Mmusi Maimane, the leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance party, has written to Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa seeking a meeting over an on-going crackdown by security forces.
Maimane hand-delivered a letter at the Zimbabwe embassy in Pretoria on Thursday morning, requesting an audience with the Zanu PF leader to discuss “reports of beatings, arrests and other threats to hard-won democratic freedoms in Zimbabwe.”
Speaking outside the embassy, he said: “This matter must be escalated urgently. Already the number of deaths are turning up there in Zimbabwe, and we can’t allow this to carry on.”
He had received an assurance from embassy officials that they would deliver the letter to Mnangagwa, he said, adding that he expected a response within the next 48 hours “to see where we go from this point on so that we can take safe, responsible action to restore democracy in Zimbabwe.”
In his letter to Mnangagwa, seen by ZimLive, Maimane says he represents the Southern African Partnership for Democratic Change, a grouping of opposition parties from the SADC region.
“The stability of Zimbabwe is critical to the stability of our region. The protection of democratic rights in Zimbabwe is critical to the advancement of democracy throughout the region,” Maimane says in his letter.
He adds that they would like to see Zimbabwe “restored to calm and stability” with a free press and “streets free from soldiers and guns”.
Maimane, who is expected to meet opposition leaders during his planned visit to Zimbabwe, said on Monday that he had asked the International Criminal Court at the Hague to investigate Zimbabwe’s political and military leaders for crimes against humanity.
Maimane visited the Beitbridge Border Post where he said he was told by officials that over 130,000 Zimbabwean nationals fled to South Africa after nationwide demonstrations erupted on January 14 after Mnangagwa decreed that fuel prices were being more than doubled.
Rights groups say in a military-led crackdown that ensued, over a dozen people were killed, nearly a 100 shot and over 850 – among them children, opposition MPs and civil society activists –rounded up and accused of inciting protests, plotting to overthrow the government or looting shops.
The Democratic Alliance’s Graham Charters said: “He (Maimane) has approached the office of the prosecutor at the ICC to launch a preliminary investigation into what is happening, and he’s made a call to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to essentially intervene.”
Maimane is believed to have asked the ICC to review deadly actions of Zimbabwe’s military and political leaders starting with the 2008 presidential election run-off, in which 200 opposition supporters were killed.
At the time of the run-off election, Zimbabwe was discussed at the United Nations Security Council where a resolution to impose punitive sanctions on the country failed following a veto by Russia and China.
Sponsors of the Security Council resolution had identified 12 individuals that were said to be responsible for the atrocities. Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga, then Justice Minister and commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces respectively, were on the list along with then leader President Robert Mugabe.
Other officials on the 12-man list who are in Mnangagwa’s current administration are Agriculture Minister Perrance Shiri (then Airforce commander), presidential spokesman George Charamba (who was in same role) and prisons boss Paradzai Zimondi (who remains in same role).
Earlier this week, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa – under pressure at home and from the international community to condemn the excesses of the Zimbabwe regime – dispatched a delegation of his African National Congress to Harare to engage Zanu PF officials on the crisis.
The ANC said the trip was a fact-finding mission on behalf of liberation movements in the region.
ZimLive understands at one meeting, the four-member delegation met with 34 members of the Zanu PF politburo, but only the party’s secretary for external relations Simbarashe Mumbengegwi spoke, reading from a document.
Mumbengegwi blamed the opposition MDC for the crisis in Zimbabwe, saying the protests had shocked authorities as the methods employed by protesters had never been seen before.
“Mumbengegwi said the protests had nothing to do with fuel but their target was to overturn the election result from last July which was endorsed by the highest court in the land. There was not much discussion – they were many in number from the Zanu PF side but silent in voice. It was not a good interaction, the ANC comrades were a bit frustrated,” ANC sources said in Johannesburg.
Mumbengegwi, according to the source, said there was a new dangerous situation in Zimbabwe which they are watching very carefully, and advised the ANC to take note as it may visit other liberation movements.
The delegation, led by ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, also met Mnangagwa and his deputies.
“When asked questions of clarification, they would get a response from Chiwenga who would either nod his head approvingly, or shake his head violently if they said something he doesn’t agree with. It appears he realised his limitations at articulating anything and chose to communicate with his head. The take-away from that engagement was that Mnangagwa had a clear lack of control of the situation, and fear too,” the official added, asking not to be named as he was not cleared to speak to the media.
Despite its misgivings, the ANC is expected to issue a “perfunctory solidarity message” with the Zanu PF government out of a sworn understanding and shared commitment by former liberation movements to support each other whatever the consequences.
The ANC is worried that events will take a momentum of their own, with the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters and the DA in particular taking public steps to internationalise the Zimbabwe crisis, while Ramaphosa remains tight-lipped.