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Appeasing a dictator – Zimbabwe Vigil Diary

The Vigil is to deliver a letter to the South African High Commission in London next Saturday protesting at their Presidency’s lies about the crucial 2002 elections in Zimbabwe. The letter follows the release of a report by two South African judges who led a judicial observer mission to cover the elections. 

The Zimbabwe Vigil delivering a petition at Number 10 Downing Street
The Zimbabwe Vigil delivering a petition at Number 10 Downing Street

Successive South African presidents since the days of Thabo Mbeki have resisted the publication of the report but their case has now been dismissed by the Constitutional Court.

The South African Presidency endorsed the elections although it is now clear that the judges had concluded that they were not free and fair.

Former Zimbabwean diplomat Dr Clifford Mashiri said the outcome was important for Zimbabwean asylum seekers in South Africa as it could be argued that their claims for refuge may have been dismissed on the basis of Presidential lies.

Dr Mashiri also welcomed a separate judgement by the Constitutional Court ordering the South African police to investigate Zimbabwean officials accused of torture if they go to South Africa for holidays, shopping or seeking medical treatment.

Dr Mashiri was speaking at a meeting of the Zimbabwe Action Forum after the Saturday Vigil during which we presented a petition to the Prime Minister’s official residence at 10 Downing Street protesting at the European Union’s decision to re-engage with the Mugabe regime. Here is the letter we delivered to accompany the petition:

Dear Mr Cameron 

Zimbabweans exiled in the United Kingdom are disappointed that the European Union is re-engaging with the illegitimate Mugabe regime although it has refused to make any reforms. 

The EU’s sanctions were imposed twelve years ago because of the breakdown of the rule of law in Zimbabwe, human rights abuses and the rigging of elections. All the conditions which prompted the sanctions are still in place: there is no rule of law, human rights continue to be abused and all elections are rigged. In addition, no attempt is being made to implement the new constitution which was adopted after a lengthy and expensive process largely financed by the European Union. 

We would be grateful if you would facilitate the delivery of the enclosed petition to the European Union. It has been signed by some 12,000 people who have passed by the Vigil held outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London every Saturday. The petition reads: 

A petition to the European Union: Millions of Zimbabweans have been forced into exile by the brutality, incompetence and corruption of the Zanu-PF regime of Robert Mugabe. Despite the absence of any reforms, including the holding of free and fair elections, the EU is moving to normalise relations with the illegitimate Zimbabwean regime, promising hundreds of millions of dollars in aid direct to Mugabe’s party. We urge the EU to insist that the diaspora is guaranteed the vote in future elections, as ordered by the African Union, before re-engagement goes any further. 

We understand that the only EU sanctions left now are entry restrictions on Mugabe and his wife and an arms embargo, which are to be reviewed next February. Vigil supporters urge you to keep these in force and ask: ‘What does the EU hope to achieve by appeasing a dictator?’ 

Vigil supporters toyi-toyied to Downing Street singing ‘Vigil Yedu’. We displayed our banner: ‘No to Mugabe, No to Starvation’ while a delegation was admitted into the Prime Minister’s residence to hand over the bulky petition. The delegation consisted of: Fungayi Mabhunu, Brenda Chavundura, Mavis Chisvo, Fungisai Mupandira, Grace Munyanyi and Patricia Gatsi (Masamba).

While they were in Downing Street, Vigil supporters were invited to sing with a group of Pakistani Christians demonstrating against the way they were persecuted at home. We joined them in singing ‘Amazing Grace’ in Christian solidarity – despite some misgivings at the choice of hymn! Another group kindly lent us their megaphone.

Nombulelo Precious Mamba and her little girl stayed behind to look after the Vigil until supporters returned to sign a new petition launched today. It reads: A petition to the European Union: With Zimbabwe’s new constitution being disregarded by Mugabe, we deplore the EU’s scramble to re-engage with his illegitimate regime. We call on the EU, and the UK in particular, to insist that: the constitution is implemented, the rule of law is respected, the voters’ roll is made available for public scrutiny as constitutionally required and the diaspora be allowed to vote. 

The Vigil is seeking a meeting with the Foreign Office to explain to them why re-engagement with the Mugabe regime is futile if not counter-productive. We will point out that, for Zanu-PF, investment is understood as meaning a gift of wealth to them personally. They have no concept of the public good. Similarly, any aid is seen as tribute to the rulers. The governor of the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank this week pointed to the growing culture of debt denial. It is becoming common, he complained, for no-one to pay their debts.

The Vigil was reinforced in this view by the Harare economist Vince Musewe who, commenting on Zanu-PF corruption, said: ‘What makes this situation worse is that the West has decided to re-engage with them. I have desperately tried to understand their logic – but I am failing. Zanu (PF) has dithered in aligning the constitution with the laws and if anything, that needs to be the ultimate measure of progress. The party, the army and all their cronies continue to entrench themselves in the economy whether through agriculture, mining or tourism – they remain the primary beneficiaries. I have not heard even one Western diplomat pushing for economic freedom and less state-sponsored predatory intervention in the critical resource sectors where the party is crowding out local people and creating market inefficiencies to fuel profiteering, corruption and economic inequality. Expect no fundamental change because it is business as usual for the corrupt, the greedy and the connected. They make more money when there is chaos. The system remains in place and is even getting stronger as the formal economy worsens.’

We will also point out to the Foreign Office that, at a time of growing concern in the UK at the number of immigrants arriving here, the British policy of supporting Zanu-PF’s vacuous policies will deter Zimbabwean exiles from returning home and will indeed inevitably lead to new arrivals lapping at the door of No 10. Our message is: we want to go home but please make home habitable – and not just for Mugabe.

We trust that the British Embassy in Harare has seen an article on the New Zimbabwe website giving a frightening picture of how exiled opponents of Zanu-PF are treated on return to Zimbabwe. The article mentions the London CIO operation which we know spends much of its time monitoring us. Another account of the ominous atmosphere for arrivals at Harare airport is described in the latest newsletter from writer Cathy Buckle: The revolution is eating its own children 

Other points

·         The last Vigil diary reported the police attack on human rights activist Itai Dzamara for protesting in Africa Unity Square in Harare. We have been inspired by his courage and his confidence of change in Zimbabwe as expressed in his facebook page of Sunday 9th November: ‘My time in hospital has afforded me huge spaces of quietness, reflection, introspection and meditation. I am left without any doubt about three things. First, a new Zimbabwe is very possible, out of civil, peaceful and resolute means. I have seen and experienced enough during the past three weeks, to know that, beyond any doubt. Secondly, l have come to understand and appreciate that, really, the majority of us, Zimbabweans, are convinced that this is not the Zimbabwe we want. Therefore, there is only one route to take – fighting for a better nation. We have to do it, if not for today or now, but, certainly for our children and the future. The fight does not require bombs, knobkerries or machetes. It requires determination, peace and love. Lastly my presence in hospital bears testimony to the fact that there are elements and forces bent on resisting our struggle for a better Zimbabwe – including through murder.  But I have just completed a set of gym exercises this morning, to the shock of everyone, bearing testimony to the power and grace that is beyond human instinct or murder plots – just three days ago I was left for dead. I am left without any doubt at all that a new Zimbabwe is possible through our genuine efforts and without shedding blood or breaking bones. I am ready to continue playing my part and hereby challenge you to step up and do your duty. Through civil, peaceful and resolute means, we can make it because: We are the people! We are the numbers! Let’s go!’

·         Grateful thanks to Epiphania Phiri who brought hot drinks and cakes to raise money for the Vigil.

For latest Vigil pictures check: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zimbabwevigil/. Please note: Vigil photos can only be downloaded from our Flickr website. 

FOR THE RECORD: 41 signed the register.

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