Prominent South African opposition leader Mmusi Maimane has emerged as one of the strongest supporters of the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter movement, which seeks to draw the world’s attention to alleged state sponsored human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
Maimane told our senior reporter Moses Matenga in an exclusive interview that it was high time the region took decisive action on Zimbabwe to stop the country sliding into a deeper crisis.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
Q: What is your appreciation of the situation in Zimbabwe right now?
A: There is a continuation of repression of human rights specifically the following (A) freedom of the media.
Investigative journalists have been targeted, an example is Hopewell Chin’ono, who was arrested under spurious charges after reporting on Covid-19 corruption to the value of R1 billion.
Mduduzi Mathuthu, the editor of the online publication ZimLive is in hiding and his nephew Tawanda Muchehiwa was abducted and beaten up in an attempt to bring him out from hiding
(B) Freedom of expression, young people such as Muzi Thaka were arrested for doing one-man protests expressing their views, which were well within free speech norms.
The young man was arrested for a poster that says, “Free Zimbabwe”.
(C) The victimisation of activists and opposition parties, the arrests of Fadzayi Mahere the spokesperson for the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDCA), the arrests of Tsitsi Dangarembga an award-winning novelist indicate a clear agenda to deny civilians their political rights.
When you then also consider the response to protests by the government in January 2019, where the human rights watch and amnesty international reports show that 17 people were killed, 17 women were raped and thousands were victims of violence, it is clear that there is a pattern of oppression by the government of Zimbabwe towards its citizens.
In January of 2019 the government even went so far as to shut down the internet and only turned it back on after global outcry.
Q: In your view, what needs to be done under the circumstances to rescue Zimbabwe?
A: It is imperative that civilians be allowed to speak freely and to participate in political discourse online and offline without fear of reprisals.
It is imperative that journalists must be free to work without fear of being attacked by government.
It is imperative that the rights of political parties and movements must not be trampled on under the guise of Covid-19 management.
We have seen that protests can be done in keeping with social distancing and other medical advice on virus mitigation.
The global community must be very vocal in making sure that these universal human rights are upheld by the Mnangagwa government.
Q: President Cyril Ramaphosa has reacted to the campaign #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, which you have supported, by sending envoys to Zimbabwe.
What is your reaction to the move, and do you think he is sincere in addressing the Zimbabwean challenges?
A: The process of beginning dialogue on the Zimbabwean human rights crisis is a necessary starting point but it must be done in a manner that is transparent and credible.
There are some issues with the envoy head Baleka Mbete and as it has been announced.
Emmerson Mnangagwa has described Baleka Mbete as a good friend of his and has even go so far as to say she helped arrange his escape to South Africa during the 2017 coup, this does not create a credible case for her being an impartial actor.
Furthermore, SA’s ambassador to Harare, Mphakama Mbete, is Baleka Mbete’s brother and he has been quiet during the arrests of journalists, activists and civilians.
The relationship between the Mbete family and the Mnangagwa regime is one that creates reasonable questions of their capacity to act with impartiality and in the interests of the people.
Dr Fholisani Sidney Mufumadi has been appointed to help with talks in Zimbabwe before and his track record is not a good one. In 2007 he did not attempt to speak to opposition leaders from the Movement of Democratic Change.
In addition to the issue of potential bias, there is also the issue of conflict of interest, Dr Mufumadi is the chairman of Zimplats which is the largest platinum mining operation in Zimbabwe, it reasonably will be difficult for him to act in ways, which could sour the relationship between the government and the mining company he represents.
Rather than a sham envoy with no credibility and ambiguous terms of reference, we need a robust envoy with representatives from the Economic Freedom Fighters, United Democratic Movement, Democratic Alliance, Inkatha Freedom Party et al.
The parliamentary committee on international relations and cooperation must be involved in this process.
This will ensure much needed public accountability and oversight.
Q: Do you think a sustainable outcome will be reached at, in the Zimbabwe crisis in the absence of opposition parties from SA who have remained in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe?
A: I do not think that a credible outcome can be reached without a multi-party envoy, without clear terms of reference for the discussions and without a clear timetable for a report back to the South African people.
Q: What would be your ideal team to intervene in the Zimbabwean crisis?
A: A team with representatives from all major parties, a team which works under the auspices of the parliamentary portfolio committee on International relations and cooperation.
This will ensure much needed public accountability and oversight.
Q: Sadc has been mute on the crisis. What do you think the regional bloc should do at this point?
A: The regional block should do the following, censure Zimbabwe for the violation of human rights that are continuing.
Remove Emmerson Mnangagwa from the position of Chairperson of the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
Mr Mnangagwa cannot chair the body that is responsible for investigating his government at the Sadc level. He is conflicted, there is precedent for this.
Sadc must call for the release of investigative journalists, the release of political leaders and activists, who have been arrested from the beginning of 2018 up to this date and refer the matter of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe to the UN Security Council.
Q: How has the influx of economic and political refugees to South Africa affected the SA economy?
A: Immigration has an impact on the provision of service delivery.
It creates resource and job conflict in lower income communities.
It creates social unrest which we have seen with periodic xenophobic attacks and the truck driver protests.
All of the above come at a cost to the host state, so it’s clear that quiet diplomacy comes with a price tag, ongoing oppression in Zimbabwe comes with a price tag not only for South Africa but for the region.
Q: When the late Robert Mugabe was still in power, you were vocal against his abuse of human rights. What was your feeling when Mnangagwa came into power?
Did you at any point think that things would change for the better for Zimbabweans?
A: I was very sceptical of the narrative that Emmerson Mnangagwa was a reformer because of his involvement in the Gukurahundi genocide in the early 1980s, his involvement with electoral violence in 2002, 2008 and even in 2018.
He was in close proximity to Mugabe for the duration of his regime and many would describe him as one of the key enforcers of that regime.
I was also very sceptical of his capacity to implement the necessary economic reforms to reboot the country, that scepticism has proven to be correct because there is over 90% unemployment, there is a collapse of the currency and there is over 700% inflation although some estimates are way higher.
Q: What would you prescribe as the solution to the Zimbabwean crisis at the moment?
A: South African intervention, Sadc intervention, AU intervention, UN Security Council intervention.
The interventions must be to secure the civil and political rights of all citizens as a precursor to any massive economic bailouts or debt forgiveness for Zimbabwe.
We must remedy the human rights matter, then we must remedy the corruption matter before pumping more money into Zimbabwe, otherwise the people will remain poor, hungry and oppressed while Mnangagwa and Kudakwashe Tagwirei accumulate more wealth.
Q: Zanu PF has claimed SA opposition leaders, including yourself, are making reactions from misinformed positions.
They claim you were misinformed by former government officials exiled in SA.
What is your reaction to that? Have you met any one of them before and if so, what did you discuss about?
A: I have not met former government officials from Zanu PF, who are in exile and I have not taken an uniformed position on this matter.
I have read thoroughly, and I have followed the recent events unfold from credible local platforms such as the Sabc and international platforms such as the New York Times and the Guardian.
It is very clear that there is a suppression of human rights in Zimbabwe as outlined above and Mnangagwa and the Zanu PF cannot spin their way out of the actions they have committed.
I have read the reports from Amnesty International, the reports from Human Rights Watch.
I have followed the conversations by ordinary Zimbabweans about their plight and we have all witnessed the use of excessive force by the police and the army on protestors and civilians.
There is footage of these actions from 2018, 2019 and even 2020.
Footage, which has been shared by credible media houses locally and globally.
I mention this period because this was the period in which Emmerson Mnangagwa was in charge of the country.
This cannot be blamed on Mugabe.
The arrest and denial of bail of Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume, this is information in the public domain, arrests of Fadzayi Mahere, Muzi Thaka, Tsitsi Dangarembga and others for exercising their constitutional rights to protest.
This information is in the public domain.
The whole world watched the president of Zimbabwe threatening to “flush out bad apples” on live television.
This is not the behaviour of an ethical leader.