Disaster if Zimbabwe exported its crisis to region

AS A Zimbabwean now living in SA, I look with alarm at the violations of the rule of law that Zanu (PF) seems intent on exporting from Zimbabwe to the region.

I left Zimbabwe in January 2006 to pursue further studies at the University of Pretoria. At the time I was working as a magistrate in Mutare. By the time I left, the judiciary in Zimbabwe had been compromised by a number of factors.

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Independent-minded judges had been hounded out of the High and Supreme Court of Zimbabwe and these superior courts were packed with compliant judges. Some of the judges were beneficiaries of farm gifts during the land redistribution programme. Due to the worsening economic crisis, magistrates in the lower courts were no longer earning a decent salary, leading to rampant corruption.

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Acts of intimidation against independent-minded judicial officers were not uncommon. Through a constitutional amendment in 2005, the government barred individuals with any right or interest in land from challenging state acquisition of their land in Zimbabwean courts. These factors severely undermined the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in general.

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It is impossible to watch current developments in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) without recalling these assaults on the Zimbabwean judiciary. The recent renewal of the suspension of the operations of the Sadc Tribunal until August next year by the Sadc heads of state was largely inspired by Zimbabwe’s attack on the tribunal for ruling against it.

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Sadc has refused to take any action against Zimbabwe for its failure to comply with this court’s decisions. If the tribunal is revived, its founding instruments will be amended to block Sadc citizens from approaching the Sadc Tribunal in the event of a breach of their rights and interests, again largely at the instigation of Zimbabwe. Come August next year, it is a near certainty that Zimbabwe will have successfully exported its distaste for independent courts to the region.

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Zimbabwean citizens wishing to exercise their democratic right to choose their leaders, human rights lawyers and civil society activists creating and occupying democratic space, as well as political party activists have all been at the receiving end of Zimbabwe’s intolerance for dissenting voices.

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Democratic forces are calling upon Sadc to direct Zimbabwe not to hold elections in the current environment where violence and intimidation prevails. Regrettably, now Zimbabwe’s machinery of violence has also been externalised to some of the Sadc states.

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On May 20, I attended the Sadc extraordinary summit in Windhoek, Namibia, with human rights lawyers and civil society activists from Zimbabwe. As we monitored deliberations by our leaders from the outskirts of the summit’s venue, uniformed Namibian police officers arrested us at the instigation of the Zimbabwe secret police (CIO). We were handed over to the feared CIO operatives, who interrogated us as if we were common criminals. Zimbabwe has succeeded in executing its illegalities at a regional level.

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This past week, as civil society activists from Zimbabwe held conferences and marches in preparation for the follow-up Sadc extraordinary summit hosted by SA at the weekend, there was further demonstration of the deployment of Zimbabwe’s secret police and aggressive Zanu (PF) representatives in an attempt to shrink the democratic space at the regional level.

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A civil society conference in Johannesburg on the need for security sector reforms in Zimbabwe nearly ended in chaos as a delegation of Zanu (PF) activists tried to disrupt the fruitful deliberations. T hey tried to disrupt another meeting, of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, last Thursday — the Zanu (PF) chairperson for Johannesburg assaulting a participant with a piece of glass.

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As I look to the future I, like so many living outside the country, hope for the return of a Zimbabwe which respects the rule of law, adheres to democratic principles and upholds fundamental human rights.

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After independence, the Zimbabwean judiciary was respected in the region for its progressive jurisprudence and I enjoyed the benefits of an impressive educational system. We had a professional police force and a security service deployed generally for the protection of citizens and national security.

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Although it may only be a dream that Sadc would help us restore our country, it would be the worst nightmare were the Zimbabwean crisis to be exported to all of the Sadc countries.

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Kuveya is the regional advocacy head at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and this article was first published in the Business Day.