The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) is a coalition of 20 human rights organisations operating in the country to advance the cause of human rights.
On 22 May 2020, the Forum delivered a petition to the Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage and the Commissioner-General of Police calling for investigations and decisive action on, among other violations, the abduction and torture of the Honourable Member of Parliament (MP) for Harare West constituency Joanna Mamombe, and two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance youth leaders Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova. On 4 June 2020, the Minister of Home Affairs delivered a statement in which an update on the investigations of the case was given. In the process, statements were made which compel the Forum to respond on account of its mandate, and the petition it submitted.
The Forum notes with dismay, shock and repugnance the mention of three of our members by Minister Kazembe Kazembe, in his press statement on 4 June 2020. The statement insinuated that the abductions are fake, and mentioned our three members in a manner meant to create an association with the allegations of fake abductions.
Firstly, we categorically state that the CSU is not an “opposition-aligned NGO” as claimed by the Minister, but an apolitical entity recognised and operating in terms of the laws of Zimbabwe. Secondly, at no point did the abducted trio visit or interact with CSU on the fateful day. The Minister chooses to identify CSU as having offices “in the Kopje area” and “in the vicinity of Fidelity Life Towers”, thus suggesting that the trio must have been at CSU as they “spent close to 30 minutes” in that area. Several organisations, including government offices, are based in the Kopje area, and we are at a loss as to why the Minister chooses to mention CSU. Further, CSU is not “an appendage” of any institution, and is a member of the Forum in its separate persona.
Our members are not “avid critics of government”, but lawful entities that exist for constitutional causes. Collectively and individually, we have responded to human rights abuses and rendered services to victims, including legal services to many who are wrongfully charged and end up being acquitted in criminal courts. The three torture victims, as with any other citizens of Zimbabwe, are entitled to medical doctors of their choice, and medical doctors have the right to freedom of profession, trade or occupation in terms of section 64 of the Constitution. This includes the right to treat the trio.
Our members have worked ceaselessly, including lending their expertise, in aid to the government-led fight against COVID-19. The mentioned CSOs in the Minister’s statement are long-standing, bona fide civil society organisations whose work speak for itself. With our members mentioned by name, we put on record our concerns for their safety and welfare, and it is our hope that these institutions and their personnel will remain untouched and unharmed. In a separate statement by ZANU-PF Acting Spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa on 4 June 2020, journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was also mentioned by name as a “false news peddler” and “detractor” allegedly targeting the first family. Our long memory and suffering reminds us that in the past, when individuals and institutions are named by high ranking government and ruling party officials as perceived adversaries, verbal and physical vilification follows closely behind.
The persistent and ceaseless attacks on CSOs leaders, both through skulduggery approaches and persecution by prosecution are well-documented tactics in Zimbabwe. This flies in the face of rhetoric on the new dispensation. The State and its functionaries should desist from perceiving CSOs as adversaries, but as partners in the quest for good governance, rule of law, protection of human rights, and the welfare of the Zimbabwean people.
Finally, we register our concern over the State’s attitude towards the case of the abduction and torture that was the subject of the press statement. The Forum is concerned with what appears to be non-exhaustive investigations, leading to a statement meant to divert attention. We note earlier statements by senior government and ruling party officials, that pre-emptively characterised the abductions as fake, and as having all the hallmarks of “other fake abductions”. We note, for instance, that the Minister’s statement fails to address the critical question of the conflicting statements issued by the police in the first two days of the abductions, including the confirmation by Police Spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi of the arrest of the trio.
We invite the government to release the investigative report to the public, so that all concerned can dissect the report and make sense of what transpired in the investigators’ view. This is important because abductions have become a standing practice in Zimbabwe, and it is important for citizens to know the truth behind this.
We have already seen the charging and arrest of the victims, and following these utterances by the government, it will not be surprising to witness further charges for “faking abductions” levelled against the victims in the following days – including those who have worked to assist the victims.
It is high time government stops having imaginary enemies, engaging in diversionary tactics, and delivers on its constitutional duty to ensure the safety, security and welfare of its citizens. When all around – the international community, CSOs, citizens – become enemies, it is time for self-examination. As the Forum, we remain committed to the cause of human rights per contracted in our Constitution and regional and international legal instruments, and to the cause of justice and peace.