|Zimbabwe’s suffering is man-made, lawyer says|
Despite the massive man-made problems
in Zimbabwe, “ordinary people have remained what they have always been,
the peace-loving Zimbabwean people,” says human-rights attorney
Tinoziva Bere. A UMNS photo by Linda Green.
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
April 1, 2009
Zimbabwe’s massive problems are man-made, says a human rights attorney in that country.
According to Tinoziva Bere, 43, who also is vice president of
the Zimbabwe Law Association and legal counsel for United
Methodist-related Africa University, “there is serious poverty that has
been caused by the government’s way of doing business. There is extreme
suffering which is man-made.”
The country has been plagued with rampant inflation of more than 230
million percent, a deadly cholera epidemic, an unemployment rate of
more than 90 percent and devaluing currency. “The currency is
completely useless and we now depend on money from countries that our
president has been calling names,” Bere explained, in addition to
serious abuses of human rights and attacks on lawyers who come to the
defense of victims of those abuses.
In an article on the Voice of America Web site, U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee charged that human rights activists are missing or being held in prison on fabricated charges.
“They are in jail so they can be used as a bargaining chip,”
Bere said. He is currently defending Roy Bennett, the deputy minister
designate for agriculture, who was arrested in February on terror
charges of maintaining an illegal arsenal before he could be sworn in as a member of the cabinet of the new government. Bennett was released on March 12.
“The government has walked all over people and there is no willingness to change,” Bere said.
Physicians for Human Rights released an emergency report in January
that echoes Bere’s description of the country. The emergency
report, calls the health and economic crises affecting Zimbabwe “a
Earlier in the month, it was reported that the country was in
the midst of a “serious humanitarian crisis” and people were surviving
on wild berries while appealing for food assistance that is not
The Rev. Forbes Matonga, a United Methodist and national director of
Christian Care, which distributes food for UNICEF in Zimbabwe, said on
March 5 that food security “remains particularly precarious” for
Zimbabweans. “Faced with these challenges, it is not enough, it is
not adequate to look east or west or to the hills for answers but to
look up to the Lord and stand still and know that he is God," said
Matonga, whose aid group is a member of the church-backed Action by
Churches Together International alliance.
According to Bere, food prices are decreasing and food is becoming
available in the country, making trips across the border unnecessary.
“We don’t have freedom of choice in products but it is far much better
than it was.”
On March 30, leaders of the South African Development Community
promised to help Zimbabwe raise between $8 billion and $10 billion to
rebuild Zimbabwe’s collapsed economy and tackle its humanitarian
crisis. The plan also calls for $2 billion in short-term relief.
Bere, who is based in Mutare, said that while temporary relief is
coming to some quarters, poverty cannot be eliminated in the country
until capacity is restored, people are able to grow food and produce
products and dependence on imports is reduced. Mutare is home to
United Methodist-related Africa University.
Despite the hard times, the spirit of the people has not been
destroyed. “We could have degenerated to racial and other hatred
and we could have resorted to killing each other, but the only killing
that has gone on has been by militias-- paid, drugged and given beer to
encourage them to do those things,” Bere explained. “Ordinary people
have remained what they have always been, the peace-loving Zimbabwean
Currently, the country’s two leaders— Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai --are
in the honeymoon phase of a power-sharing agreement that was signed
last September but did not become effective until the February
formation of a unity government. “It is not all bad on the
ground,” he said. “The two protagonists are learning to live and work
While it is not known if the agreement will last, Bere said
there is pressure upon the two leaders to work for the betterment of
In early March, the Obama administration declined to lift
financial and travel sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle and
noted that the United States will not increase humanitarian relief
until the newly formed unity government proves its seriousness about
reform. Zimbabwean activists, including Bere, have lauded this action.
“Obama is a good man. He is keeping his eyes on the ball, the
rule of law,” he said. “Zimbabwe did not suddenly become poor and
destroyed. We did not have a war. Somebody decided to disregard the law
and use a militia to beat up, kill and loot from ordinary citizens.
That is what got us here.”
No unconditional aid
Bere said that money should not be poured into the country until good governance is restored and lawlessness is removed.
“As one in civic society, our action is that money must not be
sent to Zimbabwe unconditionally,” he explained, adding that money must
be tied to reform of the police, reform of the judiciary and the prison
system, “and reform of all institutions that have been used to oppress
people and to harm people.”
People in civic society believe “that if we had things our
way, the centers of power would be clearly identifiable and they should
be made independent and professional,” he said.
Sitting at the same table is not going to eliminate suffering,
he noted. As long as the country’s infrastructure is destroyed and
unclean water is pumped into people’s home, suffering will continue.
“My hope is that this government will realize that they cannot live
peacefully with the world and continue their practices of trampling
upon the rights of people.”
Throughout the challenges and struggles, one place in Zimbabwe
provides hope, strength and credibility to the people. “In the midst of
the destruction, I testify that I have seen an oasis, a place where
things are growing in the midst of the desert and that place is Africa
University,” Bere said. “Africa University is God’s miracle. It is
God’s way of lifting up hope in a place where there is no hope.”
From its humble beginnings 15 years ago, the university has grown
“to become the best in the country and the one of the best in the
region,” he noted, adding that the school with its 1,500 students, has
remained true to the vision and values of its planters.
The university’s survival in a country in the midst of financial and
other turmoil is “like a long tree in a dry place. Where everything
around it has died or has been destroyed, it has continued to grow,” he
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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