Human rights groups in Namibia were on Tuesday preparing a hostile reception for Robert Mugabe at the start of a three-day state visit to Windhoek by the veteran Zimbabwean president.
Mugabe, who was due to arrive in Namibia on Tuesday evening, is to meet with Namibian counterpart Hifikepunye Pohamba and sign a number of bilateral agreements during the course of one of his rare forays outside Zimbabwe.
He will also tour a Windhoek diamond-cutting and -polishing plant before making a dash for the coast on Thursday, where he will visit a fish factory.
However, local activists are determined that Mugabe, isolated by the West over allegations of rights abuses and vote-rigging, will not be given a free ride during his visit to the normally tranquil Southern African nation.
”We will organise a peaceful demonstration outside the Zimbabwean High Commission on Wednesday morning,” human rights activist Phil ya Nangoloh said.
”We will together with other civil organisations register our strongest disapproval of the outrageous human rights, humanitarian and political situation in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Ya Nangoloh, who heads the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), sent an open letter to Pohamba on Monday informing him of the demonstration.
”Mr president, I let you know about our solidarity with the oppressed people of Zimbabwe,” the NSHR executive director wrote.
”Their oppressor is the Zimbabwean government under the leadership of President Robert Mugabe.”
Mugabe (83) was a close ally of Nambia’s former president, Sam Nujoma, with both men having led their countries since independence.
While relations with Pohamba, who became president in 2005, have been somewhat cooler, many within the ruling South West African People’s Organisation (Swapo) still regard Mugabe as a liberation hero.
Swapo’s youth wing has condemned the planned protest as symptomatic of the ”reactionary and unpatriotic tendencies of Western-backed NGOs”.
The ”crime” Mugabe committed was to ”embark on the long overdue land distribution from whites to indigenous African people”, Elijah Ngurare, information secretary of the Swapo Youth League, said.
”As a result, the United States and European Union governments and Britain imposed racist sanctions on Zimbabwe,” he said.
”Swapo Youth League is calling on all progressive forces in Namibia … to render the necessary support to the people and the government of Zimbabwe, which is under hegemonic and racist sanctions.”
Mugabe and his immediate coterie have been subject to sanctions from the EU since disputed elections in 2002. Relations with the West began to sour when Mugabe launched a controversial land-reform programme in 2000 which saw thousands of white-owned farms seized by the state.
The Zimbabwean president, battling an inflation rate of nearly 1 600% and an unemployment rate of about 80%, has laid much of the blame for the economic crisis on the US and former colonial power Britain.
On the weekend, Mugabe lavishly celebrated his 83rd birthday with a warning to his opponents planning protests against a proposed extension to his rule.
”Misguided youth and, indeed, adults who believe in violence and vandalism should understand that no society can countenance these,” Mugabe said in a written speech to supporters gathered in a stadium in the south-western city of Gweru.
”Appropriate measures will always be taken to maintain law and order. This is a message we also send to the sponsors and instigators of the opposition,” he said.
Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, turned 83 last Wednesday and was showered with praise and birthday wishes from his supporters, but faces mounting pressure to his regime over economic recession that has condemned most people in the former regional breadbasket to grinding poverty.
The party came just under a week after police used water cannons and tear gas to break up a rally planned by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the capital to launch a campaign against plans to extend Mugabe’s term in office by another two years.
Police arrested scores of opposition activists, including three lawmakers, and later banned political rallies and processions in Harare, saying there were fears they could degenerate into widespread rioting.
But Tsvangirai has vowed to ignore the ban. — Sapa-AFP