Mmusi Maimane plans to give Zimbabwe an abject lesson in regional democracy. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER
Mmusi Maimane plans to give Zimbabwe an abject lesson in regional democracy. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER

The protection of democratic rights in Zimbabwe is critical for the advancement of democracy throughout Southern Africa, DA leader Mmusi Maimane says.

On Thursday, Maimane visited the Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria to hand over a formal letter addressed to President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

He plans to visit Harare next week and has requested a meeting with Mnangagwa to discuss the country’s political and humanitarian crisis. Maimane is also scheduled to meet opposition party leaders in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe, which is facing its worst economic crisis in a decade, came to a standstill earlier in January as protesters took to the streets over the country’s latest staggering fuel-price hike and the worsening socio-economic situation.

According to human rights organisations, at least 12 people have been killed and thousands injured as the government cracks down on protestors.

In his letter to Mnangagwa, Maimane said that as chair of the Southern African Partnership for Democratic Change (SAPDC), which represents opposition parties from the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region, “I have a duty to speak up on behalf of our member parties, and to speak out against any injustice in the region.

“The disturbing reports of beatings, arrests and other threats to hard-won democratic freedoms in Zimbabwe compels me to act,” said Maimane. “The stability of Zimbabwe is critical to the stability of our region. The protection of democratic rights in Zimbabwe is critical to the advancement of democracy throughout the region. But more importantly, the safety and wellbeing of the people of Zimbabwe matters deeply to all of us, because we are one people here in Southern Africa. They are our brothers and sisters.”

In a statement this week, Zimbabwe’s minister of information, publicity and broadcasting services, Monica Mutsvangwa, said Maimane’s statement was ‘unfortunate and ill-informed’

He said in the light of the fast deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, he intends to head up a SAPDC fact-finding mission to the country as soon as possible. This will include a meeting with the Zimbabwe government.

“Our fundamental interest is to uphold and protect the principles of democracy in the region. The violence against civilians, the shut-down of the internet and the detention of activists and opponents are thoroughly undemocratic acts. We cannot stand by and watch as Zimbabwean citizens are subjected to these abuses and killings,” said Maimane.

“In the absence of any meaningful intervention by either my own government or regional African bodies, such as Sadc and the African Union (AU), I have no choice but to intervene in an effort to help find a peaceful resolution.”

‘Playing to the gallery’

Earlier this week, Maimane threatened to approach the UN, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and parliament over the crisis in Zimbabwe.  Zimbabwe’s government responded by saying the DA leader was “playing to the gallery”.

In a statement this week, Zimbabwe’s minister of information, publicity and broadcasting services, Monica Mutsvangwa, said Maimane’s statement was “unfortunate and ill-informed”.

“It is regrettable that Maimane has assumed an aggressive posture for the gallery,” Mutsvangwa said. Before approaching the UN and the ICC, Maimane could have engaged Sadc or the AU, she said, while accusing the DA of being a “supremacist” party.

“It is thus unfortunate that the domestic issues of Zimbabwe have been appropriated by an SA opposition party, which has regrettably taken a position without engaging the Zimbabwean authorities. The Zimbabwe government will engage with anyone, including those who believe in questionable supremacist politics,” she said.

This week, human rights organisations criticised the Zimbabwe government for deploying the military and using live ammunition to crush protests saying the administration has not learned from the deadly post-election crackdown in August in which six people were killed.

Last week, Mnangagwa promised that “heads will roll” as he attempted to shift the blame to rogue soldiers, saying “violence or misconduct by our security forces is unacceptable and a betrayal of the new Zimbabwe.” 

He called for a “national dialogue” over the protests, but raised concern that the protests were “not peaceful” as they are characterised by “wanton violence and cynical destruction”.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za