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Uncertainty over new government’s human rights direction
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
September 13, 2013

View this article on the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition website

The decision by President Robert Mugabe to appoint and swear-in some of his trusted state security henchmen to two ministries dealing with civil, political and labour rights as well as the re-instating of another who closed private newspapers, in his much-awaited cabinet has been met with apprehension.

A cross section of Zimbabweans have expressed concern over the future of human rights and human rights defenders under the stewardship of President Robert Mugabe and his leutenants with many of them viewing the future with pessimism and skepticism following the 11 September swearing in ceremony held at the State House.

The new cabinet sees Emmerson Mnangagwa who previously held the Ministry of Justice from 1988 to 2000 during the tumultuous rise of opposition politics being once again entrusted with that portfolio and shifting from the Defense Ministry. Mnangangwa assumes the position of Minister of Justice at a time when a cloud of suspicion hangs over him regarding the role he played as Minister of State Security from 1980 to 1988, during the infamous Operation Gukurahundi in Matabeleland between 1983 and 1987.

Gladys Hlatwayo, the Director of Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (Zimcet) expressed disapproval over the appointment, which she described as “a slap in the face of human rights”.

“The deployment of Emmerson Mnangagwa to the Justice Ministry is a slap in the face of human rights in Zimbabwe, particularly given the role that he played in Gukurahundi,” Hlatwayo said. “It is in itself an indication of the attitude of this government towards the whole human rights discourse.”

Gideon Chitanga, a Phd candidate with Rhodes University and democracy researcher, said it appeared the ruling party Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) might not be interested in making human rights issues a priority.

“If anything we are to see institutions that should dispense justice becoming aligned with Zanu-PF interests and closure of any spaces to restitute citizens for previous state perpetrated injustice,” Chitanga said.

Apart from the Gukurahundi that according to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) claimed some 20 000 civilian lives, opposition supporters have been subjected to state sponsored violence since the emergence of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999. The MDC also claims that about 200 of its members were killed in June 2008 presidential run off election violence alone.

Zimbabwe formed a Human Rights Commission (HRC) during the tenure of the Inclusive Government which ended in July 2013, but the Commission has been hamstrung by lack of resources and the unexpected resignation of its inaugural Chairperson Prof. Reginald Austin, while second Chairperson Jacob Mudenda abandoned the HRC for the lucrative and powerful Speaker’s position in the Zanu-PF dominated 8th Parliament.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) spokesperson, Thabani Nyoni, said it was difficult to understand how government officials who have been implicated in issues of human rights violations “will somehow begin to advance human rights.”

“We want to be optimistic about it but it is difficult when people with questionable human rights records are given the responsibility to advance human rights,” Nyoni said. “We don’t know whether they will continue in the same mode or they will change.”

Nyoni said the appointment of former State Security Minister Nicholas Goche to the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare brought anxiety about the way he is going to treat labour unions and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) after the ruling party made many several resolutions indicating that they would want to limit the scope of NGOs and close those “deviating from their mandate”.

Nyoni also expressed dismay over the appointment of Prof. Jonathan Moyo to the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services.

Moyo was the Information Minister from 2000 to 2005, who presided over the formulation of Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and Public Order and Security Act (POSA) in 2002, which restrict the work of journalists and other freedoms. He presided over the closure of private newspapers such as the Daily News in September 2003, calling it “a victim of the rule of law which it had been preaching since 1999."

This time Moyo promised there would be no “Armageddon” and pledged to the media “if we can find each other, let us look for one another”, according to the Daily News of September 2013, a paper he once shut down, rendering its employees destitute before it bounced back in May 2010 at the instigation of the inclusive government.

“The overall assessment is that there is a lot of uncertainty and it creates a crisis of confidence,” Nyoni said.

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