UNITED States Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols, has said that the southern African country’s multi-pronged political and socio-economic crisis can only be resolved through stakeholder dialogue and reforms.
However, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has repeatedly rubbished calls for dialogue with his main challenger, Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance despite concerns raised by church leaders and several pro-democracy groups.
The diplomat has on several occasions been subjected to a barrage of criticism by the Zanu-PF-led government, which accused him of being “a thug” while threatening to kick him out of the country for interfering in local affairs.
He was also accused of financing the July 31 protests with a view to overthrow Mnangagwa’s administration.
Nichols at the weekend told a South African publication, Sunday Times, that Zimbabwe was facing a multi-pronged political, economic and health crisis, hence the need for urgency in addressing the challenges.
“I think there is a crisis in Zimbabwe,” Nichols said, citing lack of democracy and human rights violations.
“We have seen those rights are systematically being ignored by the government and that is very worrisome and if you look at statements that have been put out by the (Catholic) Bishops’ Conference, Zimbabwe Council of Churches, various human rights organisations, various civic organisations, lawyers here, there is a widespread concern about where Zimbabwe is headed in all of those areas and that is something that people who are legitimate friends of the Zimbabwean people are deeply worried about.”
Nichols said regional bloc Sadc should play a crucial role in helping resolve the Zimbabwean crisis.
“This is an opportunity for the institution (Sadc) to stand up to the excesses that are taking place here in terms of human rights abuses. And this is an opportunity for Sadc to promote a more prosperous region,” he said.
The diplomat saluted South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for sending special envoys to deal with the Zimbabwean situation, although there has been widespread disappointment after the envoys left without meeting other stakeholders, including the MDC Alliance.
There has been an international outcry over the current situation in Zimbabwe where dozens of activists have been abducted, tortured, arrested while many are in hiding.
The latest to be arrested and denied bail is MDC Alliance vice-chairman Job Sikhala, who was also in hiding.
Sikhala joins freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume who were also arrested and charged for allegedly inciting violence ahead of the foiled July 31 protests.
Binga MP and MDC Alliance Matabeleland North provincial chairman Prince Dubeko Sibanda was also arrested yesterday for allegedly giving two face masks inscribed #ZanuPFMustGo to workers in a supermarket in Bulawayo.
Nichols said the US had had “a couple of high-level meetings with President Mnangagwa”, including with senior official, Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, and expressed to him the need for reforms to create a stronger relationship between the two countries, “… but that depended on this government pursuing strong and irreversible reforms and, unfortunately, we are waiting for many of those reforms still to take place.”
He said dialogue remained essential to deal with Zimbabwe’s problems.
“When I walk around the streets of Zimbabwe, the concerns that I hear are from people who can’t afford and do not have resources to achieve their needs as their dreams for a better future become more distant than ever and you see that in many Zimbabwean people trying to migrate, you see that in expressions on social media, the July 31 calls for protests, you see that in statements by various church groups in Zimbabwe and addressing those concerns collectively from the Zimbabwean people is vital and I think that role of South Africa is very important,” Nichols said.
Zanu-PF last month labelled Nichols a “thug” and accused him of funding the opposition ahead of the foiled anti-government protests that authorities said were meant to overthrow the government.
Nichols said the US had remained the biggest donor in Zimbabwe, helping in the areas of healthcare, food security, human rights and democracy and was committed to continue assisting the people.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa did not respond to questions yesterday, while her permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana was not picking calls on his mobile phone.
Zanu-PF and the government are, however, on record saying the US should keep out of Zimbabwe’s affairs.