READERS of the government press may be surprised to hear that according to Foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi “we have never had political prisoners in Zimbabwe and the three parties making up the inclusive government have agreed that suspects go through the whole process of the law through the courts”.
While it is unlikely that the visiting Norwegian delegation will have swallowed whoppers of this size, the ministerial claim does expose a fundamental flaw in the unity-government system.
While the two wings of the MDC may remain diplomatically silent on the issue of abductions, torture and defiance of court orders that have become a way of life since last year, civil society —— and the media in particular —— has a duty to speak out.
Amidst the hullabaloo over “illegal” sanctions that have become the focus of the government’s public relations campaign we need reminding that the circumstances in which they were imposed have not changed radically.
They have certainly not changed to the extent of meeting the benchmarks set by the global political agreement.
Zimbabweans continue to be arbitrarily arrested and farmers harassed on instructions from the Attorney-General’s office.
One farmer was arrested for filming a crash site which the MDC had asked him to do.
Three farmers in Ruwa were arrested and held for more than two months on the specious grounds that their outward-bound centre was a militia training base. Raids on their farms were in fact inspired by a predatory neighbour.
Jestina Mukoko and others picked up last year at the same time still face charges of sending youths for training in Botswana even though Botswana has invited the Zimbabwean authorities to come and identify the bases where this training is alleged to have taken place.
Needless to say they haven’t found them.
Among the more egregious episodes this year has been the arrest of a magistrate who complied with a High Court order for the release of Roy Bennett.
The Magistrates Association of Zimbabwe has expressed its outrage at the arrest and asked how magistrates can perform their duties if the threat of arrest hangs over them.
The visiting Norwegian ministers would have been well aware of all this. While Norway is not a member of the European Union, it follows events in Zimbabwe closely through its embassy here.
Instead of pretending human rights abuses don’t happen, a ludicrous claim in the circumstances, Mumbengegwi should have simply pledged the new government to uphold the rule of law.
The inability of either wing of the MDC to set the record straight reflects the fix it has got itself into. But that shouldn’t prevent it from stating how important it is to have a professional and independent law enforcement system.
For its part parliament has made no effort to repeal the Consequential Provisions (Gazetted Land) Act which the AG is using as a weapon to deprive productive farmers of their livelihoods.
As it is, Zimbabwe remains a lawless state. The MDC may have secured the release of a handful of political prisoners but it has not stopped the arbitrary arrests or the occupation of farms which has disrupted production and discouraged investment.
While President Mugabe may regard the Windhoek Tribunal’s ruling on farm occupations as “nonsense”, the rest of the region regards the tribunal’s judgements as binding.
Why did Zimbabwe law officers agree to abide by the tribunal’s ruling and then see their government renege on that undertaking?
This goes to the heart of the matter. The farm invasions are manifestly damaging, both in terms of output, inflation and the country’s reputation.
They are seen as redolent of the ancien regime, representing everything the new government has pledged to change.
Yet the MDC can’t stop them. And it remains silent on the great issues of the day in order to propitiate its partners in government. Those responsible for abductions and torture continue to stalk the land with impunity.
That is bad news for Zimbabweans seeking a path out of the current crisis.
This needs to be put up in lights: No donor of any importance will revoke sanctions so long as the circumstances of their imposition remain.
That is because in part those countries have substantial constituencies to which governments are beholden.
Despite the state media’s fatuous attempts to paint Barack Obama as racist, African American opinion would never let him attempt to open a dialogue with the Mugabe regime under the present circumstances.
The state media can bleat all it wants for a lifting of the “illegal” sanctions, but nothing will change on that front so long as people like Mumbengegwi continue to be in denial about how we got into this mess.