Mugabe faces class action lawsuit

Gift Phiri

ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights and the Legal Resources Foundation are contemplating a class action to compel President Robert Mugabe to publish findings of investigations into military atrociti

es against civilians in Matabeleland in the 1980s.


A spokesperson for the two human rights groups said they were still collecting signatures from victims of an alleged genocidal campaign in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces that claimed the lives of an estimated 20 000 people in five years.


“By failing or refusing to make the reports public (President) Mugabe is hindering many people’s enjoyment of freedom of expression,” the organisations’ lawyer said. “As an alternative remedy, it is prudent for us to bring a class action lawsuit against Mugabe until he concedes to our demands to make the two reports public.”


The Matabeleland mas-sacres – which have been described by Pre-sident Mugabe as an “act of madness” – were committed by the North Korean-trained Fifth Bri-gade during a security clampdown against purported dissidents in the south-western part of the country.


Investigations by human rights groups have found that at least 20 000 civilians were killed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in what political analysts have said was a bid to establish a one-party state. Most of the people in the affected regions supported the now defunct PF-Zapu.


Although President Mugabe has not directly apologised for the mass murders, he has said it was “an act of madness” that should not be repeated. He came close to apologising at Joshua Nkomo’s funeral in July 1999 when he said he regretted the loss of lives during the Gukurahundi campaign.


The massacres between 1982 and 1987 were preceded by bloody clashes at Entumbane in Bulawayo between former liberation movements PF Zapu and Zanu’s armed wings – Zipra and Zanla respectively.


President Mugabe reacted to the incidents by appointing a commission of inquiry chaired by the late former Chief Justice Enock Dumbutshena.

Another commission chaired by Harare lawyer Simplisius Chihambakwe was set up to investigate the atrocities in Matabeleland and Midlands.


However, President Mugabe has refused to publish the reports despite sustained pressure to do so.


This forced human rights groups to approach the Supreme Court to compel him to release the reports. But a full complement of the highest court of appeal bench dismissed the application for the publication of the reports.

Justice Misheck Cheda ruled that President Mugabe could not be compelled to reveal the findings contained in the reports.


“The president is, by virtue of executive privilege, permitted to withhold such a report where he deems it to be confidential and its revelation would be prejudicial to public safety and order,” Cheda said.


“As long as the first respondent (President Mugabe) declines to publish the reports on the basis of the interest of the state and safety of other persons, he cannot be compelled to publish the reports.”


But human rights groups say they will now resort to a class action to oblige President Mugabe to publish the reports to heal the wounds.