region. In 1996, African Rights found many encouraging signs when it conducted research into the issue of access to justice for ordinary people in Zimbabwe. Since then the situation has deteriorated rapidly.

In June 1999, African Rights published a paper which scrutinised the government's handling of the "food riots" of the previous year; its relationship with the independent media; and its approach to land resettlement and constitutional reform, among other questions. It concluded that the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) sought to monopolise power at the expense of accountability and good governance. It drew attention to the government's disregard for the rule of law and for international human rights standards in its attempts to silence dissenting voices from the political arena, civic organizations and the press.

As parliamentary elections approached, the lengths to which the government was prepared to go to ensure victory were made apparent. In a report in March 2000, African Rights documented early incidents of political violence in the pre-election period. Overwhelmingly, it found members of Zanu (PF) to be the aggressors, despite efforts by the government and the state-owned media to portray members of the opposition movement, in particular the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), as responsible. We wrote to President Robert Mugabe, calling upon him to condemn political violence and to put in place a range of reforms necessary to allow free and fair elections. Instead of responding to the mounting criticism of the electoral process from a range of groups inside and outside the country and other governments, the President stepped up his inflammatory rhetoric. He openly warned his political opponents that "death will befall" them. So began a state-sponsored campaign of violence and intimidation aimed at securing a Zanu (PF) victory. This campaign continues today. All the indications are that there will be no respite, and that the violence could intensify as the presidential elections draw nearer.

The first signs that organized violence would be the backbone of Zanu (PF)'s election strategy came soon after the party's defeat in a referendum on constitutional reform in February 2000. Aware that their popularity had slumped, Zanu (PF) leaders began warning the political opposition and its supporters of what was to come. They intensified hate speeches against the opposition and the white population, constantly alleging that the MDC in particular was a "front" for white interests.

Although only a small minority of the population is white, Zanu (PF) found it convenient to blame them for engineering its referendum defeat, citing their objection to a controversial land clause in the draft constitution. The party then openly encouraged and covertly organized the invasions of hundreds of white-owned farms arguing that whites were blocking land redistribution and therefore the use of force to "reclaim" the land was inevitable. It allocated Z$20 million to the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), which it declared was to "spearhead" its election campaign. This money was spent on orchestrating the farm invasions and political violence.

Under the smokescreen of asserting the rights of black Zimbabweans to the land stolen from them under colonialism, Zanu (PF) presented the land invasions as a popular uprising against white domination. There was and remains a fundamental need to restore land rights to black Zimbabweans and to reverse the plight of the rural poor¾still eking out a living in over-farmed communal areas, in part because of Zanu (PF)'s own policy failures. But the land invasions were not directed at these aims. Instead, they were the key element of the ruling party's strategy to remain in power, providing a context in which human rights abuses could be perpetrated with impunity. This tactic paralleled the way in which the "dissident problem" in Matabeleland in the 1980s was used as an alibi for a murderous offensive intended to crush Zanu (PF)'s earlier rival, the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu) and its supporters.

Zanu (PF) has manipulated the land issue to provide a pretext for political violence, seeking to justify abuses against white farmers and black farm workers by presenting them as the closing chapter of the liberation struggle, supposedly being fought by war veterans. It soon became apparent that the invaders were not acting independently, and that many were not even war veterans, but either hired thugs or youths hoping to benefit economically. Police have been ordered not to intervene in the invasions, dealing a blow to the administration of law and order from which it will not easily recover.

The invasions had a practical purpose as well as an ideological one, forming the main arteries for the spread of terror tactics. The invaders were the basis for rudimentary militia groups created to target opposition members and bring fear to the same rural communities they purported to be representing. Although in some instances policemen did their best to enforce the law regardless of the circumstances, invariably they stood back, not just from the farm violence, but from any attacks deemed "political."

It is a matter of public knowledge in Zimbabwe that the Zanu (PF) leadership incited and condoned the politically-motivated violence which occurred in the run up to the elections and which continues to injure Zimbabweans. This was confirmed by the fact that the state security forces time and again failed to carry out the duties expected of them. But the party's responsibility extends further than this. The victims of violence have identified high-ranking Zanu (PF) members, including some individuals who are in government today, as involved in either perpetrating or directly sponsoring human rights abuses. Governors, parliamentary candidates and party officials organized the violence. War veterans and the youth form the frontline of the campaign, but behind them are operatives of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) and members of the police and army.

Zimbabweans have learnt the limits of their freedom during the 2000 elections and since. Although the opposition MDC secured 57 of the 120 contested seats in the parliamentary elections this was not indicative of a fair ballot; it merely showed just how far support for Zanu (PF) had fallen. African Rights judged the 2000 parliamentary elections to have been neither free nor fair and regarded the result as illegitimate in many constituencies. 20 years after independence, a party once celebrated as a liberator tore democracy to shreds. The government targeted communities all over the country, even in its political strongholds. People were threatened into voting for Zanu (PF) and punished for links with opposition parties with murder, torture, rapes and beatings. Thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans, mostly black rural dwellers, were terrorised into submission.

All manner of brutality has been inflicted upon people considered to be opponents of Zanu (PF) and their relatives and friends since the ruling party unleashed its terror and this continues today. Sometimes bystanders have been caught up in the violence, or people have been attacked indiscriminately by gangs who had lost control. But the campaign depends upon identifying and targeting opposition supporters and this has been systematically done. The attackers often target families: in some cases the children of opposition supporters have been beaten; in others it is their parents who have endured physical injuries and psychological pressure.

African Rights has seen more than 1000 reports of political violence taken from victims of political violence by a coalition of local human rights groups, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum in the run up to and since the parliamentary elections. These reports include murder, torture, rape, assault, illegal arrest and detention, arson, intimidation, threats, robbery and property damage, but they can only hint at the extent of the psychological impact of these events upon individuals, families and communities. African Rights has also witnessed at first hand the wounds and heard the pain of many victims of election-related violence. Their stories and the distress they showed in telling them were both convincing on an individual basis and given added weight by their consistency with each other. With astonishing certainty, people identified Zanu (PF) supporters as responsible for the crimes committed against them. Sometimes victims knew their individual attackers by name, profession or party rank. Perpetrators generally made their loyalties and intentions clear.

Accounts told by victims of human rights abuses are difficult to forget. They cut through the political rhetoric which President Mugabe and other members of the government have employed to try and present events in Zimbabwe as a struggle for black empowerment. While not forgetting the torture and abuse many whites have been subjected to, it is important to remember that most of the victims of Zanu (PF) violence have been black. The incidents of torture which took place during the 2000 election campaign are well-documented by local human rights groups, not only with testimonies but with medical reports. The broad sweep of the violence was of merciless assaults. With unsophisticated weapons, ranging from knobkerries, axes, knives, whips and bicycle chains, Zanu (PF) gangs beat people without restraint, leaving many of their victims unconscious and some dead.

The experiences of a female teacher from Chikwake village in Goromonzi were typical of the violence surrounding the 2000 parliamentary elections. As the women's secretary for the opposition MDC she was an immediate target and was assaulted twice before she fled her home. Although she knows the identity of some of her assailants, she did not report the crime because she believed that "the police are working with the Zanu (PF) thugs. They have never helped anyone when they have been beaten."

After a meeting of the MDC around our township, we were apprehended by some Zanu (PF) supporters. They told us to come and surrender our cards and T-shirts. They began to beat me. They made me lie down and they beat me on the back. [Later] they came to fetch me from my home and told me: 'We want you to die, because you are an MDC member.' They said that I had MDC cards and T-shirts but I didn't. One of them, whom I didn't know, said: "I want to kill you." There were about 15 to 18 of them. They beat me harder that time, until I was unconscious. When I woke up, I ran and found a place to hide myself. Then I moved to my home after several hours. My children came to tell me that they had come to the house in the meantime. I told my husband everything. He cried. We decided to leave then, but I left two children behind because they were in school, one in form four, and one in form three. I brought the other three with me. I know the people who beat me. Shem and Titus have a gang; they are Zanu (PF) youths and they live in Bosha village.

But there were also instances of more sophisticated torture. Many people were abducted and taken to buildings where gangs of Zanu (PF) supporters had set up camp. There they would be subjected to falanga and sometimes to electrocution as well as assault. One young man told of how he was taken from his home on 16 June at 1:00 a.m. to a house in Msasa where Zanu (PF) members had gathered.

They began beating me and pouring cold water from a bucket over me, saying: "You are an MDC member." They forced me to say more about the MDC, including the whereabouts of other members and the leaders. They demanded to know why I refused to wear a Zanu (PF) T-shirt. There were at least 11 of them in the house. They took me into the toilet, and made me stand on a square of iron sheet (about 30cm by 30 cm). They then connected jump leads to the sheet, and passed electricity through it. They made me stand on it for 2-3 hours. Sometimes I fell down, and sometimes I lay on the walls. Then they brought me out and told me to take off all my clothes. I did so, and they told me to lie on the lawn. Then they said: "Today is the end of your life if you don't tell us more about the MDC." But I refused, and when they realized that they couldn't make me, they told me to go into the house.

The victim discovered the house belonged to the then Zanu (PF) candidate for Mufakose, Sabina Thembani, when she arrived to witness his torture. He was beaten extensively and finally released late on the evening of the following day. An independent medical examination later noted his serious pain and swollen testes. The methods of torture used in this instance were designed to avoid leaving the evidence of scars. This particular victim may have no long-term injuries, but his trauma was all too evident.

In Budiriro, Harare, a building owned by Dr. Chenjerai Hunzvi, once used as a surgery, was converted into a torture house over the election period. Several local residents suspected of being MDC organizers were detained there in confined conditions by a gang of war veterans. An engineer who worked with an MDC activist was captured at a bar and taken to the "surgery" on 12 May. He was ordered to reveal the whereabouts of his colleague and when he failed to do so, he was subjected to severe torture which left him unable to work and in deep shock. He gave details of the incident.

They caught me by the hands. There were 12-14 of them. I was beaten on my buttocks till they were bleeding. They tortured me on both sides of my body using short circuit electrics plugged in. This was for about two days. There were about 9 women and 14 men involved. They were always coming and going. The one who hit me was the commander. At night they put us in a toilet. There were nine victims when I was there.

Such incidents were early examples of what has now become an established pattern of violence against suspected and known Zanu (PF) opponents, including black farmworkers and white farmers. Unless the Government of Zimbabwe can be brought to its senses we can expect more of the same and worse. In the past month alone, a local group, the Amani Trust, has estimated that between 1 January and 31 August 2001, 23,853 people have been affected by human rights violations, including 27 deaths and 1,770 assaults. The organization believes these statistics to be conservative.

The abuses of the past eighteen months are the most devastating in national terms that the country has known since independence. However, some members of the Zanu (PF) leadership have previously been accused of complicity in murder, torture and other human rights abuses on a massive scale during the 1980s in Matabeleland and the Midlands. While in power, they have been able to guarantee impunity for themselves for these earlier crimes as well as protecting those responsible for political violence carried out on their behalf. This pattern is being replayed once again. Most of those who were arrested for political violence in the 2000 elections were released when President Mugabe declared an amnesty for people accused of political violence, excepting only those accused of murder. However, no one has been brought to justice for the murders perpetrated by Zanu (PF) supporters.

The law is being applied selectively in Zimbabwe. Zanu (PF) stalwarts acting at the behest of their party stand above the law. Meanwhile, anyone regarded as opposed to the ruling party, either on ethnic or political grounds, can expect ill treatment at the hands of the security forces. The horrific death in the police cell of an MDC member who was imprisoned in Gokwe, on 8 August, speaks volumes about the attitudes which have been drilled into members of the police force in the past year. Vusa Mkweli, who became epileptic following an assault by Zanu (PF) youths during the 2000 elections, was imprisoned on allegations of involvement in political violence. In custody, he was refused access to his medicines by police officers, despite his repeated fits. His cellmate and friend was forced to watch helplessly as Mkweli endured two days of agony with only minutes between fits in the final hours before he passed away. Since the 2000 elections, the energies of the President and Zanu (PF) have been directed at harnessing the institutions of the state to the control of the party. Cases like this reveal the effects of this strategy.

The judiciary has also been the focus for political engineering. Open threats from members of the war veterans association¾who ignored successive court rulings regarding the land invasions¾have taken their toll, with some judges resigning, including the former Chief Justice. The Supreme Court decision to overturn a presidential ruling blocking challenges to the parliamentary election results brought it into the front line politically. The hearings regarding the results in constituencies where electoral laws were allegedly broken have gone ahead, but they are usually held under impossible conditions. Witnesses and complainants have been beaten and subjected to harassment, to the extent that some have been unable to testify.

Witnesses for the case challenging the parliamentary election results in Chikomba, were among those affected. This was confirmed when three human rights lawyers travelled to Chikomba in response to reports of witness intimidation. The lawyers arrived to witness the sight of Zanu PF youths assaulting one of the witnesses. The assailants then turned upon the lawyers beating one of them severely. The other two escaped but when they went to the police station to report the matter, they found their colleague and the witness at the station, where they had also been beaten by police officers. Not only did the member-in-charge fail to arrest the attackers; he threatened all three lawyers and detained them for several hours.

These are the direct consequences of a policy of creating compliant security forces by appointing or promoting individuals known to be loyal to Zanu (PF), often war veterans. Other police officers are subject to intimidation or transfer. This has enabled the ruling party to reinforce its violent tactics in the post-election period. For instance, following a strike organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in July 2001, soldiers were deployed in urban areas to terrorize suspected opposition supporters. Several assaults by soldiers upon unarmed civilians were recorded. In byelections in Marondera West, Bikita West and Bindura, and in the mayoral elections in Masvingo, Zanu (PF) again demonstrated its readiness to employ thuggery in the interests of political victory as gangs moved in to terrorize voters with blatant threats and numerous assaults.

Political violence has not been entirely confined to supporters of the ruling party. Supporters of the MDC have been involved in clashes with their Zanu (PF) counterparts in the pre and post election period and in a few instances have been accused of attacks upon Zanu (PF) members. African Rights condemns all the perpetrators of violence unreservedly and calls upon opposition members, as it does upon those of Zanu (PF), to respect the law and the rights of their fellow Zimbabweans. However, a clear distinction may be made between individual actions of opposition party members, which are not condoned by the party leadership and have often been seen to be defensive or retaliatory, and the campaign of violence waged by the ruling party.

The events of the post-election period reveal that the party's determination to hold onto the reins of government has increased as its support diminishes. The MDC's relative success at the polls raised the stakes. The tactics Zanu (PF) relied upon to win the election have now been brought to the centre of its policy agenda, and entrenched in state institutions. The implications of the recent creation of a war veterans reserve army were revealed by a senior member of the war veterans' association, when he publicly called on the army to provide the veterans with "guns and retraining in case there is a war." The establishment of a National Training Service for youth, ostensibly to teach "history and culture" is also a sinister development given the evidence of Zanu (PF) techniques of political indoctrination during the "re-education" sessions that farm workers and some opposition supporters have been forced to undergo.

Zimbabwe once had a strong justice system, a well-trained professional police force and army, an educated population, public services that were admired throughout Africa and vocal civic organizations. Now the police and the army are being transformed into an extension of the Zanu (PF) party machinery while the judiciary has been subject to pressure and political manipulation. Many parents can no longer afford to send their children to school and many teachers have been accused of supporting the opposition and intimidated or attacked. Journalists, members of human rights organizations and of other independent groups have been threatened or victimized.

As Africans who know the cost of dictatorship, we ought to recognize the signs immediately. But acknowledgement of the nature of the crisis in Zimbabwe has come rather late in Africa. This is largely because of the shrewd propaganda President Mugabe employs. His anti-western rhetoric has appealed to some Africans because many nations are still trapped in the damaging legacy of the colonial era. We may believe we have a sound case for economic restitution. But articulating Africa's case for reparations requires moral leadership and political credibility, neither of which President Mugabe retains. The chaotic and brutal manner in which the Government of Zimbabwe has handled the land issue can only undermine the arguments that Africa is deserving of compensation and assistance to overcome the ills of the past. He threatens to discredit new visions which might assist Africans to engage in the global arena as equals, such as the New African Initiative. President Mugabe's willingness to mistreat and abuse Zimbabwean citizens, black and white, ostensibly in the name of an assertion of black interests, can only debase the legitimate arguments at stake.

Clearly the need for land redistribution has an origin and a life beyond its manipulation by the ruling party. The right of black Zimbabweans to live free of any traces of the discrimination and abuse they suffered under the colonial regime and racist white settler rule is at the heart of the matter. This is impossible while so much of Zimbabwe's richest land has remained in the hands of white commercial farmers, and a small black political elite. The racial imbalances in land ownership, which persisted under Zanu (PF) rule, have recently been exploited by the party for its own ends. But the genuine need for reform remains. It is to be hoped that the agreement reached by at Abuja can pave the way for the necessary measures to improve life for black Zimbabweans living in poverty.

However, land redistribution cannot satisfy the full range of Zimbabwean's needs and expectations now and in the future. African Rights concluded in its 1999 report:

The hunger for land is symptomatic of a broader need -- to redress historical injustice by securing those rights which people were robbed of under white settler rule. It was the Zanu (PF) government which made land such a potent symbol of these rights. The party is now offering people the symbol empty of its meaning. A plot of land means nothing without the ability to make it productive, without access to health, and education and without the assurances of security, freedom of speech and democratic choice for all. These are the rights for which the liberation war was fought, and these are the very rights of which so many are now deprived.

Unfortunately, since we wrote these words, there has been an all-out assault upon the most basic human rights of the people of Zimbabwe. As your own initiative reflects, Africans cannot sit back and watch yet another African country brought to its knees and to the edge of a bloody conflict. The statements made by SADC leaders at Harare were appropriately forthright and they have already forced a shift in the approach of the government. But they must be followed up by further initiatives demonstrating SADC's solidarity and practical support for the people of Zimbabwe. We recommend that once the SADC ministerial task force is established it makes a priority of examining human rights abuses, and broaches the question of how to deliver justice and redress for the victims. The task force should also consider how to improve the prospect for free and fair elections.

It is unfortunate that the SADC mission to Harare was unable to encompass meetings with many of the civic and human rights groups who are at the forefront of efforts to promote the rule of law in Zimbabwe. We suggest that SADC task force representatives consult with them now in order to determine the best way forward.

The violence witnessed in Bulawayo following the declaration of an MDC victory in the mayoral elections suggests that the assurances made at Abuja were largely hollow. Furthermore the election emphasized serious weaknesses in the electoral system -- revealing the opportunities for rigging by the ruling party -- which must be corrected before it is possible for a fair presidential ballot to take place.

In the aftermath of its visit to Harare, SADC leaders should aim to convince President Mugabe and the Zanu (PF) government to put in place the mechanisms necessary for a free and fair vote in the forthcoming presidential elections, including agreeing to the presence of international monitors. It is critically important to allow international monitors to be present in the country at the earliest possible date, to enable them to build up an informed picture of the situation. Equally, there is a need to bring to account the perpetrators of political violence during the 2000 parliamentary elections; at a minimum an independent inquiry into the violence of this period and in all the elections and by-elections since should be established. This would send a message that murders, assaults and torture will not be tolerated in the presidential ballot. These initiatives could be a starting place for President Mugabe to show respect for democratic principles and to avert the slide of the country into an even deeper crisis than the needless tragedy we are now witnessing.

Any future instances of political violence, including attacks on farmers and farmworkers, should be met by direct measures which recognize the responsibility of the President and members of his government. There must be constant reminders to those engaged in the land invasions and acts of brutality upon opposition supporters that the meaning of liberation is not to repeat many of the sins of colonial forefathers but to find ways to move Zimbabwe forward towards realizing its own potential.

Rights, in practise although not in law, have once again become the preserve of a minority in Zimbabwe -the people whose loyalty to Zanu (PF) is unquestioned. All other Zimbabweans are vulnerable. African Rights believes that by engaging in tyranny and racial persecution, Zanu (PF) leaders have hurt the nation at its core. They have transgressed the very meaning of "Zimbabwe" as an ideal of freedom and justice fought for against the oppression of Rhodesia. If the SADC leaders are to be true to the aims of the liberation struggles in Southern Africa, they must do all in their power to defend this ideal.

Yours sincerely,

Rakiya Omaar
Director


Text of the Abuja agreement on Zimbabwe

ABUJA, Sept 7, 2001 (AFP) -

Zimbabwe agreed Thursday at a Commonwealth meeting to end all illegal occupations of white-owned farmland and return the country to the rule of law, in return for financial assistance.

The following is the text of the agreement, in full, as presented by the Nigerian government and signed by all parties. The text was provided to AFP by the Nigerian Foreign Ministry.

  • The meeting recognised that as a result of historical injustices, the current land ownership and distribution needed to be rectified in a transparent and equitable manner. It also agreed on the following:

    1. Land is at the core of the crisis in Zimbabwe and cannot be separated from other issues of concern to the Commonwealth such as the rule of law, respect for humman rights, democracy and the economy. A program of land reform is, therefore, crucial to the resolution of the problem;
    2. Such a program of land reform must be implemented in a fair, just and sustainable manner, in the interest of all the people of Zimbabwe, within the law and constitution of Zimbabwe;
    3. The crisis in Zimbabwe also has political and rule of law implications which must be addressed holistically and concurrently. The situation in Zimbabwe poses a threat to the socio-economic stability of the entire sub-region and the continent at large;
    4. The need to avoid a division within the Commonwealth, especially at the forthcoming CHOGM in Brisbane, Australia, over the situation in Zimbabwe, and
    5. The orderly implementation of the land reform can only be meaningful and sustainable if carried out with due regard to human rights, rule of law, transparency and democratic principles. The commitment of the government of Zimbabwe is therefore crucial to this process.

  • The committee recognises the need for the adoption of confidence-building measures to ensure the implementation of the conclusions of the meeting. In this regard, the meeting welcomed assurances given by the Zimbabwe delegation as follows:

    1. Commitment to the Harare Commonwealth Declaration and the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration;
    2. There will be no further occuption of farm lands
    3. To speed up the process by which farms that do not meet set criteria are de-listed;
    4. For farms that are not designated, occupiers would be moved to legally acquired lands;
    5. Acceleration of discussions with the UNDP with a view to reaching agreement as quickly as possible;
    6. Commitment to restore the rule of law to the process of land reform programme
    7. Invitation by the foreign minister to the committee to visit Zimbabwe.

  • The meeting agreed, in the overall context of the statement, that the way forward is for Zimbabwe's international partners:

    1. to engage constructively with the UNDP and the government of Zimbabwe in pursuing an effective and sustainable land reform programme on the basis of the UNDP proposals of December 2000
    2. to respond positively to any request from the government of Zimbabwe in support of the electoral process; and
    3. to continue to contribute to poverty reduction programmes for the benefit of the people of Zimbabwe and that those partners present (Australia, Canada and United Kingdom) would actively pursue these objectives.

  • The meeting also welcomed the re-affirmation of the United Kingdom's commitment to a significant financial contribution to such a land reform programme and its undertaking to encourage other international donors to do the same.


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