SA’s Home Affairs office knows nothing about Zim

IT has been encouraging to read the almost universal outrage in the South African media over the decision by that country’s Home Affairs department to refuse asylum to Roy Bennett and his farm-workers.
“Despite the blatant human rights violations taking place in Zimbabwe — the systematic persecution of political opposition, of civil society and of the remaining vestiges of an independent media — South Africa’s Home Affairs essentially says this is not so,” wrote Nicole Fritz, director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, in the Star last weekend.

“You have to hand it to the officials of the Home Affairs department: they appear to make no attempt to disguise their bad faith with any pretence at credible justification.”

Fritz in particular slams the department’s claim that Zimbabwe has an independent judiciary on the basis of Morgan Tsvangirai’s acquittal on treason charges.

“No single case,” she says, “and certainly not one which drew fierce international attention and pressure, as Tsvangirai’s did, can be a convincing affirmation of the credibility of a country’s justice system. Were the Home Affairs officials more concerned to appear competent, they could have done a better job representing Zimbabwe’s judicial system as one able to deliver fair and impartial outcomes. Quite apart from Tsvangirai’s case, there are, in fact, a number of Zimbabwean cases that have upheld human rights. Only recently, for example, in a bail application brought by a number of individuals who had allegedly conspired with Bennett in a plot connected with the discovery of an arms cache, the presiding judge observed that several of them claimed they were tortured by security officers and induced into falsely implicating Bennett and another MDC MP, Giles Mutsekwa.

“That some Zimbabwean judges continue to issue rights-enforcing judgements, despite the inhospitable environment in which they find themselves, is testimony to their own personal courage and conviction in the principles of rule of law. But the integrity of a justice system cannot rely on the good offices of a few. It must depend on the credibility of the institutions that support it.

“With many of the country’s judges thought to have been given confiscated farms — their only tenure, the president’s continued pleasure — and the prospect of forced removal from office, like previous Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay, judges are as (if not more) likely to respond from fear or favour as they are from considered judicial principle. In any event, even if the court system was completely credible in Zimbabwe, that clearly isn’t, even for the most uninformed observer, the chief complaint.

“Time and again, court orders are ignored or blatantly defied by the Zimbabwean state and its law-enforcing agents. That has clearly been the case with the court-granted interdicts against the government’s recent Operation Murambatsvina and in respect of the occupation of farms.

“But if South Africa’s Home Affairs shows itself to be short of the facts when it instructs Bennett to place his faith in the courts of Zimbabwe,” Fritz says, “it invites ridicule when it requires of his ex-farmworkers that they should have reported their alleged persecution at the hands of Zimbabwe’s law-enforcing agents to those selfsame agents. At best, this refusal to grant asylum to Bennett and his workers demonstrates incompetence on the part of Home Affairs and an inability to appreciate what the situation in Zimbabwe is really like.”

In case anyone was in any doubt about that situation, we had the “commander-in-chief of farm invasions” complaining bitterly in the Herald last week about the US embassy’s refusal to issue visas to individuals who are responsible “for actions that threaten Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions”. Which included him.

Joseph Chinotimba, who signed himself “war veteran and proud Zimbabwean” in an open letter addressed to Dan Mozena, director of the Office of Southern African Affairs in the US State Department, wanted to know “what exactly have we done?”

He evidently has very limited powers of recollection. There were threats made against Chief Justice Gubbay at his chambers which the government did nothing to control, abuse of municipal office, the shooting of an opposition supporter in Glen Norah, the occupation of productive farms on the city’s periphery, and the establishment of a trade union body aimed at neutralising the authentic voice of workers.

Apart perhaps from Hitler Hunzvi, nobody’s career is more emblematic of the assault on civic institutions than Chinotimba’s in the early years of the decade. We still don’t know who in the upper echelons of the City of Harare authorised the municipal policeman’s depredations but one day that person will be held to account.

Chinotimba said he wanted it put on record that in response to the targeting of their leaders by the US, war veterans would not “continue sitting back on our laurels”. If this treatment continued, “then we will loose (sic) our tamper (sic) as Zimbabweans”.

“If you want to treat us by the back of the palm, then we will also treat you by the back of the palm,” he warned menacingly.

We are sure the Americans are quaking in their boots! Let it be noted that the last time Chinotimba purported to speak for Zimbabweans, in a Highfield by-election, he was decisively rejected.

President Mugabe continues to provide evidence of delusional leadership. He thinks church leaders should not “unnecessarily” criticise government.

The government was always ready for dialogue to resolve differences, he said.

When was the last time government listened to anybody? Have they listened to business leaders on economic management issues? Have they listened to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on issues of governance? Have they listened to church leaders on the trauma caused by Gukurahundi or Operation Murambatsvina? Have they listened to the courts on rulings made regarding property rights?

Who will decide whether criticism is “necessary” or not? Isn’t it the same people who have a vested interest in ensuring that criticism is suppressed? If anybody wants to test Mugabe’s sincerity they need go no further than ZBC which daily fails to provide any evidence of national dialogue despite being publicly-owned.

Muckraker was gobsmacked last Friday to see Information minister Tichaona Jokonya saying he had told the Voice of America that the removal of sanctions was key to setting up a Mugabe/Annan summit.

This is all a bit confusing. Not so long ago we were told that sanctions were having no significant effect on Zimbabwe’s economy. Then that sanctions were responsible for all our woes without exception. Now we are being told that we can’t talk to the UN secretary-general without their removal!

Several points need clarifying here. It is true that US legislation prevents the IMF from extending balance-of-payments support. But why is Zimbabwe dependent on the IMF when it is supposed to be a sovereign state?

In fact, the IMF is declining to extend balance-of-payments support because Zimbabwe has not met any of the conditions, particularly those regarding economic reform, which have been raised in every visit by IMF staff. In other words, it is not the Americans blocking IMF support, even though they can, it is the IMF itself operating in terms of its mandate.

That point has been blurred by the isolationists in our midst. As for the lifting of sanctions, that is not the business of the UN. They would have to be lifted by the US president acting in terms of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (which by the way had no input whatsoever from Jesse Helms or the MDC), or, in Europe, by the EU commission.

The problem with sanctions is that, contrary to the claims of Zimbabwe’s state propagandists, they are altogether legal and will need very specific revocation measures by their authors if they are to be lifted. Annan does not have a magic wand. And Ibrahim Gambari, if he is eventually allowed in to negotiate an agenda for talks, will make this abundantly clear. Zanu PF got us into this fix. Now it must get us out!

That includes UN involvement in recovery and reconstruction following Murambatsvina. Annan will not want to see Garikai houses or any other Potemkin Village displays. He will be guided by the Tibaijuka Report. The sooner the authorities here get used to that the better.
We were amused by Swedish ambassador Sten Rylander’s remarks on his national day this week. His wife has now joined him in Harare. He described her as his “spirit medium” who will protect him from “spin-doctors” and other “dangers you are sometimes confronted with here in Zimbabwe”. He repeatedly referred to the need for change.

We were pleased to see our colleagues from the state media present to capture Rylander and Foreign Affairs Secretary, Ambassador Joey Bimha, toasting better times — which sadly are not just around the corner.

A good example of sunshine journalism was evident on Tuesday when the spin-doctors at the Herald discovered a two-week old story saying President Jacques Chirac had praised Bolivian land reforms. They managed to slip in a line suggesting Bolivia’s land reforms were similar to Zimbabwe’s.

But any similarity with Zimbabwe was in the eye of the beholder. President Evo Morales came to power in free and democratic elections. Bolivia’s land reform programme will help the poor. It will not be used to reward VIP cronies such as police chiefs and judges.

We had “a Zimbabwean political analyst” fatuously telling us that no one questioned Bolivia’s land reforms because the landowners facing expropriation were non-Caucasian.

In fact the land-owning class in Bolivia is of largely Hispanic descent. But the important point to note here is that the group of emergent leftist South American leaders have been careful not to associate themselves with Zimbabwe’s chaotic and often violent land grabs.

The story said Morales had nationalised Bolivia’s natural gas and petroleum industry, to which the spineless “political analyst” remarked that no one was “questioning the correctness” of Bolivia’s land reforms as happened in Zimbabwe.

A few things are wrong here. There are many countries that have nationalised what they call strategic industries, including Britain under Margaret Thatcher. So long as that is done according to the law and in the public interest, it is an issue of national consensus.

Secondly, it would be difficult to prove the “correctness” of Zimbabwe’s land reform in the wake of the poverty it has spawned. Essentially, the Harare 1998 donors’ conference stressed that one of the key aims of land reform was to alleviate poverty and empower the poor. None of that is evident on the ground.

Third, the Herald tried to hide the truth from itself and its readers by burying it in the belly of the article. Morales launched the land reform programme by distributing “state-owned land” to the poor. Thousands of the beneficiaries were immediately given title so that they could borrow money to use the land productively. Six years down the line Zanu PF mandarins are still seizing land and very few beneficiaries of that corrupt process have title. The 99-year leases have remained a pipedream.

Fourth, the Associated Press story which the Herald drew on made it clear that none of the land distributed to the poor in Bolivia had been confiscated from large landholders. “But the government says it will eventually seize and redistribute privately-owned land that is unproductive, was obtained illegally or is being used for speculation.”

If somebody cannot see the glaring difference between these undertakings and Zimbabwe’s anarchic process they need to have their heads looked into immediately before they cause serious danger to themselves.
We are in trouble when propaganda is pursued for its own sake.

The other story playing big was about the emergence of so-called “illegal grain buyers” on the market. The paper claimed these buyers were “intercepting” farmers before they delivered their grain at GMB depots and buying it at a higher price. A cursory look at the details showed there was nothing like interception of grain.

Those interviewed by the paper stated that they were getting more for their grain and they didn’t have to incur onerous transport costs taking the grain to GMB depots.

Some of the grain producers said they incurred extra costs because the GMB often rejected their grain for alleged high moisture content, forcing them to transport it back home when they desperately need the money. In the end they sold their produce to the nearest highest bidder.

Need we ask which transaction makes economic sense? What that means of course is that government will be very much off target with its grain projections because of the bungling GMB in addition to Joseph Made’s nutty estimates.

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