UNIVERSITY of Zimbabwe political scientist Joseph Kurebwa may be known for toeing the Zanu PF party line but when it comes to interviews he seems to know that making partisan remarks could cost him an esteemed post.
After making his way to the senate chambers where a panel of five interviewers led by MDC-T senator Obert Gutu where ready to fire seven structured questions to would-be commissioners of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, Kurebwa maintained his composure and made startling remarks for a man often associated with Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe.
About a dozen people, who included Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director Irene Petras, closely followed the interview from the public gallery where they had a bird’s eye view of Kurebwa who made a controversial pre-election survey tipping Mugabe to score a “majority win” in last year’s harmonised elections.
Mugabe, however, lost to his long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of elections. Tsvangirai failed to garner the mandatory majority to form a government.
A presidential run off that was marred by human rights abuses forced Tsvangirai to pull out of contestation and resultantly Mugabe became “victorious” in a one man race.
Kurebwa’s survey was labeled by the MDC-T as a Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) project after it was disowned by the University of Zimbabwe’s political science department. Kurebwa was one of the senior editors of the defunct Daily Mirror after it was wrestled away from academic Ibbo Mandaza by the CIO.
“The game”, as Gutu explained the rules of engagement, was ready to begin.
It’s Monday morning and 34 of the 37 short-listed candidates are eyeing to become one of the eight commissioners of the long awaited Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. Constitutional law expert Geoff Feltoe and Jester Charewa, chairperson of Women’s Land and Water Rights in Southern Africa, withdrew from the race.
Petronella Nyamapfene, the first candidate scheduled to be interviewed, failed to make it on time despite a two-hour delay in commencing the interview.
When asked what experience he had on human rights issues, Kurebwa claimed that he had played a role in documenting human rights violations committed during past elections.
“I am an educator by calling, lecturing in the political science department… I was also involved in investigating cases of political violence in past elections,”
Kurebwa –– who has penned several articles in state media in support of Mugabe and Zanu PF, said: “I have also worked with the youth and refugees. I am competent not only on the theoretical level but practical level as well.”
On whether the commission would remain autonomous he said: “One should not succumb to political pressure from the executive or judiciary.”
People, Kurebwa added, have “tended to lose interest in the justice system” and it would be the duty of the commission to help people whose rights have been violated to find redress.
When further questioned to explain his understanding of the watchdog role of the commission, the University of Zimbabwe political science department chairman said the commission should be “alert to the challenges of society” and must exercise impartiality and competence.
He added that the commission should be very “visible”.
All 34 short-listed candidates generally agreed that Zimbabwe’s human rights record was appalling. Next on the list of interviewees was Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights chairman Douglas Gwatidzo.
“Human rights are not really understood in this country,” Gwatidzo said.
Government’s perception of human rights as an “imported culture”, he argued, could stifle the efficiency of the commission if not addressed.
Information gathered by the Zimbabwe Independent suggests that 16 finalists that include lawyers Ellen Sithole, Elasto Mugwadi, Stewart Nyakotyo, Kucaca Phulu, Sethulo Ncube, Jacob Mudenda, former legal officer in the attorney-general’s office Irene Sithole, former Bulawayo mayor Japhet Ndabeni Ncube and National University Science and Technology lecturer Temba Caroll Khombe had been nominated to become commissioners.
Other contenders included Eunice Velepini, Benhilda Makomva, Neseni Nomathemba and Kwanele Jirira
Former Zanu PF MP Mavis Madzonga, retired Anglican Archbishop Sebastian Bakare and Zanu PF politburo member Joshua Malinga were among some of the candidates who failed to make it to the final list.
Bakare, according to parliamentary sources, failed to make it after he proved unable to distinguish the difference between women’s and children’s rights. Malinga and Madzonga also reportedly performed poorly during the interviews.
President Mugabe will appoint eight from the prospective candidates short-listed by the parliamentary Standing Rules and Orders Committee. But what is clear is neither Kurebwa nor Gwatidzo are eligible to chair the commission as dictated by law.
The chairman should be a qualified lawyer who has practised for at least five years. The Human Rights Commission, the constitution further reads, will have the power to take over and continue any investigation that has been instituted by the public prosecutor.
An Act of parliament is however yet to be passed to give teeth to the constitutional body.
“An Act of Parliament may confer power on the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to secure or provide appropriate redress for violations of human rights and for injustice,” reads part of the Supreme law.
That Zimbabwe needs urgent reforms to meet basic human rights standard is in the public domain. An interview with a white commercial farmer or pressure groups who have faced the brutality of Zanu PF functionaries or state agents reflects the dire human rights conditions in the country.