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complicity of our neighbour
October 26, 2006
For a long time
now, ordinary Zimbabweans have had a legitimate expectation that
South Africa will use its leverage as the biggest political and
economic power in Sub Saharan Africa to support the realization
of the democratic ideals of the people of Zimbabwe and help resolve
the crippling poverty and socio-economic breakdown gripping the
has played a direct role in places like Lesotho and others as far
as DRC, Ivory Cost, Sudan and so on, South Africa’s attitude towards
the crisis gripping its northern neighbor has been characterized
more by an unintelligible stance, officially defined as ‘quite diplomacy’
which in practice camouflages the reality of Pretoria’s subtle support
for the Mugabe regime.
For the role
played by, not just the South African government and its public
institutions but also South African private capital can not be described
as anything less than a complicity relationship with the regime
of Robert Mugabe.
The people of
Zimbabwe thus feel understandably let down by their one key neighbour
who could have the greatest influence on the present crisis. Details
coming out of the recent Sisulu Commission of enquiry into the SABC
only add on to this feeling of great betrayal. It has emerged from
the Sisulu Commission that the SABC, acting on the instructions
of its managing director, Dr Snuki Zikala, blacklisted certain civil
society voices on Zimbabwe because of particular views they hold
on the crisis. Zikalala is the Managing Director, SABC News and
Current Affairs and a former ANC political commissar.
banned from the station is Arch Bishop Pius Ncube of the Roman Catholic
Church, Mail and Guardian Publisher Trevor Ncube, Elinor Sisulu,
the Media manager for the Crisis Coalition South Africa office and
political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki, young brother to Thabo, who is
a strong critic of Mugabe’s policies.
This is a serious
scandal if one considers the fact that the SABC as a public broadcaster
has an obligation to provide the public with a balanced view on
the crisis in Zimbabwe. Zikalala justifies banning Ncube by saying,
‘Trevor Ncube has his newspapers which he uses to attack Mugabe
everyday and why should I give him space on my broadcaster’.
He thinks Elinor
and Moeletsi Mbeki are removed and misinformed on Zimbabwe. And
he hasn’t had the courage to tell anyone why Pius Ncube should not
be allowed to comment on Zimbabwe. Whatever Zikalala says it doesn’t
take a nuclear physicist to see that his agenda is to systematically
marginalize voices critical of Mugabe’s policies from the SABC.
the latest in a series of evidence confirming how the SABC is violating
journalism’s cardinal principle of giving professional and unbiased
coverage and instead acting as a ‘solidarity broadcaster’ for Mugabe’s
regime. The SABC’s coverage of Zimbabwe’s 2005 parliamentary elections
immediately springs back to mind.
had a team of 59 journalists in the country whose coverage of the
elections was nothing less than a public relations mission for Mugabe
and his regime. When Zimbabweans were dismissing the elections as
predetermined citing serious distortions of the playing field in
favour of the ruling party, the SABC’s main anchor Hope Zinde shocked
Zimbabweans by declaring, within a matter of a few hours of checking
into Harare’s Sheraton Hotel, that the conditions were conducive
for free and fair elections.
thing that I have to say", she said in her report, " is
that this is a very peaceful country, contrary to many reports out
there, especially in South Africa and some western media…’
Zinde was saying
all this after being in the country for just a few hours and in
the face of records of serious intimidation and violations recorded
by local and international monitors.
remember Zikalala’s interview with Mugabe just after the elections
where he proved to be a fan of the despised dictator. It was an
embarrassing show. Zikalala behaved like a shy schoolboy and helpfully
avoided confronting Mugabe with any difficulty questions. No questions
were asked on the serious violations of the SADC Protocol on elections
recorded by various local and international observers. Issues of
equal opportunities for all parties to access state media, independence
of the Judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions,
the draconian acts that seriuously curtailed political space, violence
and intimidation, politicization of food distribution, banning and
disruption of opposition meetings, attack and forced closure of
independent press and so on. None of this was important to Zikalala.
At the end of the interview, Zikalala even compliments Mugabe saying,
‘it’s a very peaceful country and we have seen the economic turnaround
ourselves’. What peace was that and which economic turnaround?
For the SABC
to take such a partisan stance is the most disgraceful thing a public
broadcaster that holds itself in high regard can ever do. To have
on this very late hour, the likes of the SABC being part of the
band wagon playing smoke and mirrors and deceiving the world on
the reality of the situation in Zimbabwe today is not just extremely
unfortunate but also the most dishonorable thing. If the matter
at stake were a sporting match this maybe would have been just silly.
However in this case this shameful conduct cannot be anything less
than tragic because the crisis in Zimbabwe is now a humanitarian
emergency in which millions of innocent lives are at stake and .
dictatorship people have been reduced to a nation of foraging paupers
stripped of any dignity. Mothers have to endure the pain of seeing
their children wailing of hunger and not knowing what to do. Workers
can barely go through a week on a minimum wage. Communities have
to cope without basics like water and electricity. The sick can
not get drugs. The vast majority of the population is now destitute
and just waiting for god. And what is revolting is that people have
all this piled on them and are told not to complain. At gunpoint!
the world saw shocking images of Mugabe’s police brutalizing workers
who dared to raise their voices. For simply exercising their democratic
right to peacefully march in protest against unbearable levels of
poverty, demanding an end to harassment of informal traders and
calling for access to ARVs, ZCTU
workers were brutalized by Mugabe’s running dogs. Footage from the
march shows Zimbabwe Republic Police details mercilessly pounding
arrested workers with baton sticks like donkeys. The images are
so barbaric that they invoke memories of colonial era state barbarism.
Testimonies from the arrested workers tell of unrelenting beatings
and torture within cells. The ZCTU secretary general Wellington
Chibhebhe was beaten until he lost consciousness. The Vice President
Lucia Matibenga burst an eardrum from repeated clapping and pictures
show her whole body bruised and blackened from beatings. Many others
including the ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo got broken limbs.
If the thuggish behavior of the police was shocking, even more outrageous
was to hear Mugabe audaciously condoning these callous acts.
This is the
point history must record; the impunity and well-documented cruelty
of the Zimbabwe Republic Police has blessings from Mugabe himself.
This just goes to show that Mugabe’s exhausted regime owes its survival
to force and coercion. Violence has become the regime’s first instinct
and in its exhausted mentality, the regime stupidly believes that
torturing the messengers will somehow destroy the message.
This is the
reality that Zikalala and his ilk do not want the world to see.
It has become the habit of the regime to brutally thwart any protest.
Mothers have been beaten and locked up for handing out roses on
the streets and peacefully demanding justice. Student activists
have been detained and tortured at maximum prisons for defending
the right to education. Civil society activists are harassed and
frustrated left right and center. Whatever doctoring people like
Zikalala can do, the truth of the matter is that the voices of protest
as recently expressed by the ZCTU and other brave activists resonate
deep within the hearts of millions of Zimbabweans. The peace that
Zikalala and the likes of Hope Zinde preach to the world is in reality
a tense silence maintained through guns, baton sticks and the threat
of things worse.
The SABC’s shameful
stance on Zimbabwe must be understood as consistent to Pretoria’s
own deplorable foreign policy on Zimbabwe. The South African government
observer missions to Zimbabwe’s disputed elections since 2000 have
been the quickest to declare a free and fair verdict and dismiss
irregularities raised by other local and international observers.
To this day the South African government has failed to live up to
its international responsibility on Zimbabwe refusing to acknowledge
the full extent of the crisis in Zimbabwe. At the same time, South
Africa has been the first to frustrate efforts to bring Zimbabwe
on the agenda of multi-lateral foras. Recently Mbeki deflected responsibilities
from his shoulders and misled the world by alleging that Mkapa was
facilitating a dialogue initiative which turned out to be fictitious.
What one does
not understand is why Mbeki fails to act positively on Zimbabwe
when it is clear that the degeneration of Zimbabwe has an adverse
social impact on South Africa and will ultimately have severe consequences
for regional stability. Already South Africa is seriously inundated
with thousands of Zimbabwean political and economic refugees escaping
the crisis. These poor victims of the Zimbabwe crisis are not even
regard as refugees who deserve protection under international law
but just as illegal immigrants, who are hunted down like criminals,
detained in the most deplorable conditions and deported back to
In the face
of such shameful conduct from Pretoria, an urgent task therefore
lies on the shoulders of progressive minded South Africans to extend
a hand of solidarity to the people of Zimbabwe. Unequivocal positions
taken so far by COSATU, South African Social Movements and recently
the Progressive Youth Alliance in support of the democratic struggle
in Zimbabwe need the support of the wider South African population.
With ruling elites extending unprincipled solidarity to each other
the only hope and effective counter is principled people to people
solidarity. The South African public must call their government
and public institutions like the SABC to account for their disgraceful
collusion with oppression in Zimbabwe.
At this hour
of greatest need there is nothing more unhelpful to the cause of
democracy and social justice in Zimbabwe than this connivance from
South Africa. Despite all these odds, Zimbabweans retain the deepest
conviction that justice will ultimately prevail over brutal repression
because history itself is always on the side of justice. Always.
And at the end, Zimbabweans will remember not just the deeds of
their oppressors but also the complicity of their neighbours.
the struggle comrades! We shall overcome!
Bomba is a Zimbabwean activist; he can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
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