Passive genocide in Zimbabwe threatens major southern African economic and political crisis: CIVICUS Solidarity Mission

World Alliance for Citizen Participation undertook a visit to Zimbabwe from December 19-26, 2008, in response to the worsening crisis in the country. The mandate of the mission included expressing solidarity with civil society groups in Zimbabwe who are subjected to severe repression, investigating reports of breakdown of the rule of law and governance structures in the country and obtaining suggestions for action and strategies by which international and African civil society organisations can provide support to civil society in Zimbabwe.

The mission members, including Kumi Naidoo, CIVICUS Honorary President, Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Programme Officer and Rikhado Makhado, a volunteer amateur photographer, met a wide range of church leaders, trade union representatives, community workers, human rights lawyers, NGO activists and ordinary men, women and children in Bulawayo, Harare and Gweru. The team noted that despite the recent campaign of abductions, disappearances and other forms of intimidation, Zimbabwean civil society continues to engage in courageous and vital work.

Observing the total governance and economic collapse in the country, Kumi Naidoo, Honorary President of CIVICUS and co-chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (www.whiteband.org) noted: "The situation in Zimbabwe is much worse than what is believed by Africans and citizens around the world alike. It has been a bleak Christmas, characterised by despair, desperation and destitution with a particularly devastating impact for women and children".

Assessing the report delivered by the mission members, Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS urged the South African Government, SADC and African civil society to immediately step up pressure to restore democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. "The total breakdown of state structures and governance if left un-addressed by Zimbabwe's neighbours, will cause widespread destabilisation in the Southern African region", warned Srinath.

The following are the key observations of the Mission:

Disillusionment with SADC Mediation - There is a pervasive feeling that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and South African government, in particular, have not done enough to pressure the government of Zimbabwe to restore democracy and constitutional order. This failure to act decisively has aggravated the suffering of the people. There is extreme disillusionment with South Africa's role and many feel that it is propping up the "undemocratic regime" in Zimbabwe.

Complete Absence of Democratic Governance - The democratic freedoms of expression, association and assembly are being severely curtailed. Civil society and political activists are under constant surveillance and subject to multiple restrictions. Since the beginning of November, security agencies have launched a campaign of abductions and enforced disappearances against civil society activists and members of the opposition. At least 26 individuals including Jestina Mukoko, head of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, which has been documenting the political violence, have been abducted. Fourteen individuals including Jestina were located in various police stations around Harare on 23rd December, after repeated denials by the government and the police that they did not have them in custody. At least, 12 civil society and political activists are still missing. High Court orders to produce the missing persons are openly disregarded. Public demonstrations are not being permitted in violation of constitutional and legal provisions. They are often broken up through use of disproportionate force. Arbitrary detentions and torture remain rife.

Economic Meltdown - The economy of Zimbabwe has collapsed. Banks do not have adequate reserves of hard cash. It is extremely difficult to access money. This is borne out by interminably long queues at banks, with as many as three hundred people sleeping overnight at banks operating in Zimbabwe. Most retailers are not accepting Zimbabwean currency. Goods are being sold mainly in US Dollars and South African Rands leading to Zimbabweans describing their country as being "dollarised" and "randarised". This has pushed up the prices of basic food items, water, fuel and medicines, putting them out of reach for ordinary people. There is a massive unemployment crisis. The formal unemployment rate is widely believed to be as high as 80% as many businesses and industries have closed down. The informal business sector is severely affected. Many small entrepreneurs are rapidly closing shop and preparing to migrate to neighbouring countries.

Collapse of Essential Services - Municipal councils and public offices are functioning without budgeted funds. Government employees and those staffing essential services are unable to access their salaries. This is causing both absenteeism and exacerbated levels of corruption. Most public hospitals are operating with inadequate numbers of doctors and nurses. The situation in public mortuaries is grim with a lack of funds, an erratic supply of electricity affecting refrigeration and an increase in the number of deaths due to the failing health of the population. This is leading to decomposition of dead bodies stored there before burial. Essential municipal services such as garbage collection have not been functioning in many places for months, leading to health hazards and the spread of cholera and other communicable diseases. The water supply is contaminated, untreated and sporadic. Educational facilities are crumbling. Schools and universities are heavily understaffed and virtually non-functional in many areas due to an exodus of trained professionals from the country, and the fact that the monthly salary for most teachers is less than the cost of transportation to their places of employment. The public transport system has largely disintegrated due to fuel shortages and lack of funds for spare parts, causing great hardship to the population.

Impending Humanitarian Disaster - There is widespread hunger throughout the country. A common refrain heard by the team was "we are surviving on water and one meal a day". Inadequate levels of nutrition have pushed up the number of AIDS and cholera related deaths. One senior church leader remarked, "we have become pastors of the graveyard". Severe scarcity of medical supplies and lack of basic sanitation are contributing to the spread of diseases and health problems which could lead to an impending humanitarian disaster of epic proportions, with the potential for a full blown cholera epidemic and a substantial increase in the number of HIV/AIDS related deaths.

In the event of the prevailing situation not being addressed immediately, the CIVICUS Solidarity Mission foresees the following consequences:

- Further exodus from Zimbabwe to neighbouring countries, potentially threatening regional economic, social and political stability.

- Increased likelihood of violence and vandalism, driven by sheer hunger and desperation

- Chronic food and medicine shortages coupled with cholera and AIDS epidemics are likely to cause a fresh wave of deaths and even further drop in life expectancy below the current estimate of 35 years.

- The infrastructure of the country is verging on collapse. If it is not addressed immediately, the cost of reconstruction is likely to rise sharply.

The following are some recommendations:

Diplomatic Pressure

- The Government of South Africa, SADC and AU Heads of Government must abandon the policy of "quiet diplomacy" and put necessary pressure upon the "government" in Zimbabwe to uphold the values of justice, democracy and good governance. In particular, SADC and AU need to recognise that the Zimbabwean government is in gross violation of their stated commitments, including various protocols and international agreements, on human rights and democracy.

Restoration of Democratic Governance

- The present government must cede power to a transitional government to prepare the ground for drafting a new people-driven constitution and the holding of free and fair elections in the future.

- Missing civil society and political activists must be immediately released and their whereabouts made public by security agencies.

- Security units responsible for the recent campaign of abductions and ongoing gross violations of human rights must be dismantled or restructured.

- All security agencies must be instructed to observe human rights standards and subject to strict sanctions for abuses.

- Freedoms of expression, association and assembly must be respected in letter and spirit. Regressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) must be repealed.

- Judicial independence and prestige should be restored. Security agencies must be instructed to comply with judicial orders forthwith.

Address the Economic Meltdown

- An African led currency commission comprising competent economists must be established at the earliest possibility to address the devaluation of national currency and ensure its availability in banks.

- A pervasive network of fair price shops should be established throughout the country to ensure availability of essential items at reasonable prices.

- Maximum retail prices of food items, bottled water and other basic goods should be fixed to prevent excessive pricing.

Restore Essential Services

- Efforts must be made to obtain the assistance of African and international agencies in the restoration of essential services including medical and health services; electricity, water supply and sanitation; and schools and universities.

- Address the Humanitarian Crisis

- Efforts must be made to enable proper distribution of food items without discrimination of any kind. Civil society organisations including churches must be involved in food distribution to ensure an equitable and non-partisan spread.

- SADC nations must grant refugee status to Zimbabweans exiting the country due to the political and economic crisis precipitated by the failure of governance, as recommended by the OAU's 1969 Refugees Convention.

For more information, please contact Mandeep Tiwana at the CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Programme mandeep.tiwana@civicus.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Telephone: + 27 11 833 5959 .