Resisting Authoritarianism: Human Rights, Democracy and the Dissident Movement with Marlon Zakeyo

Marlon Zakeyo, a Zimbabwean lawyer and activist, addresses the 1st Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.


Full remarks


Bonjour, good morning, mangwanani, to all of the participants here. To my fellow Zimbabweans wherever they are and to all friends of Zimbabwe throughout the world.

I’m delighted to be on this panel and would like to give a special thanks to the organizers of the summit on human rights and democracy and the pro-democracy movement. I have made just a conscious choice to replace the dissident movement with the pro-democracy movement or human rights defenders for the context of Zimbabwe due to local sensitivities when we use the word dissident. This word invokes some painful memories of the massacres that were done in the south of Zimbabwe from 1982 to 1987 in which we lost over 20,000 of our people from the Ndebele minority. 

In beginning my presentation to you today, I would like also to let you know that yesterday, April 18th, many of my compatriots, Zimbabweans, were celebrating with mixed emotions the 29th anniversary of our country’s independence from colonial rule. A majority of Zimbabweans are beginning to see the first glimpses of hope after a long decade of general economic collapse, egregious human rights violations, objects suffering, displacement, political depression, and violence. Since the formation of a new inclusive government on the 17th of February, which is almost exactly two months ago, schools are slowly beginning to be reopened. Health workers are slowly returning to their hospitals and clinics. Food is reappearing on the shelves. Not all these things depend on access to foreign currency, [an] invaluable but also elusive commodity for many ordinary families in towns and rural communities all across our country. 

For me in terms of additional personal introduction, I’ll go back and say my journey as part of the struggle for human rights and democracy and justice in my country began when I joined the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe; a radical faith-based movement of young people through which we use the slogan “we hold the Bible in the right hand in the newspaper in the other.” And since that day, I’ve worked together with others in Zimbabwe and outside Zimbabwe towards seeking true justice through democracy and through liberation for our country. 

This new inclusive government that I spoke about is a reality. Now it is two months old, but it is a reality. It is there. But this new government should only be understood as a transitional mechanism towards a new credible election that should meet state international standards. This new government also comes out of unfortunate circumstances because of its genesis. This government is a result of a pact between political elites through which the voice of the people, freely expressed in the March 29 elections, was ignored. The voices of all the masses of Zimbabwe were not listened to and instead a government was formed after boardroom meetings in Harare, in Pretoria, in Baban, in the Kingdom of Swaziland. 

Further, we now have in Zimbabwe a new site of struggle based on the constitutional reform process. Zimbabwe has not had a homegrown constitution since its birth 29 years ago. But in 2007, the two major political parties in our country met on a boat house on a lake in Kariba, away from the eyes and ears of the citizens of our country and cobbled together a constitution. And now the political elites are going to force that process on the people. They already have said that constitution and it will be ruled. This is the democracy we have in our country today. 

As Zimbabwe continues with its transition, there is an agent need for comprehensive and holistic reforms of crucial national institutions and these include the judiciary, the security sector, which is the police, the Army and the dreaded Central Intelligence Organization. These arms of the state are still controlled by the regime of Robert Mugabe. These organs were responsible for unleashing horrific violence on our people, which peaked in 2000, in 2002, in 2005, 2007, and lastly 2008. And not even mentioning the horrific massacres that were done in the south and southwestern parts of our country between 1982 and 1987. 

Unless and until these national institutions are reformed as a matter of agency there is no guarantee that Zimbabwe will not relapse back into those dark days that some of you were witnessing as well in the middle of last summer. Zimbabwe still holds many draconian pieces of legislation on its books today and these are the pieces of legislation which the current prime minister, the new prime minister of our country, the new minister of finance of our country, were used to crush them and to put them in ion chains; Their legs and recharged on treason. There is clear evidence in Zimbabwe, documented by NGOs, activists [and] human rights defenders, that the authoritarian regime in Zimbabwe has employed a clear and deliberate strategy to crush the voices and spirit of dissent. And these strategies are built around arbitrary arrests, abductions, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of activists themselves. And during the height of 2008, violence [against] even family members of the activist. We have the case of the men who is now the deputy mayor of our capital city whose wife was abducted and brutally murdered in front of a four-year-old son. 

Currently, we are still reeling from the brutal legacy of the last 10 years in Zimbabwe. Human rights defenders and political abductees continue to be targeted. Political abductees are still missing. Up to 24 I’ve reportedly not been discovered. The state of Zimbabwe, despite this new venue of a new inclusive government, is persisting with terrorism and mandatory charges against activists, journalists. And intolerance of human rights defenders and the pro-democracy movement still continues. NGOs in Zimbabwe still cannot have peaceful protests. 

Recently the South African broadcaster revealed what many grassroots organizations in Zimbabwe have for long been talking about. That whilst on the other hand we’ve been suffering the crashing of the pro-democracy movement, but on the other level ordinary Zimbabweans have been suffering just as much or [if] not maybe even double away from the glow of international media. Zimbabwe’s 42 prisons are carrying over 35,000 inmates, but they only have an official capacity of 17,000. Prisoners are dying of lack of food, prisoners are dying of HIV AIDS, prisoners are dying of cholera.The regime of Robert Mugabe is also showing that it is unrepentant and it will not change, as evidenced by the renewed inversions of farms and properties around our country. 1,500 farm workers have recently been displaced in our country. There is no freedom of expression in Zimbabwe. No independent media we still have one television station in our country so a remote control will not help you very much. We have only four radio stations that are brutally controlled by the government. Up to 4 million Zimbabweans are living in exile and all of them have fled in a short space of time. 

The government of Zimbabwe now is talking about national healing and reconciliation but we all know that our country has been locked in a sickening cycle of impunity. And that is our message to the international community; that is our message to the United Nations to the African governments. That we push for genuine reforms in Zimbabwe. We push for genuine justice, we push for all the perpetrators of violence, perpetrators of matters, to be brought before justice. I will quote one Zimbabwean writing to a newspaper and he says: “When these are being as of death and destruction are brought to book, when their assets have been seized, and when they have been made to face their victims families and face the wrath of those that have suffered, only then will be a free Zimbabwe possible. A Zimbabwe with a government that is open and transparent. Whose only brief is to save its people and keep their best interests at heart.”

There is an institution that keeps sponsoring violence in Zimbabwe. They use the natural wealth of the country, they use the diamonds, they use the resources of the country to oppress their own people. And we are asking for the international community to join hands to make sure that this is not made possible. That the assets of these people, whether in Switzerland, wherever in Europe, should be taken and should be returned to the people of Zimbabwe. We are asking the United Nations now to finally send a human rights fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe, which is something that has not been done. We all still also ask all of you who are here to work with us, to work with the pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe. Not ahead of us, not behind us. But work side by side because. No matter this veneer or veil of a new dawn in Zimbabwe. We are still very far from Freedom. We are still very far from Uhuru in Zimbabwe. Thank you.

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