|Human Rights: product of political and social struggles|
|Thursday, 31 May 2012 21:40|
It is in this light that a private newspaper carried a story in which the writer alleged that, “Zimbabwe has a long record of gross human rights abuses.”
The deputy Justice Minister Obert Gutu was quoted to have said Minister Patrick Chinamasa’s briefing to Pillay “was littered with inaccuracies and had sugar-coated presentation that sought to portray Zimbabwe as a country that observes human rights, but the situation on the ground tells a different story.”
What is worrisome is that the writer of the article chose a very narrow path as regards the human rights discourse. The crux of the matter is that the writer in question was misleading the Zimbabwean general populace that human rights are being violated wantonly by all members who support the Zanu-PF revolutionary party.
The general populace have suffered from those who take such a narrow path. This is mainly because those who allege that there are gross human rights abuses in Zimbabwe are not acting in accordance to their own concrete realities, but are simply mouthpieces of those who mischievously are advocating for a regime change agenda.
If we turned back to the Ian Smith era what will the deputy minister of justice say? What all progressive Zimbabweans should know is that human rights are socially constructed, have a social life and are inexorably linked to power relations in society.
It is because of this that Richard Wilson, a human rights academic guru noted that human rights are a result of social struggles. In Zimbabwe, human rights are arguably a product of Zimbabwe’s history of nationalism, the Zimbabwean struggle against British colonialism, a struggle against neo-imperial economic apartheid.
Human rights are a result of political struggles. If one views the history of human rights one will see that very few know what human rights really are, what it means to have them had how they can do best to justify them. The crux of the argument is that human right are about culture, identity, violence and activities by human rights organisations.
Human rights are ultimately about the improved treatment of people in their everyday, local, practical situations. Zanu-PF has always been working hard to see that this happens and we are witnessing this through the land redistribution exercise and the indigenisation programme. These are situations that are strongly embedded in historical, traditional and religious beliefs inter-alia.
It is therefore not surprising that those who are worshippers of the Western regime change matrix are the ones positing that there are gross human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. This is because they want to impair the party’s relations with the masses. Western-funded civic groups are therefore being fronted to challenge the prevailing power relations.
Civic groups must not be profit-making enterprises and must not strive to get control of the State. As a matter of fact civil society is the realm of organised social life that is voluntary, self-generating, self-supporting and bound by a legal order or set of rules.
It is distinct from society in general in that it involves citizens acting collectively in the public sphere to express their interests, passions and ideas, exchange ideas, achieve mutual goals, make demands on the State and hold State officials accountable.
Civil society therefore is an intermediary body standing between the private sphere and the State. For the civil society to be vibrant, citizens must participate in human rights groups, trade unions, women’s groups, civic associations and others to press for economic reforms.
This is why Larry Diamond opined that civil society must be concerned with public rather than private ends and relates to the State not to gain formal power, but rather to seek from the State concessions, benefits and policy changes.
It is surprising that there are still some sections of the Zimbabwean population who still demonise the Zimbabwean land reform despite all the successes that have been made. How can we regard correcting historical land imbalances as human rights abuse? Rights shape the people’s beliefs.
The Zimbabwean people’s beliefs are therefore shaped by the Chimurenga and we cannot allow ourselves to deviate from that. There are still some sections of the Zimbabwean population who believe that simply because the Westerners are trying to convince the whole world that there are human right violations in Zimbabwe therefore we must sing the same song.
They erroneously believe that rights are favours done by the “holders” of power to those beholden to it. This is arguably not true, rights are invoked against a situation in which people are at the mercy of others not out of pity, but from concern for the same values that underpin their own dignity as individuals.
It must be noted that human rights claims must concern more people so that they are representative and are done for the pursuance of a noble cause. This cannot be done blindly were people tread on unfamiliar territory. This explains why we contend that the past really matters because if all progressive Zimbabwean know where they are coming from then they can easily see and tell where they are going.
This guides how Zimbabweans can emancipate our minds and use our heads. A reflection of what used to happen during the era of the Rhodesian Front under Ian Smith clearly depicts how hate filled white policemen cursed, kicked and even killed Africans who resisted their rule and exploitation. Many Zimbabweans were thus smothering in air-tight cages of poverty amidst the affluent whites.
After attainment of independence Zimbabwe was once again subjected to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes that worsened the plight of many poor communities. One renowned African scholar, Claude Ake noted that the unique feature of African SAPs is their rigorous austerity and an outright ban on essential commodities even where no local substitutes exist.
All this precipitate a rollback of subsidies. Massive privatisation result in sharp price increases and unemployment. A steep cut in Government expenditure had disastrous repercussions on the Zimbabwean innocent citizens. After Washington and London had seen the tragic effects of SAPs they started raising questions of participation and governance.
The politics of impoverishment was therefore couched in the discourse of human and citizenship rights. Governments of developing countries are therefore painted predators and stumbling blocks to guaranteeing human rights and have to be forcefully removed from power through the ballot or force.
What all progressive Zimbabweans should realise is that Britain and America, the countries that purport to be defenders of human rights, disregard human rights in their own backyards. Britain, America and a host of other European countries slapped Zimbabwe with illegal sanctions.
Sanctions can be viewed as an alternative to military force and subjects not only the ruling elite of the targeted country, but also ordinary people to intense suffering. Sanctions are therefore a device of cruelty as the masses are more vulnerable to their effects.
This is why the Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono said that “sanctions against any country are a declaration of war on a sovereign State, which puts under siege with debilitating downstream effects on the vulnerable groups and civilians at large.”
This is why we contend that the European Union has also trampled on the rights of the Zimbabwean people. By promoting poverty and hunger they are in fact denying the Zimbabwean people the right to living a descent life. The EU by not removing the sanctions are indirectly perpetuating a situation where the majority of the Zimbabwean people are being forced to drown in poverty and this is what the Zimbabwean Zanu-PF government has refused.
Sanctions have actually created an insatiable appetite on all hard working Zimbabweans to be determiners of their own destiny, an appetite to repossess their land and mineral resources. It is beyond any reasonable doubt that the human rights talk by the Western funded civil organisations and the Western-funded political parties are simply being done to challenge the existing power relations.
All progressive Zimbabweans are aware of their intensions. John Perkins warned all developing countries to be always on the look out. In his book, The Confessions of an Economic Hit-Man, he argues that “The jackals are always there, lurking in the shadows. When they emerge, heads of state are overthrown or die in violent ‘accidents.’ And if by chance the jackals fail, as they failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, then the old models resurface. When the jackals fail, young Americans are made to kill and die.”
President Mugabe clearly stated that “We must be aware of the hypocrites among us.” It is not being witty to say there are human rights violations where there are not. Our rights as Zimbabweans must be firmly fixed in our past, not an American or British past. Rights are a product of social struggle and only come to be when it is set out as law and sanctioned by the state.
l Darlington Mahuku and Bowden Mbanje are lecturers in International Relations, and Peace and Governance with Bindura University of Science Education.