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Someone's death wish for Zimbabwe
Comment, The Standard (Zimbabwe)
September 04, 2005

ONE of the sharpest legal minds ever to grace Zanu PF, the late nationalist and liberation war hero, Dr Eddison Zvobgo criticised the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) saying journalists would live in terror of the minister because of the legislation.

On Tuesday last week, ruling party MPs ensured that Zimbabweans will hence forth live in perpetual terror of the State when they enthusiastically passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill No 17.

Its passage into law will transform this country into a vast Gulag, effectively declaring Zimbabwe a de facto one-party State. The Bill is a coup that completes the full cycle of repression by plugging the loopholes in both AIPPA and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

It is a tragic irony that the heroes of Zimbabwe's struggle for liberation have now mounted the most resolute and calculated assault on the rights of citizens of this country. Embarrassed by dwindling popular support during polls since 2000, the government and the ruling party are now intent on achieving public backing through coercion.

The defining moment of the Zimbabwean nightmare and tragedy was the sight of Zanu PF MPs breaking into song and celebrating. They may have celebrated the emasculation of the judiciary in the case of applicants contesting seizure of commercial farmland in the belief that it is a piece of legislation designed to punish white supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. This is unashamed racism and demonstrates how short their memories are. The victims of the government's so-called Third Chimurenga have not been and will not be entirely white commercial farmers.

Besides being whipped into line and voting along party lines, the ruling party MPs celebrated a pyrrhic victory. They decry the shortages of foreign currency and low levels of foreign direct investment, when in passing the Bill their message to external investors is unambiguous: there is neither observance of nor respect for property rights in Zimbabwe.

There are German, French and Italian investments in farming/agricultural enterprises in this country. Now they could contemplate pulling out or scaling down their activities in order to minimise potential losses and there will be lesser prospects of attracting further investment from these countries in particular or other nations in general.

The next front of assault on property rights, at the rate at which things are going, could be foreign factories and companies, or those whose owners are deemed to threaten national interests.

The usurpation of the authority of the judiciary poses a serious threat to efforts at turning around the economy, while the timing of the passage of the Bill was an instructive demonstration of the dearth of strategic planning and timing in the ruling party. Whether it was a show of the now familiar mindless and empty bravado directed at the visiting International Monetary Fund mission that was in the country, the mind boggles.

The IMF team is unlikely to have been impressed with both the Bill and the 11th hour payment of the US$120 million towards settling Harare's arrears in the hope of staving off expulsion from the international financial institution. The best that Zimbabwe can now expect from the IMF Board is that it will not expel the country, but neither will it open the taps to new balance of payment support, simply because Zimbabwe has not demonstrated any resolve to put the economy on the path to recovery. Mere expressions of intent are one thing, determined action towards attainment of an economic turnaround is quite another.

The actions of the ruling party MPs demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt where the real threat to national interests and security is coming from.

They may celebrate in the mistaken belief that in withdrawing travel documents from people who are calling for this country to be punished by the international community, they are responding to the EU and US travel sanctions. But, in fact, they are building a wall around Zimbabwe out of which people considered "dissidents" will not be allowed. The immediate targets are members of the opposition MDC and those from non-governmental organisations and civic society groups. To this, add media houses and practitioners.

Such a landmark amendment should have been preceded by broader consultations between the government, MPs and the electorate. Issues such as what constitutes threats to national interests should have been debated and agreed on before presentation of and debate on the Bill. The government and the ruling party are seeking support through coercion and in this instance the government is wielding a new weapon it proposes to use against its citizens in curtailing freedom of travel, association and expression.

The difference between this government and Ian Smith's, which banned and exiled many of the leading nationalists resulting in their recourse to UN or Commonwealth travel documents, is negligible. The timing of the Bill is also regrettable. It comes weeks before the United Nations General Assembly in New York this month. It is as if Zimbabwe is telling everyone else to go to hell.

The opposition has been rendered impotent, the judiciary disempowered and the economy dealt a mortal blow. Someone has a death wish for this country.

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