ZIMBABWE has once again come under the spotlight over an alleged human rights crisis. Civil society groups, churches, political organisations in and outside the country have slammed President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government over the alleged human rights violations following the crackdown on opposition political leaders, activists and government critics in support of the foiled July 31 protest.
The government, on the other has, maintained that there is no crisis in Zimbabwe or gross human rights violations, saying that videos circulating on social media platforms, where concerned citizens have launched the #Zimbabwelivesmatter campaign, were manipulated to derail Mnangagwa’s efforts to re-engage the international community.
The Daily News on Sunday Senior Staff Writer Sindiso Mhlophe last week sat down with social movement, Citizen Manifesto, convenor Briggs Bomba to discuss these issues and more in detail. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: Does Zimbabwe have a crisis?
A: Zimbabwe is in a deep and profound crisis — it’s a crisis that has been protracted. It has been ongoing for close to two decades now, but we can safely say we are really at a moment of implosion. I think the only thing that we can add, especially from the position which we speak from as the Citizen Manifesto, where we try to champion the views of the ordinary citizens, is that it’s the characterisation of the crisis.
You have heard it being characterised as a human rights crisis over the past two months or so and everyone is paying attention to the human rights dimension of the crisis. So, I think for us is to highlight that it is a deep seated multifaceted crisis of which human rights is just, but one dimension.
We have a thorough, completely and totally acute human rights crisis and it has been exacerbated by the coronavirus (Covid-19). Even before the Covid-19 crisis, you had a humanitarian crisis in this country. People affected by hunger from last year’s poor harvest, more than 90 percent of young people failing to find jobs and just total and utter desperation among the populace.
So, we would say Zimbabwe is in a deep-seated crisis. Its human rights in dimension, humanitarian in dimension, it’s socio-economic in dimension. So we can say we have an all-round crisis.
Q: So how do we move forward when the government is of the view that there is no crisis in the country, everything is okay?
A: I think the way forward is quite clear. We have been issuing statements as Citizens Manifesto consistently over the last two years and we have been calling for an inclusive national dialogue as the starting point of trying to find each other and trying to create a solution to the crisis that is confronting us.
When we say inclusive dialogue, we mean a dialogue that brings together political actors, citizens and their representative formations, business sector, churches and different stakeholders so that we can have a solution that is truly owned by everyone.
We have said in that regard it is important that we have international mediation to come to an agreement on the framework of that dialogue. Once we have that mediated and we have an agreement that simply says this is how we are going to be talking, we can then have a facilitation of that process as well. For us the solution really is urgent and it’s an inclusive dialogue.
Q: Who can lead or initiate that dialogue given the polarisation in the country?
A: In our view, the country is so divided and so polarised to the point that it’s very difficult to find someone internally to mediate an agreement on a workable framework for people to begin to speak. So, that’s why we are saying that it has to be mediated by an international actor.
There are various proposals that have been put on the table. These include a former head of State who has credibility. It’s a process that can also be done through an international civic leader acceptable to all parties just to mediate that framework and we believe that the whole process must then be supported by Sadc as well as the African Union and beyond that by even the United Nations so that it has that multilateral scaffolding and support.
Q: You spoke about the humanitarian issue, how bad is it, how are people surviving in this country?
A: It’s by the grace of God now, that’s what we can say. More seriously looking at it we can’t even say people are surviving. If you go to Harare Hospital you saw the report recently where out of eight new born babies only one was going home, so we can’t say people are surviving.
If you go to our rural areas and the desperation that is there we have reached a point where people are actually not surviving. We are losing lives as a result of this crisis in various ways.
Even here our young people, just the high risk behaviour that they are involved in now, we are losing lives, futures and dreams.
This crisis actually has a mortality rate of people that we are losing when you really look at the situation in the health sector, but also the social collapse and the results of that social collapse in terms of people dying.
Q: In terms of the health sector, we had the appointment of VP Constantino Chiwenga to the Health ministry, do you see a change in the way things are?
A: That appointment was a joke. If it wasn’t tragic we would all be laughing about it. Chiwenga has not demonstrated any capacity to be able to deal with such a fundamental and critical concern of the nation as health care.
There is nothing in his profile or on his record that can say he is the right person to step in now and resolve this. The nation would remember the last time he intervened in the health sector it was to fire health workers who were protesting and asking for a living wage. His response was to fire everyone.
So, he has not demonstrated any capacity to be able to solve this and I think it speaks to the lack of sincerity on the part of the ruling party in terms of finding solutions to the crisis before us. With everything that the country is confronted with now, you really need inclusive processes and platforms to be able to find solutions.
So, even with regards to the health sector we actually need an inclusive process that brings in medical workers, patients’ representatives, citizens, some technical people and even international development partners to be able to find solutions to address challenges within the health sector.
The bottom line is that this government has proved beyond reasonable doubt that on their own they lack the imagination and the competence to find solutions.
Q: In terms of corruption, we hear the government saying they are dealing with it as they are firing ministers now, what is your take on This?
A: If you really look at the depth of corruption in this country we will be talking of maybe 90 percent ministers being fired. As far as I can recall we have had the minister of Health fired after a long period of citizens and different stakeholders protesting and compelling evidence of corrupt activities, especially with regards to the procurement of Covid-19 PPE and other provisions.
However, the problem has been ongoing for a very long time. You have the national pharmaceutical body that has been accessing US dollars but failing to make sure or guarantee availability of critical medicine in this country.
So, besides this whole latest expose that has resulted in the minister being fired, he should have been fired a long time ago. This is just to say the actions we are seeing from the government are tokenistic and they are not substantive in nature and they are not even designed to solve the problem. If they were designed to solve the problem you would have three quarters of that Cabinet gone.