Buthelezi breaks his silence on Zimbabwe

Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi has taken his Zimbabwean counterpart to task for what he called the ”rapidly degenerating” political situation in that country, saying it could lead to a flood of refugees.

He has also called for an explanation of what Zimbabwe plans to do to avert economic collapse and to guarantee the ”freedom and safety” of its citizens.

His pointed remarks — considerably more outspoken than anything his Cabinet colleagues have ever ventured — were part of a prepared statement he read out when the two men met at his office in Cape Town on Wednesday to discuss border issues.

However the Zimbabwean minister, Kembo Mohadi, brushed aside Buthelezi’s concerns, saying claims of a deterioration were a figment of the imagination.

In the document, which he released to the media, Buthelezi said that as home affairs minister he was ”concerned” about issues of asylum and refugee status.

”The rapidly deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe’s democratic and institutional life may force my department to deal with an ever increasing number of asylum applications of Zimbabwean citizens.

”We need to adjudicate these applications in terms of international law and on the basis of objective criteria of well-found fears of persecution in a country which, according to the applicants, no longer offers them human rights protection and the guarantees of the rule of law.”

He said that as Zimbabwe’s neighbour, South Africa was committed to help solve its problems. South Africa, he said, had been told that health services in Zimbabwe were in dire straits, increasing the link between the spread of communicable diseases, including HIV/Aids, and population movement.

”Any major exodus which may occur will almost inevitably burden our medical health delivery system,” he said.

The state of the Zimbabwean economy was also a matter of ”great concern” from a migration viewpoint. He had been advised by the International Organisation for Migration that the South African government should make contingency plans to deal with a possible emergency in Zimbabwe which would spill over into South Africa.

”I have avoided making any such plans with a significant public profile, in order not to increase the real or perceived problems that Zimbabwe is experiencing,” he said.

”However, on this occasion I would appreciate receiving an indication of what Zimbabwe is planning to do to prevent an economic collapse, to ensure food security and to guarantee the freedom and safety of its citizens so as to avoid the possibility of a mass influx into South Africa.”

But Mohadi, questioned by journalists at a joint media briefing with Buthelezi after the talks, said he did not share Buthelezi’s concern about the deterioration of democracy. ”There is nothing that is said to be deteriorating in terms of political situation, the human rights side of it. What is obtaining in Zimbabwe is that a situation has been created between the two countries Zimbabwe and Britain, and this is a bilateral issue.”

”There is no disorder in Zimbabwe, everything there is just a figment of anybody’s imagination.

”A case in point is the [World Cup] cricket matches that took place in Zimbabwe.

”Everybody was against… that there is no security in Zimbabwe and that people should not play in Zimbabwe. Those countries that went to play in Zimbabwe are witnesses today that there is security in Zimbabwe, there is peace in Zimbabwe.

”You don’t see anybody walking around in Zimbabwe carrying a gun etcetera. So the situation in Zimbabwe is a normal situation.”

Zimbabwe’s problem was that it was under sanctions, which led to shortages ”here and there” and an increasing burden of unemployment. Mohadi also said he did not believe any Zimbabweans came to South Africa on the pretext of seeking political asylum.

Before the Zimbabwean presidential election last year, South Africa and other countries were asked to prepare for an influx of refugees seeking asylum, but that did not materialise.

”Where will they come from?” he asked. ”There is no war in Zimbabwe. You don’t see anybody going around carrying a gun in Zimbabwe. It’s even more peaceful maybe than in South Africa. You can sleep in the street and no one will ever harm you there…

”We’re so much demonised that everyone thinks we are a certain animal with no brains.”

Buthelezi declined at the media conference to comment on the divergence of views with Mohadi, saying he did not want to enter into a ”slanging match”.

Human rights groups have accused Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s government of an organised campaign of political repression and terror, of subverting the independence of the judiciary and undermining media freedom.

The country’s economy is in tatters, with endemic fuel shortages and a rampant inflation rate, problems that critics lay at the door of government mismanagement rather than outside factors.

Meanwhile, the United States said on Wednesday it would lead a campaign to condemn Zimbabwe for what it called flagrant and ruinous human rights abuses at the upcoming meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHCR).

In addition, Washington said it would work to convince the international community, especially Zimbabwe’s neighbors, to ratchet up pressure on President Robert Mugabe and his aides to end their repressive behavior and press them to hold ”early free and fair elections.”

To that end, the State Department released a glossy 16-page pamphlet entitled ”Zimbabwe’s Man-made Crisis” documenting a litany of abuses committed by the country’s leadership since independence in 1980.

”Mugabe has brought the country of Zimbabwe untold suffering,” said Scott Carpenter, an official in the department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor which published the booklet.

”By riding roughshod over the political and human rights of his fellow Zimbabweans, by demonstrating his total disregard for human rights and democracy, Robert Mugabe has succeeded in reducing a once-promising nation with a bright future to a state of ruin, desolation and isolation,” he said.

The booklet, distributed just five days after US President George Bush ordered frozen the assets of Mugabe and 76 other Zimbabwean officials, is to be widely distributed at the annual meeting of the UNHCR which gets underway next week, he said.

”We hope it will have a strong impact and stir a vigorous debate,” Carpenter said.

Senior State Department officials said they hoped to lobby South Africa and other African countries on the 53-nation commission to sponsor a resolution condemning Zimbabwe at the meeting.

But, if unsuccessful in doing that, the officials said the United States, backed by Britain and some Latin American countries might sponsor a resolution themselves.

South Africa, which has pursued a policy of ”quiet diplomacy” toward Zimbabwe and along with Nigeria has called for lifting Harare’s suspension from the Commonwealth, is unlikely to sponsor such a resolution, they said.

That wavering, coupled with France’s invitation for Mugabe to visit Paris for a French-African summit last month despite an EU travel ban, threaten to undermine the effectiveness of the sanctions, the officials said.

”Now is not the time to lift the sanctions,” said Mark Bellamy, a senior official in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs.

”This is the time that we need to apply maximum pressure on the government of Zimbabwe to abandon these repressive policies and to begin a process of liberalization leading to early free and fair elections,” he said. – Sapa, AFP

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Ben Maclennan
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