ZIMBABWE MEDIA STATEMENT, 16 March 2005
Southern African civil society mobilises in solidarity for democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe.
Johannesburg, South Africa – Civil society groups and citizens from Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia participated in a unique demonstration of regional solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe on 12 March 2005.
The regional solidarity initiative, co-facilitated by Amnesty International and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation in conjunction with local organisations in the respective countries, was aimed at raising regional and international attention about the situation in Zimbabwe, where the rights to freedom of assembly and expression have come under grave threat. It was also intended to encourage regional leaders especially those neigbouring Zimbabwe to break their ‘silence’ on the ongoing human and civic rights violations in Zimbabwe.
In South Africa the event took place in Musina, 15 Km. from the Zimbabwean border, starting with a peaceful march in the centre of the town and culminating in a musical concert and an over-night vigil at the Skoon Stadium.
“The action was intended to promote strategies of working towards a negotiated political settlement in Zimbabwe, with a genuine and transparent debate involving not only political parties but all sections of society including trade unions, faith based organisations and civil society organisations, for the restoration of democracy in this country,” said Hassan Lorgat of the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO) which co-organised the South African event.
Notwithstanding the heavy police presence at the border in Beitbridge, a delegation of women activists led by Elinor Sisulu, a representative of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, sought to deliver a protest message to the Zimbabwean government through the border authorities but were denied an audience.
In Zambia, close to five thousand people gathered in the tourist capital Livingstone to participate in the solidarity concert. ‘The situation in Zimbabwe cannot be ignored by neighbouring countries, and in the absence of clear messages form African leaders, the impression is given that Western countries are taking the lead in delivering the hard messages on Zimbabwe,” said CIVICUS Director of Programmes, David Kalete.
Earlier in the afternoon, a demonstration was held at Victoria Falls on the border with Zimbabwe, where participants displayed placards bearing messages of adherence to democratic principles, respect for broad citizen participation and freedom of expression. The demonstration also attracted youth representatives who were commemorating their Youth Day.
In Mozambique, the President of the Manica City Council, where the events were to be held, notified the coordinators 15 hours before the scheduled march, that the event would have to be cancelled. Nevertheless, at dawn, a large crowd gathered in the Provincial capital Chimoio to express their concern about this decision from the local government and to demonstrate their solidarity nevertheless with banners, T-shirts and messages of solidarity. Group leaders representing numerous civil society organisations were surprised by this abrupt cancellation and were concerned about the implications of this decision on their own freedom of assembly. They expressed their criticism of the “quiet diplomacy” which Mozambique like South Africa have adopted and which was clearly not delivering results.
Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of CIVICUS said yesterday that “the Southern African Development Community (SADC) needs to act with vision and courage on Zimbabwe if it is to secure its own credibility with the citizens of the region”.