Political Reforms First Not Anti-Sanctions Signatures

OPINION – Is it all about two million signatures or is it about reforms? That’s the million dollar question many people have been asking after Zanu PF launched the anti-sanction campaign.

And in the past week we have been told that Zanu PF has managed to collect far more than two million signatures for the anti-sanction petition.

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 But President Mugabe regime’s attempt to “petition” their way out of targeted sanctions imposed by the EU and USA received another blow two weeks ago when the United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray, dismissed the petition as a non-event.

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He said the Zimbabwe authorities must show good faith through their actions first before the restrictions are removed.

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 But the public media which went town about the two million signatures forgot to tell us that some of the people were forced to append their signatures. And it appears that Zanu PF has cheated itself again; rigging its way to get the two million signatures.

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However, this is beside the point, Zanu PF as an (opposition) party is free to collect signatures for whatever reasons or even to petition God for the sun to rise in the west and sets in the east nobody give a hoot. But has I have been following the debate over the sanctions issue I was left wondering why Zanu PF members are spending a lot of time and energy signing and forcing innocent people to sign the petition. It also beats me why Zanu PF is trying to lobby for the removal of the targeted through SADC or AU. What is needed are reforms and nothing else.

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To refresh our memories, well the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which brought about the USA targeted sanctions, is an Act passed by the United States Congress to provide for a transition to democracy and to promote economic recovery in Zimbabwe.

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Senators Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) introduced the bill on March 8, 2001. Senators Frist, Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York), and Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) sponsored the bill.

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The Senate passed the bill on August 1 and the House passed the bill on December 4 while former President George W. Bush signed it into law on December 21 2001.

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Western powers also imposed restrictive measures on Zimbabwe in 2002, in reaction to allegations of electoral rigging and human rights abuses by Mugabe, who has ruled the country since 1980.

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Well but I thought Zanu PF says the restrictions are illegal? Illegal according to who.

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This then brings me to my argument. It seems Zanu PF is shooting in the dark when it comes to issue of “sanctions”. The only honourable thing which Zanu PF must do is to change from its wayward behaviour. While the inclusive government has brought a little bit of sanity in the country more has to be done before Zanu PF try to lobby for the removal of restrictions.

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Human rights abuses are still rife in the country. Opposition gatherings are frequently the subject of brutal attacks by the police force, such as the crackdown in the past months.

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The violations are perpetrated by Zanu PF supporters as well as law enforcement agencies, and include assaults, torture, death threats, kidnappings and unlawful arrests and detentions. In Zimbabwe the freedom of assembly is severely restricted by law.

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The legal framework is further stretched in practice, with law enforcement closely monitoring opposition demonstrations and public gatherings. There are many reports of the arrest and subsequent beating of demonstrators.

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Laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) are used to violently disrupt peaceful demonstrations and justify the arrest of civil society activists. In some cases, the activists are held for more than the legally allowed limit, often without charge.

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Is it asking for too much if the laws like POSA and AIPPA are removed from the statute books? Is it asking for too much if the police stop harassing members of MDC? Is it asking for too if the police stop arresting human rights activists? Is it asking for too if the airwaves are liberated?

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I think this might have been easier for Zanu PF that going around the country forcing people to sign the petition which in I feel is not going to change anything. The only approach needed is respect for human rights. As I am right a number of senior members of the MDC and human rights activists are facing various charges and MDC has been barred from holding a number of rallies.

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The Zimbabwe Republic Police, notorious for supporting Zanu PF, recently said they approved 94 percent of proposed political gatherings by MDC-T this year, contrary to claims by the party that they were being denied permission to conduct meetings.

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A report by Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri said that MDC-T had been allowed to conduct 644 out of 682 political meetings countrywide. But what Chihuri did not tell us was why Zanu PF meetings seem to take precedence over other parties.

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And to make matters worse when the police were denying MDC to hold meetings Zanu PF was busy lobbying collecting signatures for the petition.

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Ambassador Ray summed it all when he said: “You have to consider why the targeted sanctions were put in place first then look at what has been done to address the causes. There has to be action taken by the government to show good faith before people can start to talk about lifting the targeted sanctions”.

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Common sense, though not always common in Zanu PF, should tell the party that it is not all about two million signatures but reforms.

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About the writer: Andrew Mambondiyani is a Zimbabwean journalist currently on Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT in USA