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Mugabe's repression: a call for action

by Stuart Lord.

Stuart's archive is here

Just about everyone has heard of the growing repression that is sweeping Zimbabwe at the behest of its leader, Robert Mugabe. Articles here and here point out the disastrous consequences Zanu-PF’s leadership is having on the country.

Apart from multiple claims of electoral fraud and intimidation, the deliberate and systematic destruction of the opposition and any residual minority rights, Mugabe’s latest step has left hundreds of thousands of people without homes, with the number growing day by day.

Mugabe, in power since 1980, has said he is pleased with the results of the month-old relocation campaign he named Murambatsvina, which means "drive out the rubbish" in the Shona language. So far, about 400,000 people have fled after their homes were bulldozed or burned. The purpose of this exercise is to reverse 4000 years of human history by moving people out of the cities and back onto the land in greater numbers, even if the land is not fertile or the people do not have the agricultural or pastoral skills to survive on the land.

Mugabe has presided over years of economic mismanagement, neglect, oppression and incompetence in Zimbabwe, and he is now adding intent to his actions in attempting to completely destroy what was once a reasonably prosperous nation.

With the systemic intimidation of white farmers with the intent to remove them from their land though oppression and the use of veterans from the bush war with the former Rhodesian government, he has made his intent clear. Mugabe will sacrifice the welfare and even the lives of his own citizens en masse for political gain.

With the socialist system of apportionment of land into uneconomic plots, subsistence farming has become the norm on many of these former productive farms, causing a food shortage in a country once a major exporter of high quality surplus agricultural and pastoral produce.

Add to this the repression of opposition political forces and ethnic/religious minorities, mainly involving the Ndebele people and Christians, and you have a regime that is a world class human rights abuser.

Along with this urban to countryside forced migration has come a change in the law making it harder than ever for independent news and media in Zimbabwe to function and a fair and proper account to be shown to the world of the tragedy happening in Zimbabwe. The passing of the The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill increases significantly the penalties for the following actions:

* inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety,

* adversely affecting the defence or economic interests of Zimbabwe,

* undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe,

* interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service, or

* making an abusive, indecent, obscene or false statement about the President, also in his official or personal capacity.

An offence will still have been committed even if the publication or communication does not result in any of the envisaged scenarios. Some of these crimes can carry penalties for up to 20 years in jail. And it is the regime's corrupt and partisan courts and law enforcement officials who decide these cases. Wonderful country, isn’t it? Now this is true repression. All you Woomera gulag prophets eat your hearts out.

By jailing dissidents and causing poverty and dislocation Mugabe can increase his hold upon the Zimbabwean people by making them reliant on handouts and aid, and controlling the distribution of that aid.

On Lateline on Tuesday night, an aid worker said:

People would be on the run and then they're going to be subjected to chronic poverty, they're going to survive on handouts. He's going to control the distribution channels of food handouts and with this dependency he's only going to be able to strengthen his ability to manipulate humanitarian assistance for political gain.

A person who would cause the repression, suffering and death of untold hundreds of thousands of his own people in a deliberate campaign to consolidate his own power should be removed.

The director of HABITAT, the UN housing agency, has been sent to Zimbabwe to ‘assess’ the situation. A good start, but limited in and by itself due to the small amount of power exercisable by the UN, both in general and in particular to Zimbabwe. Sanctions would only hurt the crippled nation even more, where rampant inflation due to a lack of exports and the unavailability of essential items already hurts those most vulnerable.

Increased foreign aid only consolidates Mugabe’s power as he oversees and directs its distribution though controlling the mechanisms of the state. Anyone who objects to his rule can have their handouts cut. Rampant electoral fraud and repression have shown that the democratic systems in place are at best a shadow of a true representative government of the people.

Zimbabwe’s neighbours have been reticent for years to take Zimbabwe to task over its abuses of human rights, especially its larger and richer neighbour, South Africa. Jack Straw recently argued this point, saying it was hard to put diplomatic pressure on Zimbabwe due to those exact reasons.

So what can be done, really? Inspiration came from that paragon of hyperactivity and hyperbole, the Opposition Foreign Relations Spokesperson, Kevin Rudd, in a Lateline interview. Rudd said:

On the Zimbabwe question, when we have Mr Howard and Mr Downer championing themselves as lines of democracy in the Middle East at the moment, where is there strategy for democracy in Zimbabwe? I've heard complete silence from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister on that. We are currently members of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. I would have thought at a bare minimum, we would have had a resolution quick-smart up to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva calling for fresh elections in Zimbabwe, but silence on that.

Fair call in one way. The government does need a proper strategy on Zimbabwe that will help the people of that country. I would have liked Rudd to elaborate on a plan past going and complaining to a committee, a UN committee at that, but nothing was forthcoming.

However, in mentioning democracy in the Middle East, Rudd bought fourth an idea. Democracy in the Middle East, and the increasing movements in many countries towards a (better) functioning democracy (Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even Syria) was a consequence of the liberation of Iraq, no matter how much the anti war crew go on about historical inevitability or media brought democracy or any other inanity.

What if there was military action taken in Zimbabwe for the specific purpose to remove Mugabe and Zanu-PF, holding true and free elections and using the planned aid money to rebuild the economy shattered by years of mismanagement and deliberate destruction? On human rights grounds alone the removal of Mugabe and Zanu-PF would be justified.

And perhaps democracy, true democracy untainted by corruption of officials and bureaucrats, would take place, the aid given would not be used for monetary or political gain as it is at the moment and Zimbabwe might be able to rise beyond its present tragedy. It would require significant support, but who would say it wasn’t for a good cause?

And it should be done before the situation turns into a full blown humanitarian crisis, not afterwards.

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