Two Zimbabwean women's rights campaigners say the formation of a power-sharing government has done nothing to ease the humanitarian crisis and political repression facing ordinary people in the southern African nation.
Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, who are visiting Boston to address the annual conference of Amnesty International USA this weekend, said the world needs to keep pressure on President Robert Mugabe to force meaningful change. They said that lifting economic sanctions now would merely entrench Mugabe's loyalists in power and prolong economic chaos and starvation in Zimbabwe.
After nearly a year of wrangling, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai joined Mugabe in a power-sharing government last month, taking office as prime minister. Tsvangirai's party has since asked that international sanctions be eased.
But Williams said in an interview that lifting sanctions would enable Mugabe and his inner circle to hold onto power and to retain Tsvangirai and members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as figureheads without any real authority. Tsvangirai is widely believed to have defeated Mugabe in the March 2008 presidential election, but Mugabe clung to power.
Williams noted that even as Tsvangirai took office, his deputy agriculture minister was jailed by Mugabe's police for nearly a month.
"How does Morgan Tsvangirai allow his right-hand-man, Roy Bennett, to be arrested on his way to being sworn in, and then as prime minister can't get him released?" she asked. "When you have a dictator in place, and he puts his pillars of support in place and keeps them there with patronage, then power has not shifted in Zimbabwe."
Williams and Mahlangu are co-founders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, or WOZA, which claims 70,000 members. Williams said she has been arrested 23 times since 2002, and Mahlangu counts 29 arrests. They were both jailed for nine weeks last year after leading protests for civil rights, and are facing a trial in April on charges of breach of peace.
They both said that simply bringing the opposition party into the government would not by itself lead to any change, recalling a history of failed unity governments dating back to the days when the country was white-ruled Rhodesia. And they said the opposition party has its own legacy of violence.
Williams said it was noteworthy that Mugabe is pushing Tsvangirai to appeal publicly for sanctions to be lifted and for fresh development aid because Mugabe himself is too discredited to make such an appeal.
Williams added: "We need the international community to help us with leverage because we are hostages in our own country. Zimbabwe might as well be a big jail cell, with the way life is, with the repression by these ruling elites."
South Africa's finance minister, Trevor Manuel, was quoted Sunday as saying that the sanctions should be lifted to let the power-sharing government start to repair the shattered economy. Manuel told the Observer newspaper of London that donor countries should inject cash directly to the government rather than limit their support to humanitarian organizations, as they are doing now.
The United States and Britain have indicated they will not ease sanctions until there is clear evidence that rights abuses have ended.
Mahlangu said the world should demand specific benchmarks of the Zimbabwean government in return for easing sanctions, including respecting the right of free expression, and should also demand the right to deliver the aid directly to those in need.
Williams said Western countries should work with progressive cabinet members in the power-sharing government to help strengthen their hand.
The West "must find an alternative way to get the aid to the people who need it, to get school chairs, to get exercise books, to put chalk into teachers' hands," Williams said. "It's a good test of the pro-democracy [cabinet] ministers to see how they will force that -- and it will give them some power."
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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