Zimbabwe now a virtual penal colony

Ray Matikinye


IT was with an exquisite stroke of genius that Kenyan Professor Ali Mazrui coined the phrase “exogenous determinism” to describe the foolhardy practice of blaming everyone else but themselves adopted

by African nationalists to shield their post-Independence failures.


When he fashioned that phrase in his book The African, he had no inkling whatsoever that one day a nation that had so much potential as Zimbabwe at Independence from colonial administrators would fritter away the chance and make full use of exogenous determinism to explain all its failures.


Neither did he envisage that African leaders would seek to redefine and qualify the meanings of freedom, democracy and human rights, which they touted as guiding principles that spurred their fight for self-determination from their colonisers.


Yet, over time since Independence from Britain in 1980, particularly in the past five years, President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF government has shown enormous powers of assimilating undemocratic practices and passed laws akin to those crafted by the colonial regime it replaced.


Some, like Posa, Aippa and recently the Constitutional Amendment No 17, have so shocked Zimbabwe’s erstwhile friends that they have begun to doubt whether any revolution has taken place.


It is incomprehensible that Zimbabwean leaders who spent long periods in jails and detention centres should fail to grasp the basic tenets of freedom and democracy that they were fighting for.


And there appears to be a persistent effort on the part of government to chip away at people’s rights and freedoms, and ultimately their morale.


Last week government used what a state official termed “compulsive” patriotism to impound publisher Trevor Ncube and opposition politician Paul Themba Nyathi’s passports, purportedly to stop them from demonising Zimbabwe whenever they travel abroad.


“Ask Tony Blair and George Bush why they imposed sanctions on us,” commented Information and Publicity deputy minister, Bright Matonga, when asked why Zimbabwe would impose travel restrictions on its own people.


“They go about spreading falsehoods and we will do everything to defend our sovereignty,” Matonga said to justify a state violation of one of the basic freedoms.


If impounding passports and restricting travel is meant to inculcate and compel citizens to be patriotic, there seems to be no plausible reason why a government that claims to have brought about democracy and freedom should abridge civil liberties.


But patriotism has nothing to do with delusions that everything will be okay were it not for the media, human rights activists and opposition politicians telling the world that Zimbabweans deserve better.


Patriotism is devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life that one believes is the best in the world.


Zimbabwe is one such place that, had it not been for a government that is temperamentally hostile to the freedom of its own people, freedoms such as that of speech, association, travel or expression would be taken for granted.


Curtailing such freedoms by government does little to inspire confidence in its own people. A dangerous creed that Zanu PF is spreading can only appeal to citizens who think patriotism involves oppressing their own people.


Critics say impounding passports and issuing a list of people whose travel documents should be withdrawn in the same week that the Australian Reserve Bank issued theirs is a ploy by government to countermand travel restrictions imposed on Mugabe, his lieutenants and their families by the EU and the US.


The travel restrictions have invented designer excuses for government to explain its economic failures.


“That is absolute nonsense,” Australian ambassador John Sheppard says, explaining government’s sing-song.


Trade between Australia and Zimbabwe has shrunk because Zimbabwe has no foreign currency to import agricultural equipment like it used to, he said.


“On the other hand Zimbabwe cannot export tobacco to Australia as in the past because of the ruinous land reform programme that has seen agricultural production decline dramatically,” Sheppard  adds.


Zanu PF has continued undaunted to preach an outdated gospel and seems unable to grasp the fact that its message wins it few listeners — unless you count Coltrane Chimurenga.


The suffocating stupidity of government propaganda has frightened away those who would assist it see reason and work towards the betterment of the ordinary man in the street. The ruling party’s actions have forced people to look abroad for inspiration.


For instance is has hounded bankers, judges, black entrepreneurs and journalists into exile.


The latest actions were taken in pursuit of a provision in the Constitutional Amendment No 17 that was railroaded through parliament by Zanu PF using its parliamentary majority.


Analysts say the Bill was enacted in an omnibus fashion to avoid MPs debating contentious issues.


“This is about intimidation. This is about clamping down on the independent media,” Ncube says about the seizure of his passport by the state. “This is about thorough control which has forced people to look over their shoulders before they speak.


“It is about taking away the freedom of the people to move about doing honest business.”


More importantly, Ncube says, there is a broader plan than just restricting his movements. “The government has not been able to do an Ibbo Mandaza on the Zimbabwe Independent and the Standard,” he explains in reference to spirited efforts by the government to take over the last independent newspaper titles after muscling into the Mirror Group of Newspapers through the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).


“They cannot manipulate me or the people that work for the two titles,” Ncube says.


Ncube says by taking away his passport government is trying to  entice him to slip out of the country without travel documents, then use that as an excuse to take over his publications.


“In their thinking I have a lot to lose if I remain in Zimbabwe. So I should be most tempted to skip the border to run my other publication. Government would then specify me and take over the papers.”


Ncube owns the Mail & Guardian weekly newspaper in South Africa.


Government has been busy destroying its own image in the eyes of the international world.


In a statement last weekend, Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists said the existence of a list of people whose passports should be invalidated is an affront to basic rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of movement.


“This is nothing short of a witch hunt against those courageous few who still dare publicly to criticise President Robert Mugabe’s regime and its repression,” a statement from the CPJ said.


The EU too expressed outrage against government’s seizure of passports from its critics saying these actions violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees everyone “the right to leave any country, including
his own, and to return to his country”.


“Any withdrawal of a passport prevents freedom of movement and is in breach of the declaration. We have repeatedly expressed concerns about the human rights record in Zimbabwe and called on the government to respect individuals’ rights, which include free expression and free movement.”


Last year the Zanu PF government passed legislation that banned foreign funding for local rights groups and tightened the registration of other NGOs.  And time is proving that Mugabe is reluctant to sign the Bill into law because the country solely needs aid from international donors and development agencies to ameliorate worsening food and fuel shortages.


Undaunted by the setback, Mugabe’s Zanu PF last week adopted a party central committee report that recommended government take action against NGOs and civic groups alligned to the opposition.


“The opposition is also grouped in the form of NGOs and civic groups, all sponsored by the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union,” one of the party resolutions adopted by its congress says. “Stern action shall be taken against them.”