The visit thrust Zimbabwe and its human rights record under the international spotlight, stirring debate about what needs to be done to move the country forward.
Zimbabwe has had grave human rights abuses since 1980 and there is need to boldly tackle and bring closure to the situation.
However, Pillay’s trip was not without controversy as the Zanu PF side of the unity government and the state media went into over-drive to manage and influence Pillay’s mission, albeit in vain. This was revealing as far as the human rights situation in the country is concerned. Zanu PF was worried because it has a lot to hide, contrary to what its ideologues claimed during Pillay’s mission.
The statement by Pillay at the end of her visit, in which she noted the continued climate of fear in Zimbabwe, stalling of the reform agenda, existence of obnoxious laws that violate human rights and her calls for an end to politically-motivated violence and impunity was refreshing.
In essence Pillay’s visit set the tone and benchmarks that the international community needs to note as part of a continued lobby for reform in Zimbabwe’s body politic before the next elections. Civil society and political actors need to take advantage of her statement and her report to advance the debate on human rights.
Pillay’s visit must therefore not be treated as an event, as it already appears to have been, but the beginning of renewed and direct interaction between Zimbabwe and the international community on the seemingly never-ending, man-made crisis in the country.
Her remarks laid the foundation for debate and engagement on issues that need attention in Zimbabwe, more importantly the need to end violence and deal with lingering human rights issues. Civil society therefore has an obligation to keep the UN, Sadc and AU fully informed to maintain pressure on authorities to ensure a paradigm shift, change of political culture and fundamental reforms before process-driven free and fair elections can be held.
All this, as Pillay said, should be preceded by the conclusion of the constitution-making process, referendum and adoption of the new constitution. For Sadc, Pillay’s visit is another endorsement of its mediation process as led by SA President Jacob Zuma. What Sadc wants to see happen in Zimbabwe is what the UN also envisages.
The outcome of the recent Sadc summit in Luanda, Angola, should thus help keep the spotlight on Zimbabwe to ensure the country is steered through the current turbulent transition towards free and fair elections and hopefully democracy. The human rights discourse must remain central to this process.
The tendency to deny the existence of human rights violations in Zimbabwe by some countries in the region is no longer sustainable as Pillay’s visit has shown. Sadc must therefore remain engaged in Zimbabwe and resist Zanu PF’s propaganda and threats, while acting subject to the mandate of its own resolutions and those of the AU, to find a solution to the country’s extended political stalemate and resultant woes. The UN Human Rights Commission, and by association, the whole UN, is now formally part of the process of engaging Zimbabwe on human rights issues and elections. Hence, this has not become a truly multilateral process.
However, for this process to keep unfolding and succeed, political parties and civil society must remain closely engaged with the people, regional bodies and the international community so as to seize opportunities for change.
Zimbabweans must thus organise themselves internally to maintain pressure on their political leaders, Sadc and the AU to ensure this process, which could be derailed by reactionary forces, is seen through. There is need to keep Zanu PF and its leaders under scrutiny to remove further human rights violations and pile pressure for reform and change. Pillay’s visit has provided that basis.
The Luanda meeting and events preceding the summit, including the recent deployment of high-level envoys to the region, shows Mugabe is determined to have elections this year without necessary reforms.
Consequently, Sadc insisted in Luanda that political parties to the GPA must within the next 12 months implement the GPA, roadmap and reforms before elections. What Mugabe’s envoys told regional leaders before the summit is now irrelevant because Sadc’s position has been reasserted.
The visit to Harare by Zuma’s facilitation team this week in the aftermath of the Sadc summit resolutions on Zimbabwe — which are subject to vicious contestation by Zanu PF and the two MDC parties — will add momentum to the process. That, taken with Pillay’s visit, must fuel debate and action on Zimbabwean issues to ensure free and fair elections.
While during the Luanda summit Mugabe’s envoys and his team claimed that political and economic stability have been restored and the environment is now conducive for free and fair elections, the correct assessment is the one made by Pillay who warned of a possible repeat of the 2008 bloodshed during elections, unless reforms are fully implemented. This was the same warning Mugabe got in Luanda.
Given recent remarks by military commanders who insist on meddling in politics on Mugabe and Zanu PF’s side, it is not difficult to see why Sadc and Pillay fear a repeat of 2008.
The army has no business in politics and Zimbabweans must start speaking out loudly against its interference, in violation of the laws of the country.
While Zimbabwe needs to hold elections to resolve the current political stand-off, it is important to ensure the country goes to credible elections which are not marred by political violence, intimidation and manipulation of the voters’ roll, constituency boundaries and the subsequent results. If these issues are not dealt with through comprehensive reforms, the country would end up caught in a vicious cycle of disputed elections, stalemates and negotiations.
At the same time, it must be appreciated that elections are not the solution to Zimbabwe’s long-running crisis, but the holding of convincing polls would help in resolving the situation. It must always be remembered there are many issues which the country needs to sort out if it is to move forward as a united and progressive entity. For a long time many issues have been left hanging and that is not helping matters, but fuelling tensions and conflict.
The Pillay visit and Sadc summit resolutions have laid a solid basis for Zimbabweans to seriously engage their own situation and find a way forward for the sake of the nation. All stakeholders must now start treating these issues seriously for the sake of national self-preservation and progress.