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Sovereignty does not mean freedom to kill one’s own people
Tanonoka Joseph Whande
December 02, 2013

View this article on the SW Radio Africa website

Last Wednesday, a full bench of five judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal in South Africa upheld a landmark legal order which compels “the prosecuting authorities in South Africa to investigate crimes against humanity perpetrated in Zimbabwe”.

This followed last year’s ruling in which the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the National Prosecuting Authority in South Africa and the country’s police “must investigate state-sanctioned torture and other crimes against humanity committed by Zimbabwean officials in 2007”.

Last year, the SA government had argued that, “undertaking such investigations would interfere with our political mediation efforts in Zimbabwe”.

But, last week, the Court invoked the Rome Statute, saying that the South African authorities had a duty to probe allegations of torture as required by the Rome Statute, to which South Africa is signatory.

The ruling made it clear that “the perpetrators of the crimes in Zimbabwe can be held accountable in South Africa regardless of where the offending acts took place”, adding that “such crimes strike ‘at the whole of humankind and impinge on the international conscience’”.

Describing the ruling as absurd, Zimbabwe’s Prosecutor-General, Johannes Tomana, who himself ignored prosecuting perpetrators of the murders when he was Attorney General, quickly pulled out of the bag the issue of sovereignty and spiced it up with subtle threats to South Africa. He said that this might spark a diplomatic incident between the two countries.

Tomana said: “South Africa cannot arrest Zimbabwe military chiefs without violating the Geneva Conventions. They would be sparking a diplomatic row.”

He added that Zimbabwe has its own law enforcement systems and that it is important for nations to respect each other.

Since the arrival of Europeans and the subsequent establishment of colonies in Africa, South Africa has always carried a big brother mentality towards its northern neighbour, known by various names of Southern Rhodesia, Rhodesia and now known as Zimbabwe.

Because of South Africa’s obsession with the country, Zimbabwe’s march towards independence was delayed for years as apartheid South Africa supported successive white governments in Rhodesia in an effort to douse simmering nationalist aspirations in the country. Having wrestled South West Africa (now Namibia) from the League of Nations and with Botswana having been cowered into treading carefully, South Africa supported Portugal against rising nationalist independence passions in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique).

South Africa, therefore, managed to create a buffer between itself and the advancing so-called political winds of change that were clearly blowing south from Africa’s north. South Africa’s northern borders with its neighbors, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean all the way across southern Africa to the Indian Ocean, were secured by the presence of governments sympathetic to or supported by apartheid South Africa.

Successive white governments in South Africa stood by the successive white minority governments in the then Rhodesia. The two governments were close, very close.

South Africa, however, failed to stop independence from coming to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia and when South Africa itself finally became independent, the African rulers of that country stood by regional governments that were clearly abusing their own citizens.

South Africa is not speaking up. While I submit that South Africa has become an embarrassment in as far as its failure to encourage Africa’s democracies along is concerned, I also believe that the cosy relationships between South Africa and African leaders who are killing their citizens is a selfish, short-sighted policy that will not benefit South Africa in the long run.

South Africans went through so much pain during apartheid. They suffered for so long while the entire world watched. They, of all people, know what it is like to be abused by your own protectors. And here I sit, wondering who bewitched South Africa into supporting terror governments across Africa.

I am tempted to call Tomana an idiot and I will because he knows very well that the world cannot stand by when genocide is being committed. South Africa, by its sheer geography, economic presence in Zimbabwe and Africa and our historical connections and political intercourse, has always been present in Zimbabwe.

But South Africa has always looked the other way when Robert Mugabe went on his murderous rampages.

South Africa saved Mugabe by its inactivity in 2008.

South Africa saved Mugabe during the lifetime of the unity government.

And were it not for South Africa, Tomana and Mugabe would not be sitting in the chairs they occupy in Zimbabwe today.

Tomana should be ashamed of betraying the principles of his profession and for failing to prosecute wrongdoers on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe.

He should not think that his ineptitude and failure to uphold the laws of Zimbabwe is what others dealing with law and order in other countries are doing.

The heart of the matter is that Tomana killed our people by not arresting and stopping our killers. He failed to protect our citizens and abused the law by applying it selectively.

Tomana’s siya-so type of law enforcement is a disgrace to his profession and a shame to the nation. Zimbabwe is part of the community of nations. There is nothing special about us except us and we are only special if we play by the rules.

We must maintain our decency no matter what.

We cannot continue to single ourselves out and opting out of international groupings that seek to assist us all in living peacefully among ourselves and among other nations.

There comes a time when we have to listen to others; a time to listen to those who have stood by us as friends. As a nation among others, there comes a time for us to take as we give.

Yes, we can refuse to be part of the Rome Statute; we can pull out of the Commonwealth; we can threaten to pull out of SADC and we can insult all people across the universe but we are still part of the community and we cannot run away from that.

The ruling in South Africa should be taken by people like Tomana as a reminder to what his responsibilities are. They have to serve the nation and protect the people. It is not politics; it is professionalism. And they all can do this while singing for their supper.

There is nothing more revolting than an official of the law coming out in support and in protection of law breakers. Enough of this nonsense.

Zimbabwe needs to take its rightful place among other nations and we cannot continue to have situations where our own officials behave like monkeys in a banana tree.

Tomana should be in the forefront of upholding the law. At least he should think of those who spent so much to send him to school. He should retrace his footsteps and ensure that all lawbreakers are prosecuted regardless of their positions in society and in government.

Zimbabwe must play its role in dealing with international crime. We must be among those who apprehend criminals, from car thieves, crooked police officers, wayward military personnel, genocidal dictators to terrorists.

Because one day we may find ourselves in a pit full of vipers and there won’t be anyone there to assist us.

South Africa must press ahead and carry out that investigation and Zimbabwe must promise to assist all the way and ensure that those found with blame be brought before a court of law and face the consequences.

Not a single Zimbabwean’s life must be lost to appease a politician. All crimes must be investigated and prosecuted. South Africa’s investigations are welcome; Tomana must thank the South Africans.

Sovereignty does not mean killing one’s own people without consequences.

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