Mugabe's opportunity to salvage legacy

HARARE -  As Zimbabwe prepares to host the Sadc summit next month, local civic society groups who have been at loggerheads with President Robert Mugabe and his administration over alleged gross human rights violations, wish to see the veteran Zanu PF leader use his chairmanship to correct past wrongs and set the tone for a better region that respects people’s fundamental freedoms.

Here Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition chairperson Dewa Mavhinga speaks to Senior Assistant Editor — Guthrie Munyuki — and below are the excerpts of the interview.

Q: Zimbabwe hosts the Sadc summit next month; what are your expectations?

A: In line with the 34th Sadc summit theme of economic transformation through beneficiation and value addition, we expect that Sadc leaders will set a clear action plan for the realisation of Millennium Development Goals and socio-economic rights which continue to be hampered by political repression in several Sadc member states like, for instance, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Angola.

We expect that Sadc leaders will review both the Principles on Democratic Elections and the enforcement mechanisms so that Sadc will be empowered to act decisively and collectively in the face of flawed elections like Zimbabwe’s July 2013 polls.

Q: What is the significance of this summit to the local civic society movement?

A: The upcoming Sadc Summit presents an important opportunity for Zimbabwe civil society to place the country’s governance and human rights record under regional and international spotlight.

As Zimbabwe takes over the chairmanship of Sadc next month, focus should be on its domestic human rights record as well as its commitment to ensuring that the Sadc region lives up to its stated values of respect for human rights.

The local civil society movement will therefore ask whether Zimbabwe’s treatment of its citizens qualifies it to take a leadership role at all.

Q: Previously you have clashed with Mugabe’s administration over violations, now that he is the incoming chairman, how do you intend to use the Sadc platform to resolve outstanding issues?

A: We will continue to demand accountability from (president) Mugabe for his administration’s actions and to remind him that his Sadc chairmanship, which is most likely his last, is a golden opportunity for him to salvage his legacy and set right many wrongs committed in the past.

It is a time for him to stand on the side of social justice, of democracy, and of genuine economic transformation and citizens’ empowerment.

Mugabe will earn the respect of Zimbabweans and of Sadc citizens if he uses his chairmanship to promote human rights at home and abroad and pushes countries like Swaziland to stop the harassment of human rights defenders and respect fundamental rights like freedom of expression.

Q: Are your concerns still the same and if not what has changed?

A: We continue to be extremely concerned about the standard and quality of life Zimbabweans live in this country.

We worry about the oppression that citizens continue to experience at the hands of their own government and the apparent lack of government concern about the suffering of the masses.

We are alarmed that, despite widespread endemic corruption, so far government has displayed lack of political will to address the scourge.

The spirit of politically-backed wanton loot and plunder, that first gripped the nation in 2000 when farm invasions began, has continued to spread to the diamond industry and many other areas.

We are concerned that, despite us having a new constitution, government is not moving with purpose to realign our laws and repeal all legislation that is unconstitutional and violates our fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the instability in the Zanu PF cock-pit; and lack of affirmation that constitutional succession shall prevail and be respected, presents a huge risk of instability in the country as we look to the inevitable post-Mugabe era.

Q: What does your report card read in terms of progress on rights and social justice issues since the conclusion of the July 31 2013 elections?

A: Since July 2013 elections it has become clear that the economy cannot be rigged, unlike other processes like elections.

Government has admitted failure to mobilise funds, both from its favoured “look east” and from the west, to operationalise its economic policy blueprint — ZimAsset.

There has been virtually no progress on basic rights and social justice issues; rather, it appears the country is retrogressing. Except for a few progressive constitutional court judgments in favour of human rights, like the striking down of criminal defamation from the statutes, there are no success stories to celebrate.

But it should not have to take a long and expensive constitutional court battle for rights that are already in the constitution to be confirmed; government should simply expedite the process of aligning all laws to the new constitution as a matter of utmost urgency.

Q: To what extent has the current economic meltdown affected civic society and its partners?

A: The current economic meltdown characterised by widespread inequality, social depravation and polarisation has obviously negatively affected everyone, especially ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe, many of whom are part of civil society.

But the meltdown has provided an important opportunity for civil society to reflect and review tools of engagement and general focus.

For instance, it is now clear that the terrain of struggle has shifted from the strictly political to the socio-economic front.

But we must not forget that the economic meltdown is a direct product of bad governance and political repression. The economic meltdown is a direct product of July 31, 2013 elections and therefore, any solution to the economic crisis, for it to be effective, must address the underlying political and governance challenges.

Civil society should always ensure that its symbiotic relationship with citizens, that of fish and water, continues to be nurtured such that at all times civil society work ultimately addresses people’s bread and butter issues.

Q: What solutions are there to fix this economy?

A: Solutions to fix the economy must look beyond the economy to focus on the political and governance framework.

Government must demonstrate a willingness to implement fresh ideas and to stamp out corruption.

Zimbabwe has great infrastructure, but lacks proper, professional and qualified managers in government because of endemic political nepotism, patronage and cronyism.

A huge number of Zimbabwe’s skilled labour force, experts and managers are outside the country leading and sustaining economies of other countries because they are not neither valued nor respected in their own country. To fix the economy, government must create a conducive environment for all and demonstrate preparedness to confront key challenges.

The government must inspire confidence in the people of Zimbabwe, and in the international community and investors as a first step to rebuild the economy.

Our economy will not be solved by political slogans or political party manifestos like ZimAsset.

Ideas like the premature return of the Zimbabwe dollar will be doomed if led by a government that does not inspire confidence in its people and in international partners that it knows the business of running a country.

Q: Is there any role for the civil society in the proposed national dialogue conference and what would it be?

A: Yes, guided by widespread consultations among its membership, civil society can collectively play a key non-partisan think tank role in national dialogue processes and speak truth to power, but it is up to government to embrace and implement those ideas.

In the event that government refuses to reform state institutions and continues to ignore progressive policy alternatives, then it is the sacred duty of civil society to mobilise citizens into a formidable force that government cannot ignore.

Given the already established absence of political will to reform and follow a democratic path on the part of government, national dialogue processes may amount to nothing more than glorified talk-shops that waste everyone’s time.

Q: What difference does the convergence of ideas make when in reality there is an elected government tasked with formulating policies and improving people’s livelihoods?

A: The so-called convergence of ideas on the table is unlikely to make any difference in reality if the elected government does not feel any pressure to act in the best interests of the people of Zimbabwe.

The idea is not just to seek dialogue with government from a position of weakness, but to first mobilise a critical mass of citizens who are prepared to take government head on in the absence of failure to improve people’s lives.

As a pro-democracy movement, we are collectively guilty of letting government trash our lives with impunity and in the comfort of the knowledge that peaceful collective action is unlikely.

Government’s arrogance has found a match in our shocking ability to make excuses for government and adapt to lives of unimaginable hardship.

Comments (3)

Mugabe's legacy is that of a man who had all the ingredients to put his country among the top 5 nations on the continent but instead it languishes in the bottom 5 out of 54. I'm not sure what legacy the writer is on about.

saundy - 28 July 2014

Dictatorship,corruption,bad economic policies,dead wood recycling, poverty &degrees in violence are Mugabe's legacy.

bvundurai - 29 July 2014

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