BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
CRISIS in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZI), a conglomeration of more than 80 civic society organisations (CSOs), has raised concern over alleged selective application of the law in enforcing COVID-19 regulations, with members of the ruling Zanu PF party allowed to gather in large numbers against government rules on the containment of the pandemic.
CiZC director Blessing Vava (BV) told NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Miriam Mangwaya that government needed to carry out serious reforms on human rights in order to uphold constitutionalism. Read on …
ND: Recently, Harare provincial development co-ordinator (PDC) Tafadzwa Muguti, ordered non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to report to him, a directive viewed as designed to clamp down on CSOs. Of what importance is an amicable relationship between government and NGOs?
BV: The position of government sends a clear message that it is working to criminalise the work of CSOs and further shrink the democratic space. This is an illegal act coming from the Harare PDC who is pushing a party position which is contrary to the dictates of the law. Stifling the work of CSOs naturally entails that government is keen to limit or rather block citizen participation in democratic and developmental processes. NGOs are an important pillar of a democratic society as they ensure government is held to account and on many occasions, complement government efforts in developmental processes. We are on record saying that the Harare PDC directive is not feasible as it runs in the face of the dictates of the law. A party position should never be interpreted as a lawful order.
ND: As CiZC, what is your assessment of government management of the COVID-19 pandemic?
BV: It has done well in as far as rolling out the vaccination programme, but the continued imposition of lockdowns is not helping. We acknowledge efforts by government to procure vaccines, but we, however, remain concerned by the failure by government to provide safety nets for vulnerable populations. There is also continued violation of fundamental rights — an exercise that happens under the guise of enforcing COVID-19 regulations as well as reported cases of corruption in procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and personal protective equipment. We also note with concern that there is selective application of the law with ruling party activists and other organisations loyal to Zanu PF being allowed to hold public gatherings in defiance of the COVID-19 regulations.
ND: What is your assessment of the transitional government’s efforts in implementing economic and political reforms towards a democratic society?
BV: Firstly, there is no transitional government in Zimbabwe. The government we have is as a result of a November 2017 coup. Secondly, there is basically no political will to implement economic and political reforms and that is why Zimbabwe continues on the path of an economic and political crises despite assurances of a new dispensation. What we have witnessed since the ascension of (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa to power is mutilation of the Constitution, introduction of draconian laws, and clampdown on dissent as well as high-level corruption. We need to cure the November 2017 coup.
Zimbabwe has to return to legitimacy and make sure that we reform and transform the systems of governance. The military has no business in the running of the country. The current government’s political-economic framework is not centred on the people and public policy is made to benefit entrenched interests.
The starting point is a national dialogue, which dialogue must aim at embracing all facets of society so that we chart a way forward as one people. The dialogue should, among other things, aim at restoring the dignity of Zimbabweans, it should aim at coming up with a clear roadmap to reforms, political and economic reforms etc.
ND: What electoral reforms should be undertaken to ensure we don’t have disputed elections in 2023?
BV: The independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is critical. The composition of Zec needs to be made public and officials need to be seconded by all political parties participating in elections, hence our call for a platform where political parties participating in elections will nominate names for Zec personnel. Procurement of election material should be transparent through the involvement of all contesting parties. The security services and traditional leaders must stay away from politics.
ND: What is your comment on the diaspora vote?
BV: The diaspora vote is critical given the role they play in economic development. In other countries, the diaspora have been accorded seats in Parliament to facilitate their participation. Zimbabwe’s diaspora now constitutes an important pool of skills, talent and contribute US$1 billion per year, second only to platinum mining.
ND: Zec has suspended by-elections citing COVID-19 restrictions, is it fair to continue postponing the elections, including the 2023 polls?
BV: We doubt very much that the 2023 elections will be postponed. If anything one can see that Zanu PF is already in an election mode and it is busy preparing. Besides, suspending the 2023 elections goes against the country’s Constitution and will plunge the country into a constitutional crisis. What we need at the moment is to assess how other countries, namely Tanzania and Malawi held elections under the same COVID-19 pandemic. Zambia will also be holding its elections next month. However, we cannot rule out a postponement based on the inconsistency on the part of Zec and the Zanu PF government.
ND: There are growing concerns over government’s failure to tackle corruption despite the existence of an anti-corruption framework. What do you consider as concrete measures to fight graft?
BV: Political will is missing in the fight against corruption. We can create institutions meant to fight corruption, but as long as there is no political will; those institutions remain weak and largely incapacitated. The idea of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission was a good starting point, but the whole plot failed due to lack of political will. The fight against corruption has largely failed because of its politicisation; it is now being used to settle political scores while the real culprits who have been siphoning State resources are walking scot-free.
ND: Recent protests in South Africa could trigger regional instability, what do you think are the likely impacts of the unrest?
BV: South Africa is the economic hub of southern Africa and as such, any form of instability that impacts negatively on economic growth in South Africa has the potential to spill to neighbouring countries. South Africa is home to millions of Zimbabweans as well as nationals of other neighbouring countries that are staying as economic and political refugees in that country. As for Zimbabwe, the economy will naturally choke as we are highly dependent on South Africa.