Opposition political parties in South Africa and Botswana have ratcheted pressure on their countries’ leaders to intervene on growing reports on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
Civic society activists and opposition party members have over the past few weeks been criticising President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration for its heavy-handedness in quelling dissenting voices.
Zimbabwe is currently under the Covid-19 lockdown and critics say authorities have used the restrictive measures to stifle opposition voices.
A global campaign under the hashtag #ZimbabweLivesMatter has also caught the attention of global leaders and celebrities but Harare insists that the campaign is meant to destabilise the government.
Early this week, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa sent envoys to Harare to be apprised on the country’s socio-political situation.
The envoys met Mnangagwa and its meetings with opposition political parties were cancelled at the eleventh hour. South Africa’s biggest opposition political party, the Democratic Alliance said Ramaphosa has to show leadership in his capacity as the AU chairman by flying to Harare to meet with all the relevant stakeholders and get a balanced picture of the political crisis unfolding in Zimbabwe.
“For far too long, successive ANC governments have stood by as Zanu PF has trampled civil liberties with impunity and disregard for the rule of law.
The ANC has played an enabling role in the Zimbabwe crisis by glossing over state brutality in the country and its mismanagement of the economy,” the DA said in a statement.
“President Ramaphosa faces the first real test in his chairmanship of the AU. He will have to make a choice on whether to stand with the people of Zimbabwe against the tyranny of Zanu PF or continue with the failed policy of ‘quiet diplomacy’.”
Earlier this week, Botswana’s opposition party also raised the red flag over unfolding events in neighbouring Zimbabwe. South Africa and Botswana are home to thousands of Zimbabweans seeking economic and political refuge.
“We further urge civil society in Botswana to rise and mobilise in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe. We urge the unions, clergy, student formations and other pro-democracy NGOs to come up with ways to pile pressure on the ZANU PF regime,” Dumelang Saleshando, leader of the opposition in Botswana’s National Assembly said in a statement.
“To our civil society and NGOs we say silence and inaction is not the answer.
Today it is Zimbabwe, tomorrow it could be Botswana; and would it be proper for others to shrug their shoulders and say it’s a Botswana problem and has nothing to do with us?
“As we raise our voice in indignation, we also wish to state that we also wish to state that we too associate ourselves with the globally trending hashtag #Zimbabwean Lives Matter.”
Before this, Moussa Faki Mahamat, African Union Commission chief had said the commission was following closely political developments in Zimbabwe as the country mounts concerted efforts in response to the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Cognisant of the existing harsh socio-economic situation in the country, the Chairperson urges the Zimbabwe authorities to respond to the pandemic ensuring that the national response is premised on human rights as enshrined in the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Chairperson is concerned about reports of disproportionate use of force by security forces in enforcing Covid-19 emergency measures. He implores the authorities to exercise restraint in their response to peaceful protests,” he said.
“The Chairperson further encourages the government of Zimbabwe to uphold the rule of law allowing for freedom of the media, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and the right to information.
Violations of these rights are a breach of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.”
Last month, Zimbabwe’s security forces thwarted planned protests by the opposition over corruption in the public service and the deteriorating economic situation.
This year, economic hardship has been exacerbated by drought and the coronavirus pandemic.
Nearly twothirds of Zimbabwe’s 14.4 million inhabitants are predicted to face hunger by the end of 2020, according to the UN’s World Food Programme.
In what appeared as a response to the growing pressure from the region, Mnangagwa on Tuesday said Zimbabwe was facing a “wave of aggression manifesting through illegal sanctions, hostile anti-Zimbabwe propaganda mounted on social media platforms and other forms of asymmetrical warfare”.