When All is Not Black and White: Lessons from Zimbabwe
I was at Auckland airport, just having returned from Fiji last week (of that more later), when I picked up a discarded copy of The Dominion Post* opened at "Mugabe's Uneasy Ally Pleads for Kiwi Cricket Tour." Intrigued -- and thinking there could be a lesson here for New Zealand and Fiji -- I read on. Photo: David Coltart and Permanent Secretary Stephen Mahere.
David Coltart is the only White member of Zimbabwe's Cabinet, a member of a breakaway faction of Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC party that shares power in a shakily-brokered truce with Mugabe's Zanu PF party; and he is the country's leading human rights lawyer. He's been threatened with imprisonment, survived an assassination attempt, and a number of his supporters and clients have "disappeared."
How is it possible, I wondered, that this man is in a cabinet headed by one of the world's worst human rights abusers? A man responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands, who ruthlessly crushed all opposition, whose policies impoverished his people and brought the country's economy to its knees?
"It's been very difficult for us in the human rights community," he said, "but in 2008 many of us came to the position that, unless we reached this agreement, Zimbabwe would be taken down to the level of Somalia or Liberia ... we were forced to choose between justice and the future."
"The agreement provided a non-violent evolutionary means of achieving a transition to democracy. Inevitably that meant that some of our goals of holding people to account for terrible crimes would not be achieved [but] by reaching this agreement, we would save lives, potentially hundreds of thousands of lives. And that was a price worth paying."
So far he thinks his decision was the right one. "There are still huge problems. There is still rampant corruption ... ongoing human rights abuses ... but there are positive signs ... fewer reports of torture ... disappearances ... a big reduction in the number of political prosecutions."
"There have also been improvements ...Government-controlled TV and radio stations have opened up slightly ... an independent daily newspaper began publishing last week ... inflation has been brought under control ... the cholera epidemic has ended, health clinics have reopened ... hospitals stabilised ... and 7,000 schools have reopened."
"There is no guarantee the transitional arrangements will result in a new constitution or free and fair elections, but progress is being made."
Zimbabwe is cricket-mad. Coltart wants New Zealand to send a team because he thinks sport is a way of uniting and stabilising a country; a way to rebuild national as opposed to partisan pride. Most importantly, he thinks a tour would strengthen the hand of the moderates within Mugabe's Zanu PF and MDC parties.
His message to the New Zealand Government and people? "If you don't support the moderates within Zanu PF and the MDC, you play into the hand of the hardliners who were prepared to destroy Zimbabwe in 2008 and are still prepared to take it back to that."
I'm sure I don't need to spell out the relevance of David Coltart's experience and advice to people of goodwill in New Zealand and Fiji.
Thank you, Dompost columnist Nick Venter, for this article. You have given us a better insight into Zimbabwe than Dompost readers have ever had on Fiji. Dominion Post 15 June 2010.
For information on New Zealand's diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe, click on this MFAT link.