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Zimbabwe under siege: A Canadian civil society perspective
Zimbabwe Inter-Agency Reference GrouP (ZimRef)
September 2004

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Executive summary
In late May and early June 2004, representatives from the Zimbabwe Inter-Agency Reference Group (ZimRef), a coalition of Canadian civil society organisations, went to South Africa and Zimbabwe with two objectives in mind:

  • To demonstrate solidarity and strengthen support for Zimbabwean and South African civil society groups in the context of the current crisis in Zimbabwe; and
  • To learn how Canadian civil society can effectively influence policy makers in Canada, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The main findings of the mission can be summarized as follows:

  • Zimbabweans are experiencing a widespread human right crisis. The police, military, prosecution and judiciary - the traditional pillars of the rule of law - have increasingly become partisan instruments of the state. The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) reflect a legislated crackdown on public demonstrations, independent media and most forms of civil interaction.
  • Most recently, the Zimbabwean government has proposed an NGO Bill that will give them the authority to ban foreign funding to NGOs. The government's motivation to fast track this Bill into law before the March 2005 parliamentary elections demonstrates its clear resolve to neutralise or shut down the operations of selective local and international NGOs.
  • The Church currently constitutes one of the last democratic spaces in Zimbabwe. However, through a mix of severe intimidation and patronage tactics, it is evident that President Mugabe actively seeks to neutralise church voices critical of him.
  • On the labour front, the last four years have been exceptionally difficult, with increased government intolerance for dissent, legislated attacks on worker's rights, a violent crackdown on labour activities, and routine harassment and intimidation of labour leaders.
  • In spite of the relatively good rains and harvest in 2004, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 2.4 million Zimbabweans are in need of emergency food aid. Despite this, the government has expelled the WFP from operating in Zimbabwe, threatening millions of Zimbabweans with starvation and leaving the government in full control of the country's available grain. In the lead up to the March 2005 parliamentary election, all indications are that the politicisation of food distribution by the government will intensify.
  • HIV/AIDS statistics are horrific. 2.3 million Zimbabweans are presently infected with HIV/AIDS. 4,500 people die on a weekly basis, compared to 3,850 a year ago. The total number of orphans has topped the one million mark. Life expectancy has been reduced to 35 years, from 58 in 1995. The continuing cycle of HIV/AIDS and poverty places particular burden on women and children as social and family norms give way and coping strategies become more desperate.
  • The crisis in Zimbabwe has resulted in an estimated 3 million people (25-30% of the population) leaving the country over the past 4 years - with the overwhelming majority leaving for South Africa, Botswana and England. The plight of Zimbabweans in South Africa is grim. In a climate of xenophobia, many refugees are victims of harassment, extortion, and police brutality. The vast majority are unable to gain formal asylum seeker or refugee status.
  • The March 2005 parliamentary election campaign has started and the necessary elements for a "free and fair" pre-election period are clearly not in place. Short of an immediate halt in the continued crackdown on the media, the judiciary and the opposition during this pre-election period, it is a foregone conclusion that the electoral environment will be worse than in the 2000 parliamentary and 2002 presidential elections, which were both deemed not free and fair by the international community.
  • At the Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Mauritius in August 2004, SADC adopted the Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. Zimbabwe's election processes and electoral climate must be assessed against those new Principles and Guidelines.
  • The delegation was deeply dismayed to see that there is little safe space left in Zimbabwe in which individuals or groups can freely and peacefully disagree or express an alternate vision about politics, social concerns or any other issue. Popular targets of the government are the media, lawyers, the judiciary, the labour movement and churches. Zimbabweans and civil society are under siege.

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