Over Christmas 2008, on receiving reports from civil society colleagues about severe repression of activists amidst a total governance breakdown, CIVICUS undertook a week-long fact-finding cum solidarity mission to Zimbabwe. The mission was able to authenticate reports of severe repression of human rights defenders, who are being prevented from carrying out their work through a targeted campaign of torture, abduction and other forms of intimidation.
The mission met church leaders, NGO activists, human rights lawyers, and ordinary men, women and children. It also video- and tape-recorded testimony about mass starvation and skewed distribution of food aid along political lines by ruling ZANU PF cadres, and the breakdown of essential services. CIVICUS’s Crisis Response Fund, launched in July 2008, enables the organization to react swiftly to emerging humanitarian and human rights crises around the world.
The mission also sought to find out what African and international civil society can do to support Zimbabwe. The prevailing view is that the key to resolving the crisis lies with the leaders of South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), who must put diplomatic pressure on the Mugabe regime to restore democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. This was captured in a 14-minute film by CIVICUS called Time 2 Act: An appeal from the people of Zimbabwe to the leaders of South Africa and Africa. The film has captured the imagination of ordinary people as well as fuelled support from myriad civil society organizations.
As of the last week of January, over 35,000 people in Africa and beyond had pledged to fast to build public opinion to pressure SADC governments to end the ‘silent diplomacy’ on Zimbabwe and take decisive action to resolve the political and humanitarian crisis. Among them was Kumi Naidoo, Honorary President of CIVICUS, who undertook a 21-day fast. As part of its post-mission work, CIVICUS has been working to mobilize civic actions on Zimbabwe and raise media awareness about the crisis to ensure that it remains high on the agenda of Southern African governments.