Epoch Times: Mr. Shumba, you were arrested in 2003 by the regime of Robert Mugabe after showing your opposition in many ways to this government’s behavior. Can you explain to me what exactly were these issues you protested against and why?
Maybe I should mention that the crisis in Zimbabwe did not start in 2003 when I was arrested. In fact the crisis started basically in 2000. The seriousness of the human rights abuses that we are talking about today started in 2000.
I should mention that immediately after independence in 1980, Zimbabwe was respected worldwide. Not only because we had the highest literacy rate in Africa, which was 90 percent, but also because we provided a high quality of life. We had one of the best educational systems in Africa at least. We were a country that was bubbling with confidence in the future. So everybody, myself included, was hopeful that we would enjoy the same kind of rise that we had enjoyed socio-economically within the political sphere as well. However we were disappointed.
As early as 1983, after the euphoria of the independence, there were reports of Mugabe’s regime committing acts of torture. For example in 1983 there is a well-known case in which he allowed or authorized the torture of DaLingua and L. Masuko. DaLingua actually became minister of defense later on, but they were tortured in police custody. So you can see how, as early as 1983, things were changing for the worse in terms of the political rights of the citizens.
Then in 2000, after the election political violence was perpetuated against those suspected of supporting the major opposition party, the MDC. Human rights lawyers like myself and human rights activists generally were detained without trial as well as tortured and many were intimidated to the extent that they fled the country.
The media was shut down. Many newspapers then were threatened with closure. The Daily News, which was the biggest selling paper in the country and an independent newspaper was bought.
This was the year 2000. So basically, this is a general breakdown in the rule of law. They were some of the issues that I was raising when I eventually was arrested. Why I did it is because I was a human rights lawyer then practicing in Zimbabwe and my mandate was to represent victims of human rights abuses and other citizens.
It was through the cause and scope of that standing as a human rights lawyer that I was also suing the minister of Defense, the government itself in general, the minister of Home Affairs in which the police department falls. In many instances I would be representing clients who had been tortured either because they belonged to the opposition or because they are generally human rights defenders.
In fact I have to mention that it was also around that time that two of my clients were killed in police custody… I should also mention that we had other secret forces that were involved in these atrocities: for example, the members of the Central Intelligence Organization.
ET: And you yourself were also detained and persecuted for that opposition. What charges were held against you—if there were any charges at all?
When I was initially arrested on the 14th of Jan. 2003 no charges were presented. In fact I should say that I was abducted because this was not an ordinary arrest, it involved the army, the army that has no constitutional mandate to arrest the citizen. It involved members of the Central Intelligence Organization, which are Mugabe’s spy agents. They have no constitutional mandate to arrest a citizen.
I was arrested as I was representing an opposition member of parliament who was consulting me. I was taking depositions from him to represent him in a case where he alleged he had been victimized by the members of the secret services of the government of Zimbabwe. So they came to the room, the army, the Central Intelligence organization and also members of the police forces and they locked the door down and came in with wide-eyed glances and grinning and they had dogs and they set the dogs upon us initially and they also torn my practice certificate… and said there is no place for human rights lawyers in Zimbabwe. I was assaulted in front of my client.
I was blindfolded for three and a half hours out of Harare I think, or maybe I might have been still in Harare but I couldn’t see where I was going because I was blindfolded. I was held for three solid days in conditions so horrible. I was kept in containment where I was not allowed access to food, drinking water for three days, no access to a lawyer. They took away my mobile phone. I was not even allowed to sleep. On the third day they came for me and stripped me completely naked and then applied electricity into my mouth as well as to my private parts and my fingers and I was assaulted so heavily that I kept on falling unconscious and they would revive me again. I could say also that they would be deliberately systematic in their torture, some of them even urinated on my face and they would say “this is humiliation, this is humiliation.” I was also forced to drink..... I vomited blood and I was forced to drink that blood, I was forced to drink all the mess.
Those are some of the issues that we were fighting against and that we keep on fighting against in Zimbabwe, the dehumanization of a complete population simply because they belong to an opposition party or they defend human rights in Zimbabwe. So basically the charges then that were presented after that brutalizing treatment were of treason. I was forced to write documents to the effect that I was working with the MDC, the major opposition party in Zimbabwe. The documents were to the effect that I was working in collusion with them to overthrow the government, which was false.
Fortunately when we appeared in court the magistrate forced us to strip naked and she was a woman. She forced us to strip completely naked, she evacuated the courtroom and said “I want to see everything” and there were bands on our private parts and we couldn’t even talk with our tongues swollen and hurting and she noted all this, the beatings and everything to the extent that she had no other choice except to say she could not sustain the charge of treason because the document upon which the state was relying for evidence had been obtained this way.
ET: And you were released on that....
Yes, I was released but unfortunately I kept on being threatened. In fact as we were being tortured I had been asked not to disclose what had happened to us in a court of law or even to the independent press. So when I appeared in court the government hoped that I would keep quiet about the torture that had occurred. And I had also promised upon my life that I would not say anything about the torture to drop the charges when I appeared in court. So basically because I did say what had happened I suspect that’s why the members of Mugabe’s secret police kept on following me and there were always suspicious people surrounding my place. They also had tapped my phone so it was difficult to communicate with other friends inside of Zimbabwe.
Eventually after my wife had also received a death threat and at that point I had a two years old daughter I had no choice except to flee the country.
ET: On May 19th of this year the government of Zimbabwe launched the operation “Clear the filth.” They claimed that the operation was meant to restore order to the cities and dignity to the people. What do you think are the real reasons behind such mass evictions and destruction?
I think Mugabe didn’t go very far to find the reasons. To begin with, you will know, perhaps know that the opposition, the major opposition party in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) support base is the urban area. That means big cities like Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Victoria Falls where this operation has been launched. Basically, Mugabe’s intention is to revenge himself against those who have voted for the major opposition party. That is an act of vengeance by a government that has lost legitimacy to run the country.
Secondly I think it clearly shows Mugabe’s contempt for world opinion. I think you will know that several attempts have been made to highlight the crisis of governance in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has defied world opinion continuing to perpetuate human rights violations. I think this is one instance in which he’s again defying the world opinion—to dare the international community to do anything, if it can, against him. In fact Mugabe is in short by this act of insensitivity and carelessness saying to the world that “I’m a demi-god and who will dare stop me if I want to do so with the citizens of Zimbabwe, it’s my private property.”
ET: He would be challenging the international community...
Yes, I would say he is definitely challenging them.
ET: Many reports from organizations such as Human Rights Watch as well as the United Nations talked about massive human rights violations in regards to this operation. Would you be able to give me some examples of what happened to these people?
Certainly. I think I could begin by saying that the United Nations produced a well researched document, a report that indicated that close to a million Zimbabweans had been displaced. And I think this is very conservative in the sense that over 3 millions Zimbabweans have been affected by that so-called operation “Clean-up Garbage.” My sister included. My sister has got two kids going to school. Their house was destroyed. The school at which they were attending was also destroyed and they were forced to flee to South Africa. There is about one thousand Zimbabweans crossing the border to South Africa almost on a daily basis.
Secondly, there are Zimbabweans who have been affected in a much more direct manner for example babies have died. The machines of destruction that come they don’t even know or try to knock to find out if there’s somebody inside, so they just destroy it. So in some instances we have had babies lying inside the house.
ET: Or sick people?
Yes, definitely. It affected people’s life. Also people commited suicide because their whole life had been destroyed. Shops had been destroyed. Somebody had eked out an honest living from selling vegetables for example and they had their market stuff destroyed completely.
Then thirdly we have also had a situation where the government has deliberately caused false eviction of those affected, they have removed people from those area and sent them to what I would say is more like concentration camp because they are being held in camps; for example, Hopely Farm where there is not even sewage facilities, no toilet, no clinic, no school. They don’t even have food...let alone anything else. Let alone dignity, for example. So you have people who are now surviving on digging up roots from trees and boiling them and eating so...these are people who have been affected.
And I might mention that the HIV/AIDS situation in Zimbabwe is so serious that it has been also exacerbated by this exercise. 25% of the adult population in Zimbabwe is infected with HIV/AIDS and about 5000 people are dying on a weekly basis. These are statistics that have been confirmed by the World Health Organization. So you can imagine now you have this…causing complete displacement of whole villages and cities, sending people to places where they have no access to basic health care... it has also compounded the HIV/AIDS crisis.
In the region the crisis is also causing humanitarian suffering. People fleeing to South Africa because they don’t have even basic places, basic facilities like accommodations or food when they arrive in South Africa. Many Zimbabweans have been forced to prostitution when they arrive in South Africa, others to crime simply to survive in South Africa itself or other neighboring countries.
ET: So the situation in Zimbabwe in regards to human rights is not improving at all...
In fact I could say the situation is worsening on a daily basis.
It is said that Mugabe’s government is even refusing to cooperate with United Nations in regards to human rights, to help the evicted population, is that correct?
Mugabe launched this operation as a deliberate act of provocation and challenge to the international community. I think that explains why he is also not cooperating with the United Nations. He has deliberately refused to accept food aid for the victims of this exercise.
I think he is planning a genocide against the urban population, a complete extermination of those people through deliberate starvation, deliberate withdrawal of food from those communities. For example, that place called Hopely Farm where he sent off people and he is refusing the permission to the media, international or local, to visit that place. There are also many other places. In fact there are even some camps that human rights organizations have not even identified and have been disallowed from even, you know, questioning about.
Only in the last three or four weeks, the South African council of Churches provided truckloads of food that were supposed to be sent off to victims of this operation. The truckloads are still standing at Beitbridge between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Mugabe consistently and stubbornly refused to allow that food to go to the people who have been affected and even disallowed blankets to reach the people who have been affected.
I might point out that November is the beginning of the rainy season in Zimbabwe, As these people are lying in the open areas, they don’t even have basic shelter. This is a systematic campaign of exterminating a whole part of the population to punish them for what Mugabe sees as support for the opposition.
ET: It is well known that Mugabe’s regime and the Chinese dictator Hu’s regime are having friendly relations. What type of help is the Chinese government offering the Zimbabwe government?
In fact, there exist very cordial relations I should say between China and Zimbabwe. Part of my being here was also to try and see whether China could be made aware that there are human rights atrocities going on in Zimbabwe, to the extent possible that even if the Security Council were to move a motion on Zimbabwe, China would not defeat that motion. I’m sure the Chinese maybe think they are doing this in good faith, helping Mugabe in good faith. Possibly, they think they are doing this in good faith. I think China should be made to understand that with a humanitarian and human rights crisis of such magnitude that to be helping Mugabe will be to support dictatorship in Zimbabwe. You also maybe know that Mugabe was offered a professorship last month also as he visited China. The Chinese said “your achievement in improving agricultural production in Zimbabwe” which is very laughable because over 4 millions Zimbabweans are suffering of starvation after this exercise that principally benefited Mugabe in his governance. So basically the Chinese have been supporting Mugabe but I would like to think that they don’t know the extent of the human rights atrocities that are occurring in Zimbabwe and therefore they need to be educated that the crisis in Zimbabwe is a crisis of governance and misrule.
ET: But the Chinese government has also been accused of so many human rights violations. Wouldn’t you think that the Chinese government would simply do that to get a hand on the natural resources of Zimbabwe or as a geopolitical strategy to get a hand on such resources in Africa? They also supported the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
In fact I should maybe mention that the Chinese having been buying up mines in Zimbabwe and a vast land plant in Zimbabwe. In exchange, the only aid that they have given Zimbabwe are fighter jets that will be utilized to kill us in Zimbabwe. The other aid that has been provided are buses, buses that have operated—I think they were supposed to be public transport. They only operated for two weeks before it changed… the seats inside the buses start falling apart. In exchange of very, very fragile equipment, even fragile tractors for example for the farms and buses and also a plane refusing to take off after being delivered in Zimbabwe. So basically they are providing ammunition, fighter jets. In exchange what they are getting is minerals, gold in particular, they bought gold mines in Zimbabwe. I would say basically the relationship between China and Mugabe is one of partners in dictatorship.
ET: Today, what actions should be taken in order to release the population of Zimbabwe from such systematic violations?
I think there is no denying that crimes against humanity are being committed in Zimbabwe. Even genocide was committed in Zimbabwe between 1983 and 1987 when about 10,000 ethnic minorities [were killed] by the command of Mugabe. So I think basically the world has agreed that human rights atrocities did occur in Zimbabwe. There are many steps to be taken, one is to ensure Mugabe and his top lieutenants are isolated as much as possible. For example, targeted sanctions aimed against them so that they don’t continue to benefit from corruption, at the same time as they are violating the human rights of their citizens.
Second, I think South Africa should also be brought under pressure. South Africa is the opinion-maker in the region and has been actively defending Mugabe. They should be brought under pressure, under sufficient pressure. Including the Southern Africa Development Community as well, so that the neighbors that are sheltering him when he’s committing these monstrous crimes do not receive [payment] from protecting him.
I think there might be incentives, governments might for example contemplate economic incentives for such pressure on South Africa and the neighboring countries. The African Union as well should also be pressured into taking a more active role in resolving this crisis.
Thirdly, I think one could also employ the Security Council mechanisms, the UN mechanisms. I should point out to you that Canada has been at the forefront, Canada was targeted for this report called “The Duty to Protect.” That report was adopted by the UN Assembly recently. Maybe it would be effective to see how the U.N. Security Council would interpret that document in light of the Zimbabwean crisis. I think that the Security Council should enlighten that the human rights abuses are indeed occurring in Zimbabwe and use “The Duty to Protect” for liberating Zimbabweans... There are limitations to that approach however, as I mentionned China and Russia seem to be complicit with the human rights abuses that are happening in Zimbabwe. It would need I think economic pressure on these two countries so that they can also be involved in liberating Zimbabwe. China you understand and Russia as well, both are dependent on the IMF and the World Bank support. I think that economic arm-twisting could see them participating in the liberation of Zimbabwe through the Security Council mechanism. There are also other options, numerous options that could be pursued. One is also to try a Charles Taylor kind of option on Mugabe to say “we need life better than....maybe we need to protect you....you could leave the country, leave in exile somewhere and the Zimbabweans can pick up the pieces.” There are numerous options that could be pursued and I think that’s part of the reason why I have been meeting officials in the Canadian government to try to explore some of those options. China and Russia included realize that there are atrocities being committed. They might have different reasons for continuing to engage with the government of Zimbabwe but I think they all know there are serious atrocities and that something needs to be done urgently before the situation explodes.
ET: So the Canadian government agrees with you on that point and is exploring different avenues?
Definitely. So far, the people I have met especially those in the Foreign Ministry are in agreement but clearly we need to prevent rather than to say “never again” after the situation has gone even.... before another Rwanda. We need to prevent. Reconstruction is much more difficult than just preventing the situation before it gets worse. I think rebuilding and reconstruction are very difficult because you are then dealing with destruction that should have been prevented initially. I think it’s better to prevent the situation from exploding than to wait until millions in Zimbabwe have died.