MSU Tuesday Bulletin, 03/26/07

Zimbabwe: The End of "Quiet Diplomacy"?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 26, 2007 (070326)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Southern Africa is 'finally' assuming leadership in trying to resolve the burning Zimbabwean crisis on their doorstep, but it has been a long time coming, said analysts ... The Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has pushed for an approach of 'quiet diplomacy' to the Zimbabwean crisis, has increasingly come under fire for failing to wield any influence." - IRIN, March 23, 2007

Attacks on protesters and opposition leaders in Zimbabwe have provoked a new level of criticism, particularly in the Southern Africa region. But it is still unclear what Zimbabwe's neighbors and the international community more generally can do to help check the country's crisis.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes a recent report from IRIN, a background analysis from Pambazuka News, and an on-line petition for action on Zimbabwe gathering wide support in Southern Africa and beyond.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Zimbabwe, visit

For regular updates on protests and other developments in Zimbabwe, see,,, and, and

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Zimbabwe: Regional Intervention "Long Time Coming"

Zimbabwean pro-democracy activists have become more vocal

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Harare, 23 March 2007 (IRIN) - Southern Africa is "finally" assuming leadership in trying to resolve the burning Zimbabwean crisis on their doorstep, but it has been a long time coming, said analysts, as three members from a regional powerhouse met in Lesotho to chalk a way forward. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has pushed for an approach of "quiet diplomacy" to the Zimbabwean crisis, has increasingly come under fire for failing to wield any influence.

"But the brutal public attack on civic and leaders of the opposition leaders [last week] has forced the private rumblings of discontent over Zimbabwe to become public and break away from their traditional solidarity response," said Brian Raftopoulos, a Zimbabwean academic and African affairs specialist at the South African-based Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

A Zimbabwean opposition supporter was killed last week, and Morgan Tsvangirai, who leads a faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was among the pro-democracy leaders arrested and beaten by the police, allegedly for inciting violence.

This week, Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa, currently deputy chair of the SADC, broke ranks with the regional body to admit that "quiet diplomacy has failed to help solve the political chaos and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe," and even likened the country to "a sinking Titanic whose passengers are jumping out in a bid to save their lives."

Acknowledging the gravity of the recent outbreak of violence in Zimbabwe, he said Zambia had been forced to re-think its position after "the twist of events in the troubled country", which "necessitates the adoption of a new approach".

Mwanawasa's comments came ahead of a meeting under the auspices of SADC in the Lesotho capital, Maseru, on Thursday and Friday, at which Zambia, Lesotho and Tanzania discussed "how best" the regional organisation could respond, "with a view to helping Zimbabwe in its current difficulties", said Vernon Mwaanga, Zambia's acting foreign minister. Zambia will assume leadership of the SADC in August.

"The meeting, attended by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who heads the regional security arm, and Lesotho's Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who is currently the chair of SADC, and Zambia, looked at several options," added Mwaanga.

These will be put forward at an SADC meeting in Tanzania next week. Kikwete, whose country is one of an SADC 'troika' on Zimbabwe, along with Namibia and Angola, met Mugabe a few days ago.

SADC has been in existence since 1980, when it was formed as a loose alliance of nine majority-ruled states in Southern Africa, known as the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) to coordinate development projects to lessen its economic dependence on then apartheid South Africa. Since then the organisation's objectives have evolved into maintaining common political values and promoting peace and security, with a view to boosting development.

Raftopoulos said the SADC should have stamped the "human rights debate" on Zimbabwe as "African" at least seven years ago, when the 2000 general elections had been marred by violence but were endorsed by the SADC as "free and fair".

In 2005 more than 700,000 people were internally displaced by Operation Murambatsvina (Drive Out Trash), a three-month campaign to rid the country of slums and illegal informal businesses. Again, the SADC maintained its silence. "Instead, it [SADC] allowed itself to be corned by the Zimbabwean regime into branding the human rights debate as 'Western'," said Raftopoulos.

Chris Maroleng, an analyst with the think-tank, Institute for Security Studies, commented, "SADC has been hamstrung on Zimbabwe, as it has failed to adopt a common position. SADC, as a multilateral forum, failed to engage with Zimbabwe, as members found themselves polarised. Except for smaller countries in the region, such as Botswana and Lesotho, regional powers like South Africa have failed to criticise Zimbabwe. But the gap between the countries has begun to narrow."

Africa's efforts to mediate between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF and opposition parties have been fruitless: in 2005, the African Union appointed former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano to help solve Zimbabwe's problems; last year the SADC appointed former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa to mediate in the strained relations between Harare and Britain.

Maroleng said the region should now try to create "an enabling environment" in Zimbabwe to create the "political space" for dialogue between the ruling party and civil society.

Zimbabweans Take Initiative

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean pro-democracy activists have become more vocal. Tension has been mounting in Zimbabwe for the past two months, marked by protests and running battles with the police over a worsening economic crisis compounded by shortages of foreign currency, food, fuel, electricity and medicines. Last month, political meetings were banned in the capital, Harare.

On Thursday, Pius Ncube, the Archbishop of Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, called for mass street protests to force Mugabe to "step down" from power.

Zimbabwean nongovernmental organisations and a coalition of churches have condemned the political violence that has erupted in Zimbabwe in recent weeks, and urged dialogue to restore peace.

The National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), representing more than 1,000 civil groups throughout the country, said it was concerned by police heavy-handedness when dealing with critics.

NANGO warned that the current political tension could lead to civil unrest, adding that recent violent incidents "have occurred against the backdrop of a politically, socially and economically volatile situation, characterised by high levels of poverty and inequality, militarisation of state functions and de-legitimisation of civil society initiatives."

The association called for the establishment of a national human rights commission, which has been on the cards, in addition to lifting the ban on political gatherings, constitutional reform and the "repeal of repressive legislation", while the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) attributed the outbreak of violence on the ban on political meetings.

In a statement on Wednesday the ZCC said, "This orgy of violence, which is attributed to the ban on political gatherings in Harare for three months, is provoking the opposition, especially at this strategic moment when political parties are preparing for the 2008 presidential election."

Zimbabwe: Is this the Year?

Pambazuka News 295, March 15, 2007

Patrick Burnett
Contributing editor, Pambazuka News

This week, police in Zimbabwe used tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition to crush Sunday's gathering by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a coalition of opposition, church and civic groups, in Harare's western township of Highfield. Police shot and killed one opposition activist, Gift Tandare. Lawyers and fellow opposition activists said Tsvangirai had suffered a suspected skull fracture after being beaten by police. Patrick Burnett summarises voices from the ground and highlights some key messages from articles published in Pambazuka News in the recent past. Is it a year of hope or will it all simply collapse into a quagmire?

'In pairs we were being led to the cells where there were five people dressed in police uniforms holding baton sticks who were beating the hell out of us," relates an unnamed woman opposition activist. "They would beat each pair for between 15 and 20 minutes after which they would order the pair out to fetch the next pair from the van." The woman describes how her head was banged against a wall causing her to fall down to the ground. "It took a long time according to what I was seeing and I was only praying if they could stop," she tells the camera in this video as her testimony is interspersed with shots of police brutally beating arrested protesters with batons in order to force them into a police van.

Another activist states in the same video: "We wanted the government to see and show the world at large that the Zimbabweans are suffering. The money they are getting is peanuts, it does not take them anywhere. It is the government that regulates the prices. You can hardly pay for a child at school. You have to feed the family and sometimes you have only one meal a day. We wanted to show the leadership of Zimbabwe that what they are doing is not fair."

Even video sharing site knows what's happening in Zimbabwe. This video was not testimony from Sunday's protest, though, but of a peaceful labour union demonstration in September 2006 in which 23 people were beaten and tortured. No doubt, videos of Sunday's march will find their way onto youtube, providing a valuable window into the situation the above video already has over 12 000 views - but in the meantime compare testimonies from the video quoted above with that of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, as told to the BBC:

"It was almost as if they were waiting for me Before I could even settle down I was subjected to a lot of beatings, in fact it was random beatings but I think the intention was to inflict as much harm as they could. I suffered injuries on the head, six stitches, body blows, a broken arm. I also suffered injuries on the knees and on my back several body blows, but I think the most serious injury was the head injury because I lost a lot of blood. They have just administered almost two pints of blood."

Police used tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition to crush Sunday's gathering by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a coalition of opposition, church and civic groups, in Harare's western township of Highfield. Police shot and killed one opposition activist, Gift Tandare. Lawyers and fellow opposition activists said Tsvangirai had suffered a suspected skull fracture after being beaten by police.

World outrage followed news of the crackdown, with calls for more stringent sanctions and renewed engagement with Zimbabwe. African leadership, long muted on the issue of Zimbabwe, was also more strident. Ghanaian President John Kufuor, also the African Union chair, said: "I know personally that presidents like (South Africa's Thabo) Mbeki tried desperately to exercise some influence for the better," as reported by numerous media. "Please don't think that Africa is not concerned. Africa is very much concerned. What can Mbeki as a man do? Are you proposing that Africa compose an expedition team to march on Zimbabwe and oppose? It does not happen like that. We are in our various ways trying very hard."

As demonstrated by the youtube video and numerous human rights reports in the past months and years, Tsvangirai's beatings are the result of long term repression to which numerous Zimbabweans have been subject over the past years.

At this stage its worth trolling through a few of the articles published by Pambazuka News about Zimbabwe over the last five years, not because they are the only record of the Zimbabwean crisis or because they comprehensively cover all the issues faced by the country, but because they show the progression of events in the country, and provide useful analysis and insight into the complex Zimbabwean situation. At times like this its important to remember that short-term political outrage shouldn't mask the long-term nature of the situation in Zimbabwe nor the long-term nature of political inaction.

Perhaps the most useful insight into Zimbabwe's path is provided in a series of articles written in March of each year since 2002 by Mary Ndlovu, a human rights activist from Zimbabwe. Her articles take readers into the heart of life in Zimbabwe, documenting the politics and effect of the land reform crisis, the controversial elections and the downward economic spiral and its effect on the Zimbabwean people.

In March 2004, Ndlovu writes: "On our side of the looking glass, the mounting catastrophe has political, economic, social and cultural components. Most objective observers would trace the economic problems back at least to the late 1980's. Certainly the introduction of structural adjustment at the beginning of the 90's can be seen as the process which eroded the living standards of Zimbabweans, and spawned the first broad-based opposition party. It also generated pressure from interest groups such as war veterans and ambitious black businessmen who felt they had waited too long to share in the country's wealth. The government's response to these developments sent the country into the downward spiral which today ensnares us. Instead of taking the criticism and the pressure and sitting back to plan a coherent strategy of how to deal with the inter-related issues, ZANU PF panicked, saw their ruling position threatened, and from 1997 on have responded piecemeal, reactively and irrationally, bringing us to the tragedy which unfolds before our eyes."

In another article, she writes: "In February 2000, ZANU PF discovered, in a rare moment of truth, that they were unpopular enough to be defeated at the polls, in spite of all the advantages they had in controlling most of the media, the electoral machinery and all the state security apparatus. They immediately began the process of ensuring that no matter what the people wanted, never again would ZANU PF lose a vote. The electoral process would be turned into a stage-managed spectacle."

Following on from this and assessing the 2005 Parliamentary elections, Ndlovu warns of economic collapse and "dire consequences" for the region should ZANU PF take power against the wishes of Zimbabweans. She makes three points on the back of this:

  • SADC unwillingness to insist that regional electoral standards be upheld appears to signal that they are not prepared to implement them for their own countries either.

  • Democrats should be aware that governments cannot be trusted with the task of defending democracy, in their own countries or anywhere else.

  • There is a long road ahead for the building of democracy in Southern Africa, "from the bottom up, with much struggle to claim rights against the autocratic tendencies of all the governments and ruling parties of the region".

The startling lack of progress on the Zimbabwean front is evident in Ndlovu's articles. In March last year, Ndlovu wrote that: "Certainly we know that the multiple crises which embody Zimbabwe's millennium experience are intensifying, making life barely livable for the majority of the population. The crises have engulfed the working world, the learning world, the consumer world, the world of the supermarket and even of sport. The economy limps along, agriculture crawling, tourism virtually defunct, manufacturing crippled, and mining, the one still flickering light of the economy, under recent assault from government policies. Electricity comes and goes at will, water likewise in many places; fuel supplies (black market only) are erratic and prices exploitative. Schools are places of confusion, teachers demoralized, pupils unable to afford textbooks if they manage to pay fees, and only finding bus fare for half the school days. Courts barely function, police cells are filthy putrid hell holes, prisons even worse."

Writing in 2004, Steve Kibble points out the long-term nature of Zimbabwe's problems. "The inheritance of violent colonial dispossession and dehumanisation with the response of (in Brian Kagoro's words) a 'violent and hegemonic struggle for decolonisation' culminated in a largely symbolic independence devoid of material gain for the majority black population.' This meant an authoritarian elite unable/unwilling to transform the repressive state colonial structures into democratic institutions, and the emergence of neo- patrimonialism and clientilist structures along with long lasting cultures of intolerance and impunity."

In pointing to why regional responses to the Zimbabwean situation have been muted, Kibble writes in another article that: "The 'national security' strategy of the ZANU PF elite has led to economic collapse, severe repression, flight and severe economic consequences for the region, but as yet there has been no concerted regional reaction to this in terms of security. This in turn relates to national elites being unable to formulate a path directed to human security, and largely because of their lack of engagement with and mistrust of new social forces (which of course are not themselves necessarily united or coherent)."

Kibble questions how to shift the security focus from military to human security to focus on those without power and those affected by poverty, environmental degradation and human rights abuses. Values would include peace and the promotion of human rights. "It may not seem obvious when there seem more immediate concerns, but the fight against repression in Zimbabwe illustrates much of this, and involves what values postcolonial states and regions should have, their road to development, democracy and overcoming of colonial and apartheid structures, all of which pose human security dilemmas."

Patrick Bond and David Moore, in April 2006 ask what can be done to offer solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe: "... the real solidarity action ahead may revolve around COSATU and broader civil society forces. They must shake free of Mbeki's influence and establish a strategy for longer-term support. This would more forcefully and surgically target Mugabe and his cronies, and nurture the unpredictable resurgence of Zimbabwean protests, which certainly still lie ahead." More broadly, one could add to this the need for pressure on the African Union and other regional and international human rights bodies.

Perhaps the last word, before noting that based on the progression of events in Zimbabwe the happenings of the last week are hardly surprising and without concerted effort on behalf of all stakeholders worse will surely follow, should go to Ndlovu, writing in 2006: "The tension of expectation is building as the people's misery becomes unsustainable. Will this be the year, and if it is, will it hold hope for the future, or will we simply all fall down together?"

Now Is the Time to Act, the Future of Zimbabwe Is at Stake

Zimbabweans fight while SADC watches in silence: A call to action

Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

March 15, 2007

We represent the many people within SADC who believe in lasting and democratic solutions to the crisis in Zimbabwe. We issue this open letter to all citizens of this region, and in particular to our heads of state and government, members of parliament in the respective countries and senior leaders within the SADC and African Union Secretariats to take urgent action to end the crisis in Zimbabwe.

We learned with shock and dismay of the Zimbabwe state s attack on its citizens on Sunday 11 March 2007 which resulted in the death of Gift Tandare. We are horrified to learn of the arrest and detention of dozens of civil society, church and opposition parties leaders at a peaceful prayer meeting that took place the same day. Their subsequent detention without access to legal counsel and appropriate medical attention is cause for great concern.

We are outraged that not a single state within SADC and the AU has issued a statement decrying the situation and calling for the restoration of, and respect for, human rights in Zimbabwe.

For almost a decade the people of Zimbabwe have suffered under the unjust regime of Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party. Freedom of expression and assembly have been severely curtailed, virtually all independent media outlets have been shut down, and thousands of people have been dispossessed by an increasingly desperate party and its ruler.

For many years Zimbabwean activists have mounted protest actions and demonstrations, and have made it clear to the world that they aspire to live under a democratic dispensation. Using non-violent means, the people of Zimbabwe have used all legitimate structures at their disposal: the courts, their parliament and the media, with little or no effect.

Today, in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, we, the people of this region, must say that enough is enough. Our governments cannot continue to ignore this situation. Millions of Zimbabweans are displaced and are no longer able to live in their once prosperous nation. Millions more within Zimbabwe are hungry, sick and unable to access basic services.

If action is not taken now at the highest levels, there will be blood on the hands of all those states whose silence has aided and abetted Mugabe s regime. The time for a softly-softly approach if there ever was one is over.

Those who defend Mugabe imply that his opponents seek to overthrow the Mugabe regime. This is simply untrue. We firmly believe that the future of Zimbabwe lies in the hands of Zimbabweans themselves. The future of Zimbabwe lies in national constitutional talks, in free and fair elections and in a return to the respect of human rights principles. The role of the regional and continental community is to facilitate this process.

We therefore demand regional and continental intervention to ensure:

  1. Freedom of assembly, expression, opinion and association are respected;

  2. The media are allowed to operate freely;

  3. That the looming humanitarian crisis that prevents Zimbabweans from accessing basic social services including food security, health care, water and sanitation, be averted.

We therefore urgently call upon all heads of state and government in SADC to ensure the following:

  1. An independent investigation into the death of Gift Tandare on 11 March 2007 following the police shooting in Highfield;

  2. The release of all political detainees in custody since the prayer meeting on 11 March 2007;

  3. Provision of quality medical attention to all those in custody;

  4. Access to legal counsel by all those in custody;

  5. Speedy resolution of this situation by the courts and compliance with court orders by the police.

Furthermore, we insist that African governments use bilateral and multilateral means such as the SADC, African Union and the United Nations to urgently appoint and dispatch a high-level team of eminent persons to:

  1. Assess the situation on the ground in order to prevent more shootings and harm to the general public,

  2. Develop a sustainable and inclusive diplomatic solution to the crisis;

  3. The holding of all-party inclusive talks.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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