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Tone for engagement on Zim set

Tone for engagement on Zim set

Thursday, 14 June 2012 17:51

David Mutomba

WHILE stories about the recent visit to Zimbabwe by UN Human Rights 
Commissioner Navanethem Pillay have been well-covered by the media, the 
implications of her trip, which will linger for a long time to come, need 

The visit thrust Zimbabwe and its human rights record under the 
international spotlight, stirring debate about what needs to be done to move 
the country forward.
Zimbabwe has had grave human rights abuses since 1980 and there is need to 
boldly tackle and bring closure to the situation.

However, Pillay’s trip was not without controversy as the Zanu PF side of 
the unity government and the state media went into over-drive to manage and 
influence Pillay’s  mission, albeit in vain. This was revealing as far as 
the human rights situation in the country is concerned. Zanu PF was worried 
because it has a lot to hide, contrary to what its ideologues claimed during 
Pillay’s mission.

The statement by Pillay at the end of her visit, in which she noted the 
continued climate of fear in Zimbabwe, stalling of the reform agenda, 
existence of obnoxious laws that violate human rights and her calls for an 
end to politically-motivated violence and impunity was refreshing.

In essence Pillay’s visit set the tone and benchmarks that the international 
community needs to note as part of a continued lobby for reform in Zimbabwe’s 
body politic before the next elections. Civil society and political actors 
need to take advantage of her statement and her report to advance the debate 
on human rights.

Pillay’s visit must therefore not be treated as an event, as it already 
appears to have been, but the beginning of renewed and direct interaction 
between Zimbabwe and the international community on the seemingly 
never-ending, man-made crisis in the country.

Her remarks laid the foundation for debate and engagement on issues that 
need attention in Zimbabwe, more importantly the need to end violence and 
deal with lingering human rights issues. Civil society therefore has an 
obligation to keep the UN, Sadc and AU fully informed to maintain pressure 
on authorities to ensure a paradigm shift, change of political culture and 
fundamental reforms before process-driven free and fair elections can be 

All this, as Pillay said, should be preceded by the conclusion of the 
constitution-making process, referendum and adoption of the new 
constitution. For Sadc, Pillay’s visit is another endorsement of its 
mediation process as led by SA President Jacob Zuma. What Sadc wants to see 
happen in Zimbabwe is what the UN also envisages.
The outcome of the recent Sadc summit in Luanda, Angola, should thus help 
keep the spotlight on Zimbabwe to ensure the country is steered through the 
current turbulent transition towards free and fair elections and hopefully 
democracy.  The human rights discourse must remain central to this process.

The tendency to deny the existence of human rights violations in Zimbabwe by 
some countries in the region is no longer sustainable as Pillay’s visit has 
shown. Sadc must therefore remain engaged in Zimbabwe and resist Zanu PF’s 
propaganda and threats, while acting subject to the mandate of its own 
resolutions and those of the AU, to find a solution to the country’s 
extended political stalemate and resultant woes. The UN Human Rights 
Commission, and by association, the whole UN, is now formally part of the 
process of engaging Zimbabwe on human rights issues and elections. Hence, 
this has not become a truly multilateral process.

However, for this process to keep unfolding and succeed, political parties 
and civil society must remain closely engaged with the people, regional 
bodies and the international community so as to seize opportunities for 

Zimbabweans must thus organise themselves internally to maintain pressure on 
their political leaders, Sadc and the AU to ensure this process, which could 
be derailed by reactionary forces, is seen through. There is need to keep 
Zanu PF and its leaders under scrutiny to remove further human rights 
violations and pile pressure for reform and change. Pillay’s visit has 
provided that basis.

The Luanda meeting and events preceding the summit, including the recent 
deployment of high-level envoys to the region, shows  Mugabe is determined 
to have elections this year without necessary reforms.

Consequently, Sadc insisted in Luanda that political parties to the GPA must 
within the next 12 months implement the GPA, roadmap and reforms before 
elections. What Mugabe’s envoys told regional leaders before the summit is 
now irrelevant because Sadc’s position has been reasserted.

The visit to Harare by Zuma’s facilitation team this week in the aftermath 
of the Sadc summit resolutions on Zimbabwe — which are subject to vicious 
contestation by Zanu PF and the two MDC parties — will add momentum to the 
process. That, taken with Pillay’s visit, must fuel debate and action on 
Zimbabwean issues to ensure free and fair elections.

While during the Luanda summit Mugabe’s envoys and his team claimed that 
political and economic stability have been restored and the environment is 
now conducive for free and fair elections, the correct assessment is the one 
made by Pillay who warned of a possible repeat of the 2008 bloodshed during 
elections, unless reforms are fully implemented. This was the same warning 
Mugabe got in Luanda.

Given recent remarks by military commanders who insist on meddling in 
politics on Mugabe and Zanu PF’s side, it is not difficult to see why Sadc 
and Pillay fear a repeat of 2008.

The army has no business in politics and Zimbabweans must start speaking out 
loudly against its interference, in violation of the laws of the country.
While Zimbabwe needs to hold elections to resolve the current political 
stand-off, it is important to ensure the country goes to credible elections 
which are not marred by political violence, intimidation and manipulation of 
the voters’ roll, constituency boundaries and the subsequent results. If 
these issues are not dealt with through comprehensive reforms, the country 
would end up caught in a vicious cycle of disputed elections, stalemates and 

At the same time, it must be appreciated that elections are not the solution 
to Zimbabwe’s long-running crisis, but the holding of convincing polls would 
help in resolving the situation. It must always be remembered there are many 
issues which the country needs to sort out if it is to move forward as a 
united and progressive entity. For a long time many issues have been left 
hanging and that is not helping matters, but fuelling tensions and conflict.

The Pillay visit and Sadc summit resolutions have laid a solid basis for 
Zimbabweans to seriously engage their own situation and find a way forward 
for the sake of the nation. All stakeholders must now start treating these 
issues seriously for the sake of national self-preservation and progress.


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