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Note: 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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Civil Society on Crisis

Africa Policy E-Journal
April 19, 2003 (030419)

Zimbabwe: Civil Society on Crisis
(Reposted from sources cited below)

This posting contains excerpts from a statement released by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition earlier this month. The full statement and much additional documentation is available at the link indicated below on

Other recent reports include the unofficially released report by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, which also noted the further deterioration of the economic, political, and human rights crisis in Zimbabwe. The Commonwealth report is available from Zimbabwe News at Recent U.S. statements are available on the State Department website at

For additional earlier background and analyses, see previous E-Journal postings at:>,>,

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Sovereignty Through Democracy - The Commonwealth and Zimbabwe's Multi-layered Crisis - Excerpts

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition

April 10, 2003

A delegation from the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition presented this report to the Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth on Thursday, 10 April on the current situation in Zimbabwe and on the role of the Commonwealth in addressing this crisis.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Box CY 434 Causeway, Harare ZIMBABWE Phone/Fax +263 4 747 817

[The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coordinating Committee consists of the nine major civil society coalitions, namely:

The Coalition on the Constitution under National Constitutional Assembly (NCA); The Coalition on Election Support under Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN); The Confederacy of Trade Unions under Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU); The Women's Coalition (WC); The Coalition of Media Groups under Media Institute of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe chapter (MISA); The Coalition on Transparency issues under Transparency International- Zimbabwe (TI-Z); The Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU); The Coalition of Human Rights Groups, under the NGO-Human Rights Forum; The Coalition of groups dealing with social, economic and policy issues (CASEP).

NB. The coalitions collectively represent in excess of five hundred civil society groups .Two hundred and fifty (250) of these civil society groups are directly affiliated to the Crisis Committee.]

1.1 Introduction

This paper (1) seeks to achieve three things, namely:

  • To respond to the question of how the Commonwealth ought to respond to the Zimbabwean crisis following a year-long suspension that will only be tackled at the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government (CHOGM) meeting in Abuja in December 2003. In particular, what it is that the Commonwealth did not do over the past year that it can improve on prior to the December CHOGM meeting. Particular reference shall be made herein to the need for a clear Performance Monitoring Mechanism (PMM); clearly defined performance indicators /milestones and a well thought out, participatory and broadly inclusive system of consultations with all stakeholders (2).
  • To give an update of the situation on the ground. In particular to answer the question whether the situation has improved since Zimbabwe's suspension on March, 19th 2002;
  • To propose a way forward in engaging the Zimbabwean crisis generally as well as returning the country to normalcy.

These issues are tackled within a broad context of the Zimbabwean crisis that acknowledges the centrality of land question to the bilateral relations between the Zimbabwean and UK government. However, this broad perspective refutes that there is any linkage between the land question and the gross human rights violations being perpetuated by uniformed forces and state sponsored militia. While equitable land reform should be supported, human rights violations must be openly condemned. This report thus looks at the extent of Zimbabwe's compliance with the Harare Principles with regard to the human rights issue.

1.2 Context - Commonwealth Declarations

The Harare Commonwealth Declaration, 1991 is founded on a shared commitment to the following fundamental principles:

  • The liberty of the individual under the law, equal rights for all citizens regardless of gender, race, colour, creed or political belief.
  • The inalienable right of every eligible individual to participate by means of free and democratic political processes (3) in framing the society in which he or she lives;
  • That racial prejudice and intolerance is a dangerous sickness as well as a threat to healthy development. Further, that racial discrimination is an unmitigated evil;
  • That every individual is entitled to dignity and equality;
  • That socio-economic development should seek to satisfy the basic needs and aspirations of the vast majority as well as removing the wide disparities in living standards amongst the human race;
  • Democracy, democratic processes and institutions which reflect national circumstances, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary, just and honest government (4);
  • Fundamental human rights, including equal rights and opportunities for all citizens regardless race, colour, creed or political belief;
  • Equality for women, so that they may exercise their full and equal rights;
  • Provision of universal access to education for the national populations;
  • Extending the benefits of development within a framework of respect for human rights;
  • The protection of the environment.

Having affirmed and committed themselves to these principles the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government noted as follows in paragraph 13 of the Harare Declaration:

" We the Heads of Government express our determination to renew and enhance the value and importance of the Commonwealth as an institution which can and should strengthen and enrich the lives not only of its members and their peoples, but also of the wider community of peoples of which they are part."

In 1995, the Commonwealth adopted the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration. The Millbrook Action Programme provides for measures in response to violations of the Harare principles. In particular paragraph 3 provides that 'where a member country is perceived to be clearly in violation of the Harare Declaration, then 'appropriate steps should be taken to express the collective concern of Commonwealth countries and to encourage the restoration of democracy within a reasonable time frame.' These measures include, but are not limited to, the following (5):

  • Immediate public expression by the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth's collective disapproval of any such infringement of the Harare principles;
  • Encouraging bilateral demarches by member countries, especially those within the region, both to express disapproval and to support early restoration of democracy;
  • Appointment of an envoy or a group of eminent Commonwealth representatives where, following the Secretary-General's contacts with the authorities concerned, such a mission is deemed beneficial in reinforcing the Commonwealth's good offices role;
  • Stipulation of up to two years as a time frame for the restoration of democracy where the institutions are not in place to permit the holding of elections within, say, a maximum of six months;
  • Pending restoration of democracy, exclusion of the government concerned from participation at ministerial-level meetings of the Commonwealth, including CHOGMs;
  • Suspension of participation at all Commonwealth meetings and of Commonwealth technical assistance if acceptable progress is not recorded by the government concerned after a period of two years;


  • Consideration of appropriate further bilateral and multilateral measures by all member states (e.g. limitation of government to government contacts; people-to-people measures; trade restrictions; and, in exceptional cases, suspension from the association), to reinforce the need for change in the event that the government concerned chooses to leave the Commonwealth and/or persists in violating the principles of the Harare Declaration even after two years.

The mechanism for implementing these measures is the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). CMAG's task is to assess "the nature of the infringement and recommend measures for collective Commonwealth action aimed at speedy restoration of democracy and constitutional rule."

1.3 2002 Presidential Election

In March 2002, Zimbabwe held its Presidential Poll, without any real attempt to attend to the concerns raised by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, CMAG and the international community. In the event, both the Commonwealth Observer mission and the SADC-PF delegation declared the election "unfree and unfair".

The SADC-Parliamentary Forum delegation held that the Presidential election was neither free nor fair (6). Their reasons included:

  • Violence and intimidation in the run-up to the election;
  • Partisan conduct of the Police
  • Non-availability of the Voters Roll before the election;
  • Restrictions on the freedom of opposition parties to campaign;
  • Limited availability of information on the location of polling stations, and a reduction of the number of polling stations in urban areas;
  • Lack of an independent Electoral Commission;
  • Limited access of opposition parties to the public media.

Similarly, the Commonwealth Observer Mission concluded that the Presidential Poll "did not reflect the free expression of the will of the people and thus was deeply flawed." (7) The report noted that the election had been held in a climate of fear and suspicion. Concerns of the Commonwealth included:

  • Widespread state-sponsored political violence;
  • Enactment of repressive legislation whose provisions and effect would result in the violation of several key provisions of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration of 1991;
  • Youth and other state-sponsored militia that were deployed to terrorise opponents of the government;
  • Irregularities relating to conduct and process of the presidential poll;
  • Long queues of voters in urban centres.

Following the Club report, a "Troika" was set-up under the auspices of the Commonwealth to look into the Zimbabwean issue with a view to restoring normalcy and democratic governance. The Troika met in London on 19 March 2002 and recommended that Zimbabwe be suspended from participating in the committees of the Commonwealth for a year until it has attended to the concerns raised in the Commonwealth Club Presidential Poll Report (8). At the time the troika intimated that:

"This issue will be revisited in 12 month's time, having regard to progress in Zimbabwe, based on the Commonwealth Harare Principles and reports from the Commonwealth Secretary General."

At the same time, the Commonwealth Secretary General was mandated to:

"engage the government of Zimbabwe to ensure that the specific recommendations from the Commonwealth Observer Group report notably on the management of future elections in Zimbabwe are implemented."

In addition, as provided in the 19 March 2002 Marlborough Statement, the Commonwealth supported initiatives to address:

  • political violence;
  • the need for inter-party reconciliation;
  • food shortages;
  • economic recovery;
  • the restoration of political stability;
  • the rule of law; and the conduct of future elections.

Notably, although the Marlborough Statement acknowledges that "land is at the core of the crisis in Zimbabwe and cannot be separated from other issues of concern," Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth had nothing to do with the Land Reform Programme per se. Nor was it in any way related to Zimbabwe's bi-lateral relations with the United Kingdom. This fact is important in assessing the extent to which Zimbabwe has managed to address the factors that led to its suspension as well as the way forward regarding Zimbabwe full re-admission into the Commonwealth. There is also a need to reflect beyond Zimbabwe's fate in the Commonwealth and explore other possibilities that might lead to an amicable resolution of its multi-layered crisis. In this regard, this paper outlines a possible process of achieving such an amicable resolution to the Zimbabwean crisis.

3. Defining the Way Forward

In sum, there has been a near-total closure of democratic space and a clampdown on democratic rights in Zimbabwe. The joint effect of repressive legislation referred to above as well as police brutality has meant that the possibilities for unfettered mobilisation and free expression has been seriously diminished. Moreover, the constraint on democratic space has not improved but deepened in the first year of Zimbabwe's suspension.

There are two outstanding factors about the political crisis in Zimbabwe. The first one is the wanton use of violence by the state relying on the agency of war veterans and youth militia. This is aided by a claim that violence in the post-colonial era is an extension of the violence of the liberation struggle. In a sense that such violence is a necessary tool for maintaining state power (9). The second is the serious infraction between the discourse and politics of the liberation struggle on the one hand and advocacy for human and civil liberties on the other hand (10).

Zimbabwean society remains severely polarised between pro-reform and pro-establishment forces. This impasse has for the greater part meant that there is no collective effort to find a national solution to the obtaining crises. Political and social conditions must be created within Zimbabwe to seriously consider their vision for the future of Zimbabwe. Such forces must move beyond the current problems of repressive legislation, political violence, food shortages, etc. to a discussion of a post-crisis future for Zimbabwe.

In an effort to urge this discourse forward, one scenario is described below. While this report does not detail the necessary methods which would be required to enact such a programme, it is hoped that by opening up the debate, the steps, tactics and timeframes required for achieving a democratic dispensation in Zimbabwe can be developed. Furthermore, the time frames discussed below represent overlapping requirements, and should not be seen as isolated, quantum units.

In the immediate future, Zimbabwe desperately requires a stabilisation of her economic and political situation. This may require an element of mediated intervention, through SADC, the AU, the UN, or another credible and honest broker.

This intervention should insist upon, among other things:

  • An immediate end to political violence;
  • The cessation of all organised violence and torture as well as the immediate disbanding of all militia and in particular the youth militia; and
  • The immediate return to respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law.
  • The restoration of non-partisan enforcement and professional conduct by state security forces;
  • The depoliticisiation of food distribution;
  • Opening up of political space, particularly through the repeal or withdrawal of all draconian legislation, including the Public Order and Security Act (POSA); the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Broadcasting Services Act and portions of the then proposed Labour Bill;

More broadly, during this period consensus should be built from all stakeholders on the terms, mandate, duration and constitution of a transitional arrangement. This will only be achieved through the opening of democratic space and by allowing participatory stakeholder interventions in the policy process.

The transitional phase implies Constitutional reform, which will create a framework to facilitate legislative reform, including the repeal of repressive legislation and the introduction of new electoral legislation.

These processes may entail the following steps:

  • Identification of neutral brokers/mediators;
  • Opening up of dialogue between and among stakeholders;
  • Agreement on broad principles for transition, a Transitional Constitution and Transitional Authority;
  • Defining the mandate of the Transitional Authority, its composition, process and timeframe.

In addition, this period should see the stabilisation of the humanitarian crisis, particularly in terms of access to food. It should also facilitate a reduction in the abuse of state authority. This may include staff training for civil servants, in particular security personnel. This should include a provision for weeding out non-cooperative elements if necessary.

4. Performance Monitoring Mechanisms

The period between now and the CHOGM summit in December 2003 will require that several pressing issues are addressed. In addition, definite time-frames and monitoring structures be put in place to address these issues, which include:

  • Stop state sponsored or facilitated violence and organised torture;
  • Disband the youth militia and other non-legislated forces;
  • Repeal or progressive amendment of repressive legislation such as POSA and AIPPA;
  • Opening up of democratic space;
  • Depoliticisation of food distribution;
  • Depoliticisation of law enforcement agencies and application of the rule of law.

The most appropriate mechanism of ensuring this would be CMAG (11). CMAG and the Secretary General's Office should mount a thorough fact-finding mission into Zimbabwe with a mandate to broadly consult with all key stakeholders from political parties, Faith Based Organisations, Civil Society groups and businesses. This fact finding mission could receive both oral and written evidence on a wide range of issues constituting the multi-layered Zimbabwe crisis. This mission could work with a small multi-stakeholder committee on Zimbabwe.

The essential requirement for Zimbabwe is democratic governance. The Coalition believes that this can best be achieved through a transformational phase. This phase is essential for the long term social, economic and political stability of the nation. This includes the development of a democratic culture, and addressing the social and psychological requirements of national healing. Whether this should be through a truth and justice style process, or through some other tribunal of justice is a matter for Zimbabwean society to discuss and agree to. Ultimately, Zimbabwean needs peace, security and development through the establishment of a legitimate, democratic government.


(1) Position of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, 1 April 2003. Crisis in Zimbabwe is a grouping of civil society organisations and coalitions whose vision is a democratic Zimbabwe. The Coalition's mandate is to address the twin questions of governance and legitimacy.

(2) At the time of writing this report, SADC Foreign Ministers are in Harare supposedly consulting with stakeholders. None of the Coalition's 350 member organisations have been approached to make any input into these consultations. This may signify a flaw in the SADC process, but it is too early to pass conclusive judgements.

(3) We understand political processes to include public debate, the right to peacefully demonstrate and engage in other forms of constitutional protest.

(4) This is why genuine access to information, robust public debate, citizen participation in the policy process is crucial to the restoration of normalcy in Zimbabwe.

(5) A good number of the measures outlined herein have been adopted with very little impact. Hence the call for more decisive action and attendant performance indicators and a functional monitoring mechanism.

(6) See Appendix 1, Report from the SADC-PF Observer Mission, March 2003.

(7) See Appendix 2, the Executive Summary of the Report from the Commonwealth Observer Mission, March 2003.

(8) See Appendix 3, the Marlborough Statement.

(9) A critique of this violence has dominated the oppositional forces advocacy for an alternative politics.

(10) Human rights advocacy of this nature is often uncritical of globalisation and its excesses. Resultantly, such advocacy is poorly equipped to found a post-nationalist order.

(11) We note in this regard that not only has the Troika's mandate lapsed, but it also failed to carry out broad- based consultations. Its members have taken fairly partisan views on the Zimbabwean crisis thus preventing them from being neutral brokers.

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Date distributed (ymd): 030419
Region: Southern Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +security/peace+

The Africa Action E-Journal is a free information service provided by Africa Action, including both original commentary and reposted documents. Africa Action provides this information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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