In the last instalment, we paid tribute to the men and women who have worked through out this year for the protection of human rights.
Dzikamai Bere and Prosper Maguchu
We also paid tribute to community human rights defenders who were still to be honoured at the ZimRights Community Human Rights Defenders Awards, which were later held on the evening of December 18 2014.
It later emerged that among other such noble defenders of human rights, was the war veterans leader Joseph Chinotimba who was awarded the People’s Choice Award.
The award caused a storm with many people raising their objections to Chinotimba receiving a human rights defenders’ award from an organisation with such a sterling record of defending human rights.
ZimRights later issued a statement explaining that the People’s Choice Award is not a human rights defender award but an award linked to the raising of pertinent developmental issues in the nation using platforms that one has access to.
Responding to public fury on the social networks, one of the officials laboured to justify the award stating that “our” duty first and last is to build a nation. He went further to pay tribute to Chinotimba for opening up space for human rights work in Buhera.
He noted that he had personally seen Chinotimba working hard during the constitutional reform process and on other platforms.
In case some suffer from amnesia, we take this opportunity to refresh your memory on this person called Joseph Chinotimba.
Chinotimba emerged as the commander in chief of farm invasions around the year 2000.
Between 2000 and 2001, the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) recorded 874 violent land grab incidences many of them resulting in the murder of several white commercial farmers.
The ugly scenes that stick to memory are; the cold blooded murder of David Stevens who was shot at point blank by settlers at his farm in Macheke; the murder of Martin Olds and later his mother in Nyamandlovu; the murder of Robert Fenwick in Kwekwe. In this violent era, over 3 000 farm workers were displaced, 26 killed and 1 600 assaulted or raped.
When the judiciary was asked to intervene in this lawlessness, Chinotimba could not hear of it. On November 24 2000, the ZimRights People’s Choice award winner Joseph Chinotimba led a group of war veterans and invaded the Supreme Court and demanded the departure of the then Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay shouting “kill the judges”.
Chinotimba was also active during the bloody election of 2000. Many will not forget the chilling headline in one of the daily newspapers sometime around 2000 “Democracy:0 Violence :1” (or something to that effect) made in reference to the post election violence that was seen at an unprecedented level during the Bikita West by-election. Spearheading this violence was none other than Chinotimba.
It was noted in relationship to the ZimRights award that the MP raises pertinent development issues in Parliament. We here recall his role in the 2008 harmonised elections.
This is well documented on Nehanda Radio’s Wall of Shame compiled by Lance Guma in which he chronicles Chinotimba’s activities in Buhera South. He says the 2008 harmonised elections brought to surface the more violent side of Chinotimba. According to eye witnesses, Guma reports, Chinotimba in the company of his cousin sexually violated an MDC-T member Idah Munyukwi in Buhera at gun point.
In another recorded incident, Chinotimba allegedly encouraged a group of about 21 thugs to sexually molest Memory Mufambi from Ward 18 in Buhera.
This case was allegedly reported to the Girl Child Network which provided shelter for Mufambi in Botswana. Mufambi described in great detail how Chinotimba’s mob raped her times beyond her memory.
She claimed a mob came looking for her husband. When they could not locate him, they carried her to a torture base where they took turns to beat up and rape her.
She was reportedly only released when one of the men could not stomach the violence and pleaded for her release. Mufambi is reported to be still in and out of hospital due to the long term effects of what happened to her.
Now, there are many incidences like this, including the alleged murder of one Mubango of Buhera South in May 2008.
These violations that continued unabated over a decade are not minor by any measure.
They constitute what we call systematic gross violation of human rights. We understand if many people were offended by the award given to Joseph Chinotimba.
Suggesting that these violations should be forgotten in the name of nation-building is grossly offensive to the many victims of Chinotimba’s alleged activities, a number of them already departed from this earth but many still bearing the wounds of the said activities.
In our view, our duty as human rights defenders, first and foremost is to confront impunity and call sin by its name. Before any violator of human rights must start cosmetic projects in the name of development, the past must be acknowledged. It is a grave scandal for a man with such a record as Joseph Chinotimba to be associated, however remotely, with defence of human rights while they have not acknowledged, apologised and repented for their offences.
To make matters worse, Chinotimba has said that the award is evidence that reports of human rights violations on his part are false. While the organisers may not have foreseen this in advance, it is now clear that the award is now being used to deny human rights violations and further insult victims.
ZimRights has indicated that the awards are an opportunity to learn and we think they notice that the award has sent the wrong message. They had no such intention. It is our view that something positive may come out of this award.
The award has already brought some much-needed attention to one of Zimbabwe’s worst violators of human rights and allowed us to recover some of the information that many may have thought of forgetting. Violators of human rights must know that society will not forget! In that same spirit, we believe ZimRights has a duty presented to them to speak emphatically against impunity.
By the public outcry, the organisation is invited to state its position categorically and without fear condemn the activities of Chinotimba in the past and that despite him being chosen by voters as the people’s choice, as an organisation they believe he must face justice.
This is not just an opportunity for ZimRights, but for the entire human rights movement to affirm its commitment to truth, justice and accountability. We owe it to the many victims still groaning in a long wait for justice. Chinotimba’s record is undeniable.
And as for us on this column, we want to make our position very clear; we do not believe that an invader of the Supreme Court deserves any award associated with human rights, no matter how remote. It is justice which matters above all things.
Dzikamai Bere and Prosper Maguchu contribute to this column in their own personal capacities. The views contained here are not the views of the organisations they are associated with. Feedback can be send to firstname.lastname@example.org