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SA group to probe Zim human rights abuses

Vincent Kahiya

CIVIC society in South Africa is expected to send a delegation to Zimbabwe in the next two months to probe incidents of human rights abuses, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.

The mission is in response to a damning statement compiled by the churches in South Africa criticising President Thabo Mbeki’s failure to condemn Zimbabwe’s human rights record.

Johannesburg-based church leaders – from Anglican and Catholic to Dutch Reformed and Greek Orthodox – issued the statement in December, provoking an angry response from Mbeki’s office.

The statement by the churches followed Mbeki’s visit to Zimbabwe during which he said South Africa could learn from Zimbabwe on how to solve similar problems.

The church leaders who wanted Mbeki to take a more robust approach said: “We are appalled by the witness given to us concerning the extent of torture being meted out on Zimbabwean citizens who flee to this country for nothing less than fear of death.”

The fact-finding mission is expected to meet with government and civic society representatives.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition chair Brian Raftopoulos this week said details of the proposed mission has not yet been finalised. “Nothing has been finalised at the moment,” said Raftopoulos. “We will let you know once we have the details.”

Mbeki has often been criticised for his policy of quiet diplomacy in Zimbabwe. The mission to Zimbabwe is therefore expected to give the civic groups first-hand experience about the human rights situation in the country.

Sources this week however said the mandate and effectiveness of the proposed mission was under threat from divisions within the South African churches.

“When that document (the churches report) was authored, some sections of the South African church disowned it,” a diplomatic source said.

“These churches are resisting coming to Zimbabwe on the mission because they believe that their counterparts have already made up their minds about the human rights situation in the country.”

It has also been learnt that there were sharp differences between Zimbabwean churches and their South African counterparts over the handling of the Zimbabwean issue.

Sources this week said Zimbabwean church leaders believe that the church in South Africa should come here “only as observers and not try to dictate how things should be done”.

In February last year it was reported that President Mugabe had asked visiting Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane to mediate between Zimbabwe and ex-colonial power Britain. Zimbabwean church leaders at the time protested that the Archbishop had not met many local church groups and civic organisations during his Harare stay.

While Ndungane said the meeting with Mugabe “certainly opens a new window of hope”, nothing has really come out of the initiative, which sources said was not supported by local church leaders.

Ndungane was expected to make a follow-up trip to Harare but this has not materialised.

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