Organised Violence and Torture
in Zimbabwe in 1999

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2. Zimbabwe in 1999
The crisis which began in late 1997 showed little sign of abating during 1999, and all political commentators remain agreed that the severe crisis continuing in Zimbabwe shows little sign of immediate resolution. The President continued to act without consulting Parliament or with respect to the Constitution. The extremely costly war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued during 1999, and by the end of the year there were few signs that this war would be easily ended or that any of the negotiations would produce a political solution. This war is estimated to be costing Zimbabwe in excess of US$3 million per day, and press reports suggest that the government has spent a Z$6 billion in unbudgeted military expenditure related to the war.

There were serious attacks by the President and the Government on the press, the Judiciary and civil society, with the most serious of these involving the kidnapping and torture of two journalists. This led immediately to a crisis in the rule of law, and, although there has been an uneasy truce between all the parties, the crisis is yet to be resolved in any meaningful way.

2.1 Economic decline
It is nearly two years ago since a collapse of confidence led to a stampede on the forex market which saw a catastrophic plunge in the value of the dollar. This event in 1997 was set off by two things. Firstly, President Mugabe made an undertaking to war veterans that they would be paid over $4 billion in the form of gratuities and pensions. This was money the country clearly did not have and this pledge of the President completely sabotaged the undertakings that the Minister of Finance had made to donors.

Secondly, the government announced the seizure of 1 500 productive farms without any consultation with stakeholders or regard to the damage such an arbitrary move would cause to the country’s image and to agricultural output. There then followed "Black Friday" on November 14, 1997 which saw a record fall in the local unit and an accompanying exit by investors from the stock exchange. The collapse was followed by price inceases, and the Food Riots became an inevitable event.3

The collapse in the dollar fuelled inflation through 1998, as did the persistent borrowing by government to fund its deficit and recurrent spending. The economic crisis the country suffered as a result of maladroit handling of issues of expenditure continued through 1999. The problems were fuelled by the doubts that arose over the cost of maintaining troops in the Congo. This is a highly unpopular war4, and the government has consistently refused to make any frank disclosure about either the casualties or the costs. In fact, the Minister of Defence even refused to give Parliament the full facts when this was demanded in the House of Parliament.

Now, nearly two decades after Independence, Zimbabweans have been severely impoverished by the country’s burgeoning domestic debt whose interest bill alone has doubled from the initial estimate of $10 billion to Z$41 billion. At the end of 1998 the external debt was Z$90.2 billion and the figures at the end of 1999 are likely to be nearly double this amount.

The practical effect has been a large increase in the number of "very poor" people: the official figure has risen from 67% in 1998 to 76% in 1999. The Poverty Datum Line for a family of six was estimated to be Z$5046 per month which was about 5 times the lowest statutory minimum wage in the private sector.5

2.2 Corruption
Out of 99 countries, Zimbabwe was ranked the 42nd among the 85 most corrupt counties in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. During the year graft and underhand dealings were endemic in both the private and public sector. The most notable cases in the public sector involved the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, which has sustained losses of US$14.6 billion since 1994 and an independent investigation indicated massive fraud and theft throughout the company. The VIP housing scandal, and the War Victims Compensation Fund scandal remained unresolved during 1999.

The rampant corruption caused the National Economic Consultative Forum to appoint a ten member anti-corruption task force. In October 1999 the Minister of Home Affairs was reported to have said that plans were underway to set up an anti-corruption agency in the police force. One hopes that all these measures will be useful in the fight against corruption.

2.3 The war in the DRC
The legal basis for Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been a bone of contention from the outset. When President Mugabe decided to commit the Zimbabwe National Army to the conflict in the DRC, it seemed that he had done this unilaterally: if the Cabinet did give approval, this was certainly not made known to the public.

Since the purpose of the Defence Forces as set out in the Constitution is to defend Zimbabwe, and, further, since the dispatch of troops to the Congo was not for the purposes of defending Zimbabwe, this use of Zimbabwean soldiers was not constitutionally permitted. Furthermore although the Constitution does empower the President to declare war, provided he is acting on the advice of his Cabinet, the President has not, however, declared war on any other State. Thus this military expedition was not initially covered by this provision although it may have been ratified subsequently. Finally, since this military engagement was bound to require additional finance over and above the statutory provision in the budget, Parliament should have been consulted before any decision was made. However, despite wide publicity given to the contention that there was no legal basis in Zimbabwean law for the President’s decison, there has been no attempt by any Government officials to argue the issue of legality, and a long period elapsed before this matter was even debated in Parliament.

The funding of this military action in a distant African country was obviously of great concern to ordinary Zimbabweans because at home they were suffering from adverse economic conditions. Different Government Ministers made contradictory statements relating to how the military action was being funded. One Minister said it was being funded entirely out of the defence budget, whereas others informed us that it was being funded entirely by a number of Governments such as the DRC and Angola.

Finally in a letter to the IMF in July 1999 the Minister of Finance admitted that the war had cost Zimbabwe US$ 1.3 million per month in 1998 or 0.4 per cent of the Gross National Product. When additional troops were sent to the Congo in 1999 the cost to Zimbabwe was US$ 3 million or 0.6 per cent of the Gross National Product. At the beginning of June 1999 an internal memorandum came to light in the Ministry of Finance which seemed to indicate that the expenditure on the Congo war between January and June this year was US $ 166, nearly ten times the official figure. Although the government tried to explain away this memorandum as being a request for funding from the Ministry of Defence, the IMF has accused the Zimbabwean government of lying about what was being spent on the war and has put further funding support on hold.

Right from the start, there has been widespread opposition to the use of our troops in the Congo. Even some high-ranking Government officials voiced their reservations about this military action. A Gallup poll amongst urban Zimbabweans suggested that a large majority of urban Zimbabweans were opposed to the deployment of Zimbabwean troops in the Congo for a variety of reasons.6 People were concerned about the financial burden this war would impose upon a Zimbabwean economy that was already very weak. They were also very worried about the grave risks to which our soldiers would be subjected. Despite the apparent unpopularity of this military action the Government remains determined to press ahead, and has continued to justify the involvement as necessary for regional peacekeeping. The issue became much more complicated in 1999 by the attempts to create a cease-fire and negotiate a peaceful transition to democratic existence. At the end of 1999 the Zimbabwe National Army remains in the DRC, expenditure continues at an unknown level and there is little sign that there will be a quick transition either to civilian rule or a United Nations supervised peace.

2.4 Constitutional Reform

The objective of a genuine constitutional reform process will be to produce a constitutional framework based on enduring values and on the feelings and aspirations of the people as a whole. A process which produces a constitution which simply reflects what the political party holding power wants is clearly not a genuine reform process.7

Few issues in 1999 epitomised the deep divides in Zimbabwean society and the lack of trust in the government than the Constitutional (Review) Commission. As Professor Feltoe points out above, the singular problem was the perception by most of civil society that the government was attempting to co-opt the popular process of the National Constitutional Assembly, and also attempting to impose a constitution derived from within ZANUPF.

The Constitutional (Review) Commission was chaired by Justice Chidyausiku and the 385 members included all MPs. A nation wide process of taking the views of the populace was undertaken by the Commission which were then collated into Provincial Reports. The final draft presented to the full Commission was widely criticised for not reflecting the views contained in the Provincial Reports and led to 28 Commissioners resigning after making a public statement. The draft was accepted "by acclamation" after a highly acrimonious meeting and presented to the President.

The draft was widely criticised by many organisations including Amnesty International. The NCA continued its own parallel process and by the end of the year the country was headed for a referendum in early 2000.

2.5 Attacks on the Rule of Law
The most serious attacks on the rule of law came in the context of the journalists’ case. As human rights lawyer Tendai Biti pointed out in a very hard-hitting article these attacks are a continuation of sustained attacks since Independence in 1980. However the journalists’ case raised some of the most serious problems to date.

Firstly there was the matter of the Zimbabwe National Army acting ultra vires in a civilian matter which was illegal and unconstitutional. Secondly the Zimbabwe Republic Police failed to exercise their authority in protecting their own suspects against unlawful arrest by the army. Thirdly there was the evasion by state officials of court orders which was clearly the context in which the judiciary wrote to the President requesting that he unequivocally state his commitment to the rule of law. Fourthly there was the failure by the Attorney-General to take the appropriate action to uphold the law and take action against the perpetrators. The statement by the President in his State of the Nation Address in February that the judges in question should resign precipitated a crisis which remained unresolved by the end of the year.

Against this deteriorating socio-economic background the existence of gross human rights violations must be taken very seriously.

Next we report upon the gross human rights violations reported in 1999 including those seen by the Human Rights Forum.

3 See Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (1999), A Consolidated Report on the Food Riots, 19th to 23rd January 1999, Harare: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

4 See Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (1998), A Gallup Poll on Zimbabwe’s involvement in the DRC War.

5 See Cheater A (1999), "Human rights developments January-June 1999" Zimbabwe Human Rights Bulletin 1 3-47.

6 See again Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (1998), A Gallup Poll on Zimbabwe’s involvement in the DRC War.

7 See Feltoe, G (1999), Discussion Paper on the Constitutional Commission’s Draft Constitution for Zimbabwe [draft paper].

8 See Biti T (1999), "Judiciary bashing: a predatory state and the rule of law in Zimbabawe" Zimbabwe Human Rights Bulletin 1 97-107. TOP