South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has emerged as a thorn in the flesh for President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the wake of a vicious military clampdown against opposition and civil society groups following protests that brought Zimbabwe to a standstill over a fortnight ago. DA leader Mmusi Maimane, who also leads the Southern African Partnership for Democratic Change (Sapdc), is pressing for a meeting with Mnangagwa this week to discuss the Zimbabwe crisis.
Maimane (MM) told our senior reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) in an exclusive interview with The Standard on Friday that Sapdc decided to intervene in Zimbabwe because the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) appeared not interested in protecting democracy in member countries.
He accused Mnangagwa and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga of committing crimes against humanity and revealed that the DA was forging ahead with its plans to take the two to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
This follows the shooting to death of 12 people and the injury of over 78 civilians, who suffered gunshot wounds after the military took a leading role in quelling violent protests during a three-day stayaway called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
Over 700 people were arrested during the clampdown and the Law Society of Zimbabwe has raised concerns about the way the cases are being handled, arguing the judiciary had been compromised.
Maimane said regional leaders were bent on protecting each other because of their liberation war links and warned that the Sapdc would not stand by when Zimbabweans were being brutalised by the security forces. Below are excerpts from the interview.
OM: Why did the DA and Sapdc decide that it was time to intervene in Zimbabwe? What was the final straw?
MM: It was because of President Mnangagwa response to the protests that followed his January 14 announcement of a 150% fuel price increase.
The vice-president, retired army general and former Zimbabwe armed forces head (Constantino) Chiwenga’s use of force to repress peaceful protests and grossly violate human rights serves a threat to the safety of the people of Zimbabwe, an impediment to the advancement of democracy in the region and a threat to regional peace and security.
OM: Are you worried that South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, only this week pledged its support to Mnangagwa and the Zanu PF government? Does that not render your campaign futile?
MM: The ANC has made it clear that it will sit quietly on its hands and be spectators to the rule of man over the rule of law across our border. Two days ago ANC insiders paid a “solidarity visit” to Zanu PF officials.
The ANC has coalesced with a former liberation movement turned dictatorship in plain sight, where ANC secretary-general, Ace Magashule, referred to “the time to consolidate and strengthen our relationship.”
The ANC is not new to coalescing with oppression in our neighbouring country, as former president Thabo Mbeki was all too familiar with, compelling the Sapdc campaign for the protection of human rights, advancement of democracy and regional stability to continue to act for the voiceless.
OM: Why do you think South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has remained indifferent to cries by Zimbabweans for his intervention especially at the height of the military crackdown?
MM: Because President Cyril Ramaphosa is beholden to the policy of his ANC keepers. The ANC departed from (Nelson) Mandela’s human-rights based foreign policy at the turn of the century under Mbeki in place of a foreign policy of “quiet diplomacy”.
As long as Ramaphosa continues to put the ANC first and the safety of the people of Zimbabwe, protection of human rights, regional democracy and stability stone last, he will continue to remain indifferent to the plight of Zimbabweans because the president is ultimately an ANC man who does not care and cannot change.
OM: From your consultations with the opposition and civil society in Zimbabwe, what are some of their biggest fears about the security situation in the country and do they have any proposals to end the crisis?
MM: President Mnangagwa’s security police must stop erecting roadblocks and conducting search and seizure operations of peaceful protestors, the over 700 people who have been arbitrarily arrested and not afforded due process must be released immediately and the censorship of internet providers as overruled by the Zimbabwe High Court must stop being used as ‘brush’ to these gross violations of human rights under the rug of a security state.
Reportedly 12 people have already been killed, at least 78 shot and 240 assaulted and tortured.
Zimbabwe is experiencing an oppressive civil war where mass rape is being used as a weapon of war — the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and the South African government have a responsibility to protect the people of Zimbabwe during a time of humanitarian crisis.
OM: Given that Sadc leaders appear determined to protect each other, what options do Zimbabweans have, especially given the fact that they face a militarised government?
MM: ‘Big men’ politics as practiced by Zanu PF’s President Mnangagwa and the ANC’s President Cyril Ramaphosa elevates the rule of man over the rule of law.
This ‘big men’ politics is practiced under the guise of the principle of respect for non-intervention in sovereign states.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights prioritises the protection of human rights in international law over the principle of non-interventionism.
The South African government and international community have a moral and legal responsibility to protect the rights of the people of Zimbabwe over the big men who continue to trample on those rights.
OM: What do you think could have been done better in efforts to democratise Zimbabwe after Mugabe’s fall?
MM: The civil service in a democracy must lead the military and not take instructions from the military. The coup experienced in Zimbabwe could not have been more undemocratic.
Similarly, reports that last year’s elections in Zimbabwe were not free and fair further undermined cornerstones of democracy in that country.
When a government breaks the rule of law to order society through the rule of man, that government becomes illegitimate. The people of Zimbabwe cannot possibly be expected to be subservient to a social contract with an illegitimate government.
OM: Zanu PF and the government say you are doing the bidding of imperialists by intervening in Zimbabwe. What is your reaction to that?
MM: These are the words of almost all liberation movements turned dictators in Africa.
The Zanu PF-ANC governments’ coalition of oppression is no different. It is the story across Africa.
Liberation movements elected into government turn against the very people they claim to fight for.
Africa needs to liberate itself from its liberators. This is not about petulant politics — it is about the livelihoods of people.
OM: We have heard about your intentions to approach the ICC. Where are you now with that process?
MM: We have approached the office of the prosecutor at the ICC to launch a preliminary investigation. We await their response.
OM: What other options do you have on the table if this fails?
MM: (We have to) continue to work with all stakeholders (Zimbabwe civil society, political parties, South African government and international community) to ensure the safety of the people of Zimbabwe and advancement of democracy and stability in the region.
OM: What is your reaction to the stance by the Zimbabwean government that its response to the demonstrations was proportionate to the security threats posed by the protesters?
MM: This is a fatal misreading of international law and the principle of necessity and proportionality. This manipulation of public international law is being used to legitimise a continued violation of human rights and excessive and disproportionate use of force by the government.
But it is sadly an all too familiar response of a security state — the protection of national security over human rights.
— The Standard