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Lewanika, Mafunda and Matambanadzo on Question Time

Joining SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma on Question Time is the director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition McDonald Lewanika, Communications Officer for the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Kumbirai Mafunda and Primrose Matambanadzo who chairs the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. All three answer questions from SW Radio Africa listeners and tackle issues around their work and the political situation in Zimbabwe.

Interview broadcast 21 March 2012

Kumbirai Mafunda, McDonald Lewanika, Lance Guma and Primrose Matambanadzo
Kumbirai Mafunda, McDonald Lewanika, Lance Guma and Primrose Matambanadzo

Lance Guma: Good evening Zimbabwe and thank you for joining me on Question Time. I have, joining me in the studio, the director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition McDonald Lewanika, Communications Officer for the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Kumbirai Mafunda who is also the vice chairperson of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe Chapter, that’s MISA and also Primrose Matambanadzo who chairs the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. Thank you for joining me on the programme.

Now we asked listeners to send in their questions in advance of the interview using Face Book, Twitter, Skype, email and text messages and I’ll be fielding some of those questions and asking them of my guests in the studio. Let me start off with Kumbirai Mafunda from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights – just opening salvo – what does your organization do?

Kumbirai Mafunda: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is a non-governmental organisation which is a law-based human rights institution which is into the business of assisting Zimbabweans. We provide legal support, legal interventions, training and education to human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.

Guma: And I take it from the name itself, you only assist human rights defenders?

Mafunda: We mainly assist human rights defenders; we also assist political, legitimate political rights activists and political players in Zimbabwe.

Guma: Okay, next McDonald Lewanika from the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition – what do you do?

Lewanika: Well the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition is a church really of about 350 organisations from different fields; from churches themselves to students’ unions, labour unions and other bodies like that which has as it’s agenda, moving the country towards a more democratic dispensation. So as an organisation we do whatever we can to move that particular agenda forward. We do it at a local level, we do it at a regional level and we try to work internationally in terms of pursuing that noble objective.

Guma: Last but not least Primrose Matambanadzo chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum – what do you do?

Matambanadzo: The Human Rights Forum is a grouping, a coalition of 19 human rights organisations working with the main aim to eliminate organized violence and torture from Zimbabwe and what the secretariat of those organisations coming together does, is provide legal assistance for victims of organized violence and torture. We also have projects on transitional justice that we run and there’s also documentation of human rights violations that is done by our research unit.

Guma: Okay mhuru ye Zimbabwe this is what these people do – Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. I’m happy to report that they are joining me live in the flesh (not pa phone) but they are here with me so I have to ask the question – what brings you guys to London? Kumbirai (muri kuitei?)

Mafunda: We are currently here in London as a group of five Zimbabweans on a Commonwealth Professional Fellowship Programme where we are just here in London trying to understand the systems of the Commonwealth and meeting, having several meetings with colleagues interested in the Zimbabwean issue.

Guma: Okay so this is not Grace Mugabe coming to shop at Harrods – this is a serious business?

Mafunda: Indeed we are on serious business.

Guma: Okay, alright, several issues have come in from our listeners; I suppose, you know, it’s fair that I, let me start off with Primrose because you chair the Human Rights NGO Forum, we have a question from Gweru, this is from Karen. Karen sent us an email when we advertised that we had you guys on the show. This is her question – is Zimbabwe over NGO’d? Are there are too many NGOs working in Zimbabwe?

Matambanadzo: I wouldn’t say there are too many NGOs working in Zimbabwe but there are many NGOs working in Zimbabwe and comparatively maybe with neighbours such as Zambia for instance, we have much more than you would have in a country where the government doesn’t leave such a gap in certain areas.

I think the areas in Zimbabwe where you’ll have many NGOs and the perception might be created that there’s too many are in the areas of democracy and governance for instance because the gap is great; government is not doing what it should be doing to ensure democratic governance.

In other areas such as food security, hygiene, sanitation, you’ll also find the same thing is going on because again, the government is not doing its bit. So unlike other countries where NGOs perform a role in assisting the state in certain areas to achieve what they should be doing, we actually have to sometimes play the role it should be playing as well. So you get a lot more NGOs and it appears they are over NGO’d but if the gaps were filled you would obviously not see so many.

Guma: Coming to you McDonald, she has explained why we have so many NGOs but the question then arises – does this not create duplication of effort?

Lewanika: Well first off Lance I think it’s important for us to stress that there’s some things that you can never have too much of and fortunately for us, NGOs is one of those things. You can never have a situation where you say organized civic societies now too much or too many because at the end of the day everyone who occupies the space between the state and capital belongs to civic society and the more organized these people are by way of NGOs the better.

Guma: But do you not have a situation where people compete for resources and in the end undermine each other?

Lewanika: Well those things will definitely happen where people will be doing similar things, where some kind of friendly competition takes place but if it’s competition to serve the people of Zimbabwe, what is bad about that kind of competition?

If it is competition to ensure that people in rural areas in Zimbabwe have enough to eat, have got access to water, what is bad about that competition? For me it’s a crisis of plenty rather than a crisis of little, and it’s a problem that we’d rather have rather than not have.

Guma: Some will, an organisation close to my heart obviously as a former student leader is the Zimbabwe National Students Union, ZINASU, some say in any democratic fight or in any fight for democracy, organisations like the students unions and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the labour body are critical in terms of mobilizing people, but we have a scenario where – two ZINASU factions, two ZCTU factions, is that not the inevitable result of this competing for resources? Primrose, does that not create a problem?

Matambanadzo: I think of the inevitable result of differing opinions and you will always have people who differ in opinions, so while it would be perhaps much more expedient to further the goals of the students union or the labour movement to have one unified body I think it should also be allowed that people can have differing opinions and some can go one way and some can go another.

It’s not always going to be possible that everybody has the same message and the same goal and everybody is in one movement but as long as the movements are all headed in the same direction, for plurality, for democracy in Zimbabwe, I don’t think that is so critical, though it would be obviously, at this time, better if we weren’t so divided in the movements.

Guma: Kumbirai, do have any thoughts on this? I’m sure you’ve never had any factional problems as Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights? Any thoughts on that?

Mafunda: I believe that the issue that you have indicated about the alleged proliferation of NGOs, I believe that is a response to what is obtaining back home in Zimbabwe. I believe that the proliferation and cost of NGOs in Zimbabwe is a direct response to what is happening back home in the sense that there is a real need for intervention, there is real need for intervention in the humanitarian sector, there’s real need for intervention in the legal sector.

We are really battling to fulfill responses as a law based institution to what is happening back home so I think it’s a direct response to the shrinking space back home in Zimbabwe.

Guma: There is obviously a difference between an NGO and a pressure group. We have a question on the operations of groups like WOZA; people want to understand why is it we have WOZA doing their own demonstrations, NCA doing their own demonstrations – why is it that people are not doing things together? McDonald?

Lewanika: Well I think it’s an over arching generalisation to say that people are not doing things together because the groups that you have mentioned for instance do belong and act together with other organisations. I mean we have Primrose Matambanadzo here and she can be able to testify that WOZA is a member of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum as well as the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

And when they do need to act with others, it is through those platforms that they do that but having said that, I think that the philosophy that people should only act through one unitary platform is something that is defeatist in nature and will not be able to allow us to advance our struggle forward.

The system that we’re dealing with, where the democratization question is concerned, is so sophisticated to the extent that you need to be able to engage it through, engaging in one struggle but using many different fronts and that is exactly what organisations like WOZA and the NCA allow us to do. They allow us to have multiple fronts from which to attack the questions that are bedeviling our country.

Guma: Okay Zimbabwe you can hear the answers to your questions being given; if you have any follow-up questions, by all means please send them in – the email to use is [email protected] , you can also use [email protected], you can also send in questions via Twitter at swranews that’s on Twitter.

You can also send via my own Twitter account – twitter/lance.guma and you know, we could drag these guys back again next week if the need be. Let’s move on to another separate issue which currently right now is dominating Zimbabwe – the case of the Harare Six, convicted for watching video footage of uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. I’ll throw this one first to Kumbirai – your organisation has probably been active in this particular one. No-one saw this conviction coming Kumbirai?

Mafunda: Indeed we believe that, in short we are shocked by this decision but we have to leave it up until the end of day today when we find out what sentence will be passed by the magistrate today.

But also speaking, you may also want to know that the group of Commonwealth Professional Fellowship who are here yesterday issued a statement really condemning or really expressing their concerns about the conviction of the six activists because on that group there’s also Antoinette Choto who was accorded the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship last year but could not take it up because her passport was confiscated and she was facing these charges.

So as the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship guys from Zimbabwe, we issued a statement where we expressed our concerns about this conviction. We feel that it’s meant to be a show trial, it’s meant to strike fear into the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans. I think MacDonald can also add on to the statement which we issued as Commonwealth Professional Fellowships.

Lewanika: Well I think Kumbirai has already touched on a lot of aspects that were highlighted in that particular statement and that statement is not different to the statements that have been coming out from groups that are at home at the moment; the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition I saw a statement, Lawyers for Human Rights I also saw a statement so there is grave concern around what is happening.

But to say that it was totally unexpected would be to forget where we are coming from. We have been engaged in a struggle for the democratization of this country pretty much for the last 13 years and we know the nature of the beast that we are dealing with. To think that it had transformed into an angel during the course that it was in the inclusive government, I think was a lot of wishful thinking on our part.

Guma: But we’ve had generally, I mean if you look back at the Justina Mukoko issue, Luke Tamborinyoka, Gandhi Mudzingwa, it always ends in acquittals and so a lot of people are saying this hasn’t gone according to form. Probably there’s a method to the madness?

Lewanika: It does have a context, it does have a context and the context that is there is the one that Kumbirai has already started to give you. That there is an attempt to send out a very clear message or to teach those of us who are considered to be errant, a message that if you are thinking, thinking, not even doing, carrying out actions on the streets, if you are thinking of doing that, here is what is going to meet you.

If you are thinking of resisting the state here is what is going to meet you and the additional context that is there is the whole speak around elections that we are beginning to hear from the Zanu PF congress up to this year and this talk about reforms not taking place and going into elections with or without a constitution, and anyone who is perceived to be standing in the way of that particular agenda, this is the opportunity of those fighting against democracy to send a clear message to them.

Guma: Primrose, I was intrigued to hear you talk about the Transitional Justice programme that you as the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum are running. Talk us through that – what does it involve?

Matambanadzo: The Transitional Justice programme involves consulting Zimbabweans on what they feel should happen in terms of transitional justice. Whether they think things should just be left and forgotten or whether they want some mechanism that brings them justice and maybe reparation, so consultations have been going on in Zimbabwe and they’ve also been going on in the Diaspora through our international office and we have been gathering these views and will be launching a report on what has been gathered in the Diaspora.

Guma: Are you going to leak any of the observations? We may as well have a WikiLeaks session here on Question Time! But give us a hint, what…

Matambanadzo: I’m not going to leak the findings seeing as though the report has not been finalized…

Guma: Okay.

Matambanadzo: …but what I will say is that it is clear that Zimbabweans are not agreeing with the position that we could just get on with things and they are disappointed that the Organ on National Healing has not made much progress. They do want reparations for those who lost livelihoods and they do want some justice and they do want healing in their community.

Guma: We have another question coming from Mutare; the person does not wish to be named but elections – everyone’s talking about elections they say; I’d be interested in hearing the views of this panel on whether Zimbabwe will have elections this year or next year and under what conditions? I’ll start with you McDonald.

Lewanika: Yes thanks, I think well it has proved to be a fairly topical issue, this issue of elections. For us as civic society generally, the question has not been when but with the later one that you had posed – under what conditions? And that is what we have been focusing on, you might call it wishful thinking but we believe that the question is not about a date, it is about conditions and we believe that we need to go for elections once we have dealt with the issues of violence that have bedeviled elections in the past, once we have dealt with the problematic issues around the elections management body itself which we understand is largely peopled by people from the intelligence and the military.

We need to deal with issues around people’s freedoms – their ability to assemble, articulate their agendas, vote for who they want without any hindrance or any intimidation. There are quite a number of issues that we believe in. We believe that the next election in Zimbabwe is not just a Zimbabwean election, it is an election in which the African Union and SADC, by virtue of their signature, have got a stake in and we need to be able to cut out a meaningful role for these bodies in order to ensure that that election itself is actually credible.

So for us the issue, unlike Jonothan Moyo and Robert Mugabe who think it’s about a date, it’s about what conditions and we honestly believe that it is wishful thinking on the part of the president of the Republic of Zimbabwe that he’s going to have elections without a new constitution and without abiding by the road map that they have been discussing under those…

Guma: A key element of that road map as articulated by the two MDCs – media reforms – Kumbirai, as a former journalist, probably we could tap into your knowledge on this issue – there doesn’t seem to be any movement and it does not look like we will go into the next elections with an independent radio station or even TV.

Mafunda: I think we have seen great resistance to media reform in Zimbabwe; we have seen great resistance to any opening up of the media space. There was partial opening up of the media space if you try to consider the relicencing of the Daily News, if you try to consider the licencing of News Day and other newspaper titles which came on board but we have seen strong resistance in the opening up of the airwaves.

We have seen what Minister Webster Shamu is doing with regard to the broadcasting sector, we have seen what the Broadcasting Authority has done in terms of licencing new players in the commercial broadcasting sector. As MISA Zimbabwe I think we have made it clear that we are not happy with such a situation whereby we have seen the licencing of the Zimpapers radio station and Super Mandiwanzira’s radio station.

We have indicated that this process was not done in a legitimate way, it was not done in a transparent manner. That’s why you see that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights in conjunction with radio VOP, have taken the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to court over this opaque process in terms of opening up of the media space.

We are also seeing the constant threats on newspapers like the Sunday Times; we have seen constant threats on newspapers like The Zimbabwean whereby from time to time, the Majonga-led Zimbabwe Media Commission is actually threatening to ban, even instructing the police and stories were written about Majonga ordering the police or writing the affidavit deposing the affidavit to the police to bar the Sunday Times from circulating.

We are seeing a government which doesn’t want the media plurality in Zimbabwe so on that front in terms of media reforms there has been great resistance and we know who is resisting and why they are resisting to open up the media space as well.

Guma: Could it be a case of the minister responsible, Webster Shamu, pardon the pun (hapana Shamu yacho) to get him to do what is meant to be done. The MDC were given responsibility without power in this coalition government.

Mafunda: Yes we also see the lack of sincerity on all the government players back home in Zimbabwe, those from the MDC and those from Zanu PF. We are seeing they are not sincere in terms of opening up this media space. Maybe it’s because of lack of, for fear that they will be criticized but whoever is responsible, Zimbabweans are seeing this, we are seeing this, journalists are seeing this, they continue to be harassed, they continue to be arrested. You look at the case of Chengetai Murimwa, Sidney Saize, the Moses Matenga issue, there’s been a focus on journalists. This government has shown that it is anti-media freedom.

Guma: We’ve clearly run out of time – final word Primrose – your thoughts on elections. Are they going to be held this year, next year, under what conditions? Just in a few words.

Matambanadzo: Ideally elections will not be held this year because the conditions that need to be in place for elections, the processes that need to be completed as McDonald has gone through, they are not in place so ideally really the election cannot be held this year; we would be looking at an election maybe early next year at the very earliest.

Guma: Any chance of Mugabe unilaterally just saying this is what’s going to happen? I was reading in the Zimbabwe Standard this last Sunday, Didymus Mutasa saying we are not going back, elections this year, Biti is talking nonsense, he has to find the money and he even said at the right time that money will be found from the right source. What do you make of that rhetoric?

Matambanadzo: I think it’s highly unrealistic.

Guma: Okay Zimbabwe on that note we come to the end of Question Time. Many thanks to my guests McDonald Lewanika the director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Kumbirai Mafunda Communications Officer with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights; he is also the vice chair of MISA and Primrose Matambanadzo, the lady who had the last say on the programme, she chairs the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

And I have to thank the audience that we have in the studio, they shall not be named but they were cheerleaders as we produce the programme, many thanks to you also. And on that note it’s bye bye for now.

Matambanadzo: Thank you Lance.

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