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Report on The Open Forum on Zimbabwe and South Africa
Britian Zimbabwe Society
February 28, 2004

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This report describes an initiative in the United Kingdom to expand dialogue and engagement between Zimbabweans and South Africans, and to bring together the expatriate communities of the two countries and their friendship societies. It is produced as a record of the event, a briefing to non-governmental organisations, civil society and media agencies, and a catalyst for further interventions in support of a just and stable society in Zimbabwe.

The South African government has persistently promoted a strategy of ‘quiet diplomacy’ as the most effective strategy in international mediation efforts to solve Zimbabwe’s problems. Meanwhile civil society and political opposition groupings inside Zimbabwe, growing increasingly frustrated with what they perceive to be the ineffectiveness of the South African government’s approach, continue to lobby political, civic, labour and religious organisations within South Africa to demand a more concerted engagement with Zimbabwe’s crisis.

With these challenges in mind, around 300 South Africans, Zimbabweans and others gathered to discuss how they could best address the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe and its impact on the Southern African region, with particular reference to the relationship between Zimbabwe and South Africa and to civil society in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Britain. The Forum was "open" and succeeded in attracting a wide variety of people, representative of a diversity of political views concerning the Southern African region.

The Outcomes - Summary of Key Suggestions and Ideas:
Lively, but good-natured interventions prevailed at the event. The presentations successfully drew the participants into productive and sincere engagement with each other and the issues. Gleaned from the presentations and contributions from the floor, the following represents a summary of the issues that preoccupied the participants:

  • Zimbabweans need to take the lead in resolving the issues affecting their country but they require support from elsewhere. Consequently, there were calls for
  • Independent monitoring of food distribution, political violence, parliamentary bi-elections, and the forthcoming parliamentary elections
  • Greater links between trade unions and grassroots organisations within and outside of Zimbabwe
  • More solidarity from South Africa specifically for civil society in Zimbabwe and for Zimbabweans currently in South Africa
  • More support from Britain, especially for those Zimbabweans currently in Britain
  • There is great need to promote a change in the political culture in Zimbabwe for the following related reasons
  • Society is dangerously polarised at present
  • Civil liberties have been undermined and need to be assured
  • The country has no lasting history of recourse to justice through the rule of law
  • Zimbabwe’s economy has suffered from mismanagement, and rehabilitation efforts should focus on
  • Keeping assets within the country
  • Completing the redistribution of land through a transparent and viable process that takes into account the interests of farm-workers and a suitable infrastructure of support
  • Information is far too restricted and needs to be more freely and widely disseminated. A political settlement must therefore attend to fostering a less stringently controlled dissemination regime that allows Zimbabweans to transmit and receive diverse views.

Organisers’ Remarks:
The Open Forum succeeded in attracting a wide range of people of different generations, varied and opposing political opinions, and diverse ethnic backgrounds. While Zimbabweans appeared to be the most numerous, South Africans made up a significant proportion of the participants, and the event also attracted a number of British people concerned for Zimbabwe. Many of the Southern Africans present were people who are, or have been, actively involved in the politics of the region, and there were a noticeable number of representatives from academia, parliament, and NGOs. Despite and possibly because of this wide diversity in attendance, the audience was extremely responsive and treated the event seriously, with respect and appreciation.

Good use was made of this varied but knowledgeable and experienced participation, as most of the afternoon was devoted to open discussion while the presentations of the key speakers were limited to 15 minutes each. The calibre of debate was commendable as it was constructive, positive and good-humoured. It became clear that the Zimbabweans present at the Forum who are currently living in Britain have both a deep commitment to their country and also the intention to return to contribute more directly to its future.

Most striking was the fact that there has been no previous attempt to get Zimbabweans and South Africans living abroad to jointly address this issue in these numbers. It is hoped that bringing them together in this Forum may be an initial step in the formation of more enduring links and more effective networks, and that further action in this regard may arise from the many claims about Zimbabwean resolve to deal with their problems, as well as the expression of commitment from many South Africans to support them. But it is apparent that individuals are relatively powerless to organise other than through joining civil society and political organisations. It is therefore incumbent upon civil society organisations to carry this process forward. This Open Forum is a clear expression of the hope that civil society organisations in both South Africa and the UK can take up this challenge and liaise more effectively in support of related organisations in Zimbabwe.

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