Beauregard Tromp, Sunday Tribune (Durban), Jan. 30
Abuja, Nigeria — White Zimbabwean farmers, working in cahoots with the British government, stage-managed the looting of their own properties to discredit the country’s government.
This is what President Robert Mugabe’s regime says in response to a damning report by the African Union (AU) on its human rights abuses.
The report by the AU’s Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights is expected to be adopted formally at the AU summit beginning on Sunday.
The commission visited Zimbabwe in June 2002 and wrote a damning report which only emerged last year when it was leaked to the media. It has still not been adopted because Zimbabwe stalled its reply.
Now an Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights report, which will be tabled here, gives Zimbabwe’s reply. In it the Harare government expressed its regret at the loss of lives, injuries and destruction of property during the crucial land reform period, from 1999 to 2002.
But it also claims that some activities were orchestrated to give weight to allegations of abuse. It pointed to an incident in Chinhoyi where farm workers were “manipulated by their employer to act as war veterans and made to loot their employers’ property while aerial photographs were taken as they made away with the property”. The story was reported by the BBC.
“The fact that when the alleged war veterans were ‘looting’ the farms, the BBC was on the scene, taking aerial photographs in a helicopter or small plane, should not be regarded as a mere coincidence.”
The white farmer whose goods had been stolen also paid bail for the “war veterans” who stole his property, it is claimed.
In its original report, the commission found that the country was deeply polarised.
“It appears that at the heart is a society in search of the means for change and divided about how best to achieve change after two decades of dominance by a political party that carried the hopes and aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe through the liberation struggle into independence,” the report read.
In response, the Zimbabwean government turned to President Thabo Mbeki to defend their country, quoting his “words of wisdom” in his ANC Today column of May 2003: “Contrary to what some in our country now claim, the economic crisis currently affecting Zimbabwe did not originate from the desperate actions of a reckless political leadership or from corruption.
“It arose from a genuine concern to meet the needs of the black poor without taking into account the harsh economic reality that in the end we must pay for what we consume . . . The more protracted this instability, the greater will be the degree of polarisation and generalised social and political conflict.”
The Zimbabwean reply also referred to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s statements pointing to the question of land as “the core of the current crisis in Zimbabwe”.
“The story of Zimbabwe cannot be told, or be complete, without the story of the land,” the Zimbabwe government said.
It also gave the commission a brief history of the land issue since independence, which in 1999 saw half the 33,3 million hectares of agricultural land occupied by 6 000 white farmers and the other half by 840 000 black farmers. It attacked the Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights mission to Zimbabwe for failing to note “the cramped, pathetic and squalid conditions of the black farm workers”.
The commission report had criticised numerous human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and torture, saying much of this was orchestrated by Zanu-PF party activists. It chastised the government for not acting against those responsible for criminal actions and also accused Zimbabwe of reviving draconian Rhodesian laws to “control, manipulate public opinion and (limit) civil liberties”.
It specifically referred to the Public Order and Security Act, which gives authorities wide powers to detain political opponents and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which gives the state control of media by forcing media outlets and journalists to register with the government.
The Zimbabwean police force was also in the firing line with accusations that they operated under political instruction.
The government of Zimbabwe took issue with the commission for conducting an extremely brief fact-finding mission of only four days, and for only confining its investigation to Harare.
“Given the nature, seriousness and adverse implications of the allegations, four days for the fact-finding mission were not adequate,” it said.
The government also noted that the commission had received reports of human rights violations second-hand via civic organisations, which provided documentary evidence and video tapes. “It is an undisputed fact that videos can be stage managed,” it said.
Zimbabwe conceded that its land reform programme aggravated the economic decline of the country, but also pointed to financial institutions engaging in money laundering, externalisation of foreign currency and efforts by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to topple the government. It also blamed sanctions led by Britain and the US.