Each year on 18 April Zimbabwe marks independence day, the day when Zimbabwe made a transition from colonial rule to majority rule. In the preamble to the Constitution, the people of Zimbabwe salute ‘our heroic resistance to colonialism, racism and all forms of domination and oppression.’ The Constitution of Zimbabwe goes further in section 3 (1) (c) (g) and (i) to state that Zimbabwe is founded on, among others, the respect of fundamental human rights and freedoms, gender equality and recognition and respect for the liberation struggle. Today, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) joins the rest of the country in celebrating this day and saluting the living and departed heroes of the continuing struggle against all forms of domination, oppression and violation of human rights. The Forum acknowledges that true independence is when all the people of Zimbabwe are truly free and their rights and freedoms are respected and protected. Regrettably, this day has lost meaning for the generality of the people owing to the increasing insecurity for many vulnerable people due to the worsening economic situation, rising political tensions and the unending attack by the state on vulnerable citizens. This independence day is an opportunity for us as a nation to reflect on the long forgotten independence ideals of respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms which are guaranteed by Chapter 4 of our Constitution.
The 2019 independence celebrations occur in a context in which continuous violence is being perpetrated against the people bearing in mind the violence which broke-out in the aftermath of the #shutdown protests which left 17 people dead and several others imprisoned, displaced or forced to flee the country. The Forum laments the cyclic human rights violations occurring at the hands of the security forces which are evidence of impunity. The Zimbabwean State has failed to transform itself in the service of human dignity. After independence, commitments to human rights have been rhetoric or cosmetic at best which has resulted in further repression. The protests which occurred on 14 January, 2019 are an indication of the suffering and struggling which Zimbabweans are experiencing on a daily basis. Sadly, many never move any further, but remain prisoners of moments in history.
There is a glaring lack of meaningful institutional transformation of the same agencies which are responsible for many of the human rights violations. The security sector remains at the centre of violence, which the Forum continues to condemn. The war on human dignity spreads beyond the state’s direct violence as witnessed on 1 August, 2018 and 14 January, 2019. It is locked in the post-colonial system which has created and continues to celebrate the culture of institutional violence by perpetuating the death penalty against male adult offenders between the age of 21 and 70, by continuing to make use of torture in violation of international law, among many other forms of violence that militate against the spirit of independence. Structural violence condemns many of the people of Zimbabwe to pre-mature death as our hospitals have become big mortuaries.
As the nation reflects on 39 years of independence, the Forum calls on the State to urgently put in place structural reforms which include substantive and comprehensive transformation of the security forces to ensure non-recurrence so that citizens of Zimbabwe can enjoy their rights without fear of repression in our independent country. It calls for inclusive human-centred approach to economic development that prioritises the welfare of the people.
The Forum calls on the Government of Zimbabwe to create suitable conditions for dialogue regarding our past, present and future to flourish. Our past is filled with atrocities that need to be addressed. There must be acknowledgement that the liberation struggle has created many victims that today struggle to move on without rehabilitation and compensation. Post-independence Zimbabwe has went on to create even more victims. Issues of Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina, the endemic political violence, operation Hakudzokwe are issues that must be dealt with. Attempts by the government to hijack the dealing with the past processes from the constitutional bodies militate against the Constitutional principles of truth, justice and accountability. Today, our policies are creating more victims in the future and corruption is stealing the wealth of generations to come.
The Forum urges the Government of Zimbabwe to take advantage of this year’s Independence Day to initiate a truly inclusive dialogue to address the crisis facing the nation. The Forum believes that Independence Day must be a day of celebration which is inclusive. It should not be believed that it belongs to a certain group of people. It is an opportune moment to echo that Zimbabwe belongs to all who call it home despite political affiliation, religion, race, gender or sex. Each year when the nation celebrates independence, we must remember that the mistakes of the past should not be repeated in future and that Zimbabwe belongs to all, in which everyone keeps hoping for a peaceful and prosperous future.