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January-February 2011
Vol. 36, No. 1

Zimbabwe: Political crisis far from solved

Zimbabwe ranks at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index, along with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Burundi and Mozambique. Corruption and exploitation have made a small group in Zimbabwe wealthy, but the middle class has disappeared. People have either become poor or they are working in other countries, including Namibia and Botswana, in order to send money home. Many lack basics – food, clean water, school fees, clinic fees and transportation – while the political crisis, which came to a head following elections in 2008, is far from solved. The following article was written by Maryknoll Sister Josephine Lucker, who lived and worked in Zimbabwe from 1987-94.

2011 promises to be especially significant in the history of Zimbabwe. For 30 years, Robert Mugabe, who will be 87 years old this year, has been Zimbabwe’s president. Following failed elections in 2008, when Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence, presidential hopeful Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), pulled out of a run-off election to protest brutal violence against opposition candidates and their supporters. A Global Political Agreement was negotiated in September 2008 and took effect on February 11, 2009, forming the Government of National Unity (GNU) between ZANU-PF and MDC to promote reconciliation and calm the spiral of political violence and economic chaos that had engulfed the country.

Increased tension between ZANU-PF and MDC is evident. Mugabe has been accused of breaking the power-sharing deal. Recently, for example, Prime Minister Tsvangirai filed a lawsuit against Mugabe for violating the Constitution by the unilateral appointment of 10 provincial governors.

Though no dates have yet been set, Mugabe’s political party, ZANU-PF, seems to be pushing for early elections, provoking protest from many civil society organizations worried that elections would bring a repeat of the violence that followed the 2008 elections because the GNU has yet to accomplish intended reforms or create a spirit of political tolerance in the country. Some signs of voter intimidation are already on the horizon and questions are being raised about whether the people of Zimbabwe will have sufficient access to independent information about candidates and their positions, given that the state-controlled media, particularly the radio, is the major means of information for the vast majority of Zimbabweans.

It is also probable that Zimbabwe will vote on a new constitution this year. The same questions are asked about whether people will have access to sufficient independent information about the proposed constitution and whether they have had enough time to question and discuss it without intimidation.

Jestina Mukoko, a keynote speaker at the 2010 Amnesty International Northeast Regional Conference held in Boston on November 13, was a television broadcaster in Zimbabwe before becoming national director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, which documents human rights abuses in the country. She was abducted by security agents in Zimbabwe in December 2008. Tortured and held in isolation, she was finally released after three months in response to international pressure.

Mukoko summed up her forced isolation in this way: “They hurt me physically; they hurt me mentally; they threatened me with death ... but they did not break my spirit… Having spent my prime years as a state broadcaster, the same people I worked for...who would have known me as an individual, were the [ones] … who were labeling me as a terrorist. I would think out of professionalism and ethics in journalism, they could have taken time to come and to speak to me and get my side of the story [but] that never happened ... Strings are being [pulled] … from some remote place not within the broadcasting authority itself... I never got the right of reply [from] the state-run media agencies. We need …an alternative voice, especially in terms of radio.

“The Zimbabwe Peace Project was founded in the year 2000. We want to end impunity, because it stifles the ability of citizens to be able to choose leaders freely. When there is violence people are not able to vote freely ... or when you have to have a ‘politically correct’ party card in order to qualify to get food, medicine etc. We have to be very careful, but when we analyze trends and patterns of violence ... we can anticipate somewhat ... and so be able to shape a more just future.”

Despite cries for help from Zimbabweans, who stood firmly with the people of South Africa and Mozambique during their struggles for liberation, and despite growing fears about increased violence and repression, South African Development Conference (SADC) and Organization of African Unity (OAU) leaders seem unable and unwilling to bring political pressure for justice and peace in Zimbabwe. In fact, adding to the pressure in Zimbabwe, South Africa recently revoked the visas of approximately 2.5 million Zimbabweans who have been living in South Africa because of the political violence and extreme economic hardships at home. Events in Zimbabwe in the coming months will require new levels of attention and solidarity from Africans and from the wider international community.

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