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Zimbabwe: Civil Society Voices

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Dec 7, 2003 (031207)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

A six-nation panel including Australia, Canada, India, Jamaica, Mozambique, and South Africa today recommended continued suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, until the government of Zimbabwe meets minimal conditions indicating willingness to dialogue with internal opponents. News coverage of this issue has focused on the divergent views of governments, particularly the reluctance of some African states to maintain the suspension of Zimbabwe. The simplistic image of a split between Europe and Africa, however, ignores the widespread consensus in civil society in Zimbabwe and the region in favor of continued pressure.

This issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin features statements by two broad coalitions of Zimbabwean groups, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. Both argue for continued international pressure on the Zimbabwean government, including continuation of suspension from the Commonwealth. It also includes a brief report from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on the current humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.

Commonwealth civil society groups meeting in Abuja have followed the lead of their Zimbabwean colleagues. The Mozambique News Agency (AIM) reported on December 5 a statement from 350 civil society organizations in the Commonwealth People's Forum, urging continued suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. According to AIM, activists at a parallel Human Rights Forum issued a similar call, warning of "the continuous crisis of governance and human rights in Zimbabwe, including political violence, widespread hunger and unemployment and the collapse of social services".

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition

Statement on the Occasion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government

Abuja, Nigeria 1-7 December 2003

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Box CY434 Causeway, Harare Phone/Fax: 747 817 Email:

[Thanks to Pambazuka News for providing this statement. For more information on the weekly Pambazuka News, which covers a wide range of subjects, see Further details on current Zimbabwe issues are available at:]

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (The Coalition) is a grouping of the major civic organisations in Zimbabwe, comprising 350 Zimbabwean non-governmental organisations. It was conceived in 2001 as a collective response by Zimbabwean civics to the multi-faceted crisis facing the country.

Zimbabwe's economic, political and human rights situation continues to be of grave concern to its nationals, the region, and the wider international community. Indeed, the possibility of the readmittance and attendance of, Zimbabwe to the December 2003 Abuja Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting has occasioned controversy. It is our fervent belief that the lifting of Zimbabwe's suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth imposed on 19 March 2002 by the Commonwealth Chairpersons Committee on Zimbabwe is not essentially a matter of politics and foreign policy; rather it is an issue of principle, of normative values of human rights, democracy and adherence to international as well as national obligations.

It is not the objective of the Coalition to advocate for the international isolation of a country we so dearly love, but to ensure that the reasons for which it was suspended from the Commonwealth are resolved. With deep regret, we once again advice the international community that:

  • laws that infringe freedom of expression have not been repealed but have become more repressive and were recently used to shut down the operations of, and arrest journalists working for, Zimbabwe's only private daily newspaper, the Daily News;
  • violent commercial farm invasions continue, albeit at a reduced scale, despite several proclamations that the acquisition exercise was concluded and there has been no effort to liase with the UNDP to create a viable land reform exercise; and that
  • the government consistently undermines the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, in addition to criminalizing all manner of dissent and expression of opinion that does not accord with the establishment.
  • The recent and widely publicised unlawful arrest, detention and release after two days without charge, of heads of Civil Society leaders of organisations such as the Crisis Coalition, the National Constitutional Assembly, Combined Harare Residents Association, and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions illustrates Zimbabwe's disregard for: basic human rights and rule of law; its undertakings to President Mbeki of South Africa and President Obasanjo over the repeal of freedom of expression adverse laws; its obligations under the Harare Commonwealth Declaration and the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration; as well as other international obligations under the United Nations Charter on Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, among others.

There exist other publicised and verifiable cases of gross human rights violations, such as the politicisation of food aid earmarked to relieve starvation. There are also cases of continued manipulation of the electoral system, and disregard for property rights.

Because our internal efforts to engage with the government in resolving the crisis have been rebuffed and criminalized, we demand that the international community continue to pressurise the Mugabe regime to enter into national dialogue with legitimate representation of the Zimbabwean citizenry. By adopting an arrogant attitude, the Zimbabwe government's reaction to its suspension has been tainted by bad faith. It has weathered its year of suspension and now claims that it ought to be readmitted, without making any tangible efforts to resolve the issues which in the first place led to its suspension.

Zimbabwe is a willing party within the Commonwealth which is an association of sovereign countries, bound together by a value-laden set of core principles. Crisis Coalition, therefore, resolves that due to Zimbabwe's intransigence and seeming contempt for the ideals held by the Commonwealth, its suspension should be extended. Zimbabwe should be readmitted, not because it has completed its time of suspension but because it has undertaken clear and verifiable steps towards resolving issues of concern raised by the Commonwealth.

We recommend that the following steps need to be taken:

  • an end to political violence and intimidation;
  • a repeal of repressive legislation and unjust laws;
  • the opening of political space, including access to the print and broadcast media;
  • addressing the economic and humanitarian crisis;
  • the development of a people driven Constitution that entrenches democratic, just and accountable government, as a prerequisite to new elections;
  • the establishment of an electoral and legal framework that ensures free and fair elections.

Additionally, the Coalition believes that in order to achieve genuine national unity, there is need for a transitional government under a transitional Constitution

The Coalition further suggests the following options on the Zimbabwe question:

  • Should the Mugabe regime continue in its failure to comply with the conditions set down for Zimbabwe's readmission to the Commonwealth then the issue of expulsion should be considered;
  • It is important for the two African Nations at the forefront of attempts to mediate the crisis in Zimbabwe namely, Nigeria and South Africa to forge an alternative and democratic African voice against the abuses in Zimbabwe. The African Community of Nations has for too long allowed the authoritarian Mugabe regime to set the parameters of the debate on the Zimbabwean crisis, and in so doing allowed the gross violation of human rights in the country to be relegated to secondary status.

The Coalition lauds all countries that have expressed dismay and concern at Zimbabwe's continued repression of its nationals and calls on all member states of the Commonwealth to pressure the Zimbabwe government towards the resolution of the crisis.

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

Zimbabwe, the Abuja Agreement and Commonwealth Principles: Compliance or Disregard?

8 September 2003

A report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

[Brief excerpts only. For full report see]

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (also known as the "Human Rights Forum") is a coalition comprising 16 member organisations. It can be contacted through any member organisation or through: The Administrator, P O Box 9077, Harare - email: Telephone: 250511 Fax: 250494

The International Liaison Office, 33 Islington High Street, London N1 9LH email:; Telephone: +44 (0)20-7713.1123


The Government of Zimbabwe has often asserted that the economic, social and political problems currently plaguing the country are rooted in the inequitable distribution of land. The Government further claims that the reason that attempts to address these problems have attracted an unprecedented amount of regional and international attention is that the Government's land reform program has been viewed unfavourably by Britain and its fellow Western nations, white farmers in Zimbabwe and the opposition political party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is perceived as an extension of these white interests. It is however the Human Rights Forum's contention that while the issue of land has always been and is a very critical issue requiring urgent attention, it is debatable as to whether the land issue is at the core of the current Zimbabwean crisis or whether it is in fact a crisis arising out of misgovernance, mismanagement of the economy and a political struggle to retain power; all masqueraded as a campaign for land reform. ...

While the land issue has been used to divert attention away from economic decline and a general onslaught on civil and political rights, these factors are not causally linked with the need to redress land imbalances. The consequence of the crisis on the enjoyment of economic and social rights has also been severe. The economic crisis has shrouded Zimbabwe since late 1997 predating the start of the Fast Track Land Reform Program by at least two years. The high levels of political violence commonly reported throughout the country, since March 2000, by no means have their root in the need for land reform but conversely were closely associated with elections and mass demonstrations.

Since the signing of the Abuja Agreement violence on commercial farms has scaled down. However, the massive displacement of commercial farm workers is ongoing although it has received little Government attention. Farm workers continue to be victims of gross human rights violations. Additionally, there has certainly been no significant reduction in the prevalence of gross human rights abuses generally. ...


Civil society's position on dialogue is that it is necessary for it to resume without delay. Furthermore civil society wishes to assert its position as a necessary constituency that must be part of the dialogue. Civics meeting in various forums have reiterated this demand. Over 175 civil society leaders meeting at a Conference on Dialogue and Transition hosted by Crisis In Zimbabwe Coalition on 5 July 2003 declared, "that civil society has an integral role to play in any political transition, and should be involved in discussions regarding such transition as an equal partner. In addition, the meeting agreed to encourage non-partisan regional interventions around nation-building while opposing external partisan interference." Zimbabwean civil society again convened in Johannesburg at a Symposium entitled "Civil Society and Justice in Zimbabwe" and on 13 August 2003 issued a Declaration which outlined minimum demands on the two main political parties when they sit down to negotiate. Negotiations for a settlement must take into account and examine colonial and post-colonial human rights abuses in the country with a view to setting up mechanisms for redress. Demands for immediate action include an immediate end to political violence and disbanding of militia groups, a return to the rule of law evidenced by non-partisan policing, and non-selective application of the law. ...

[the statement also] emphasised that the issue of food shortages should be urgently addressed. It further solicited the assistance of the international community in the provision of food aid. Food has remained in short supply, particularly in the rural areas, and has steadily become inaccessible in terms of cost in the urban areas. Response to food shortages through the provision of food aid has been hampered through policy conflict in terms of the manner in which this food is to be allocated and distributed. Most recently government announced that food aid would only be distributed through village headmen and not directly through donor agencies. In terms of this arrangement "beneficiaries of the NGOs food distribution programme will be selected from the ward/village assembly and neighbourhood committee registers." This has resulted in uncertainty and ultimately this may impact negatively on the objectivity in selection of recipients of food aid according to criteria of need. ...

Recommended Action

The Human Rights Forum calls upon the Zimbabwe Government and the Commonwealth (as the architect of the Abuja Agreement) and other regional groupings including the African Union, SADC, and the ACP to acknowledge that the Zimbabwean crisis does not have a single nucleus in the issue of land redistribution but rather is a multi-faceted crisis.

We call upon them to recognise the crisis as resultant of the combination of racial inequities in possession of land that date back to forceful occupation of land by colonial settlers in the late 19th to early 20th century; the endemic political violence and human rights abuses; a partisan and politicised judiciary; the break down in the rule of law and a deteriorating economic and social environment that has prevailed since March 2000.

It is of in the particular interest to African countries to accurately diagnose the crisis for as the Abuja Agreement aptly stated it, "the situation in Zimbabwe poses a threat to the socio-economic stability of the entire sub-region and the continent at large". Misdiagnosing the crisis, as has been the case to date, perpetuates further decline of the Zimbabwean nation and subsequent negative effects on Africa.

Efforts should be made, in particular by regional mediators, to reach a consensus as to the approaches that should be taken to address the Zimbabwean crisis. Disparate positions on the roots of the crisis and its plausible solutions have to date heavily contributed to the deterioration of an already desperate situation.

We call upon them to recognise that these factors pertaining to the Zimbabwean crisis are inter-related and cannot and should not be dealt with as elements independent of each other, or as a single core issue with several minor implications

Dialogue between ZANU PF and the MDC should be resumed as a matter of urgency. Civil society must not be left out of the process as a critical constituency. Negotiations must proceed in good faith. It would be deplorable for either party to resume negotiations superficially as a face saving measure to provide troika members with cause to petition for Zimbabwe’s readmission into the Councils of the Commonwealth in Nigeria in December. Negotiations should be entered into with sincerity and with the aim of addressing the Zimbabwean crisis.

The culture of intolerance and impunity in Zimbabwe must be urgently addressed. Perpetrators of past and present human rights violations must be made accountable so as not to perpetuate further abuses.

While appreciating Government efforts to review the Fast Track Land Reform Program, we call for an independent assessment of the Fast Track Land Reform Program in order to establish land ownership and occupancy of reportedly redistributed land, taking corrective measures to ensure security of tenure and equitable, non partisan, rational and sustainable redistribution of land.

We call upon the Zimbabwe Government, in upholding the principles contained in the Harare Declaration, to take firm measures to end political violence, gross human rights violations, including the disbanding of militia groups. We further call upon the Government to ensure that the rule of law prevails and that there is impartial investigation and prosecution of all crimes by the Zimbabwe Republic Police

ZIMBABWE: Economic crisis compounds food shortages

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (IRIN)

This material from IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

JOHANNESBURG, 19 Nov 2003 (IRIN) - Zimbabweans continue to face a particularly severe humanitarian crisis, with nearly half the population having had their livelihoods eroded by severe macroeconomic decline and precarious food security, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"What began as a food crisis in Zimbabwe in 2002 has grown into a major humanitarian emergency, with people suffering the effects of a deteriorating economy, HIV/AIDS, depleted social services and policy constraints," OCHA said in an appeal to donors.

The organisation noted that "as the country enters its fifth successive year of economic decline, Zimbabwe faces critical shortages of foreign exchange to maintain essential infrastructure, and inflation has soared".

Inflation reached 526 percent in October, according to figures issued on Tuesday by the state's Central Statistical Office (CSO). Compared with prices in October a year ago, the cost of living went up 525.8 percent, against September's annual rate of 456 percent, the South African Press Association reported.

The Humanitarian Appeal 2004 for Zimbabwe is based on plans by UN Agencies and partner NGOs, to respond to the humanitarian crisis by concentrating on three main areas: firstly, to prevent loss of life through food, nutrition, and critical health interventions; and secondly, to mitigate the impact of the crisis on vulnerable groups by supporting household livelihoods and basic services, and addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS. The third aim is to develop a productive dialogue among humanitarian stakeholders to strengthen co-ordination, in order to protect the most vulnerable.

"The HIV/AIDS pandemic is central to the crisis. Recent estimates indicate that around 34 per cent of Zimbabwe's 15 to 40 age group is infected, and more than 2,500 people die every week of AIDS-related causes," OCHA said.

Compounding the crisis is a steady decline in the delivery of health, education, social and public services due to a lack of finance, and the loss of human resources to emigration and AIDS. "One result is that malaria, tuberculosis and cholera cases are on the rise. Another result is that Zimbabweans face a severe food security crisis in 2003-04. An estimated 5.5 million people will require food aid during the coming year. The country has enough food to feed its population for just four to five months," OCHA said.

In the Consolidated Appeal for Zimbabwe, agencies request US $109.4 million to meet outstanding funding requirements.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is a free independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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