Zimbabwe slams door on DA leader Mmusi Maimane's visit

03 February 2019 - 00:00 By RAY NDLOVU

Zimbabwe has vowed to kick out South African opposition leader Mmusi Maimane if he tries to enter the country this week as planned.
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), says he wants to meet President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Harare as part of a fact-finding mission prompted by the violent protests in Zimbabwe last month.
But presidential spokesperson George Charamba told the Sunday Times the government had no interest in talking to Maimane. "We relate to the South African government and have no business talking to an opposition party, which is a minority party for that matter," Charamba said.
"If he [Maimane] tries to come here he will be thrown out and will not be allowed to come into the country. We are a sovereign state and not a banana republic.
"Why can't he deal with issues in his own party instead of pointing fingers?"
This is not the first time Maimane has made himself unpopular with a Southern African neighbour.
In May 2017, he was deported from Zambia by President Edgar Lungu's government. Maimane had travelled to Lusaka to attend the treason trial of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema.
Last week, Maimane put himself in Mnangagwa's crosshairs by saying he would approach the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN to request their intervention in Zimbabwe's political and human rights crisis.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the DA leader was seeking attention. "It is regrettable that Maimane has assumed an aggressive posture for the gallery," she said.
Though Zimbabwe is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC in 1998, SA still is, which means it should enforce the court's rulings.
Maimane yesterday told the Sunday Times that he was "still waiting for a response" from Mnangagwa to a letter he sent last week.
Asked if he would still undertake the trip to Harare in the absence of a response from Mnangagwa and in spite of official hostility to the plan, Maimane said: "They must write to me formally and make me aware of their plans to deport me."
Derek Matyszak, senior researcher for the Institute of Security Studies in Harare, said Maimane's call for ICC intervention would put the South African government in "the uncomfortable position" of having to arrest Mnangagwa if he crossed the border.
But SA has in the past ignored the ICC's rules, as it did when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited the country in 2015. The ICC ruled that Pretoria had failed in its obligation to arrest Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity. The case sparked calls in SA for the country to withdraw from the ICC.
Human rights groups have accused the Zimbabwean army of widespread human rights abuses, including killing 12 people and wounding 78 others, during the wave of protests last month.
On Friday, the UN in Zimbabwe said it was concerned at the violent response to the protests.
"Investigations should result in holding the perpetrators to account and bringing justice to those affected, assisting families who lost loved ones, ensuring due process of law to those in custody and providing survivors with necessary health, psycho-social and legal services," it said.
Attention has shifted in recent days to allegations of widespread rape by troops in the townships. Police have denied the claims, saying there is only one recorded case, in Chitungwiza.
Charamba ruled out a withdrawal of troops from the streets for as long as there was "a probability and a likelihood of a recurrence of violence".
"The soldiers will get back to the barracks, so too will the police. After all, it's an expensive exercise to keep them on the streets, it's not for the heck of it that we keep them in the townships," he said.
In his letter to Mnangagwa, Maimane said he planned to travel to Harare in his capacity as chair of the Southern African Partnership for Democratic Change (SAPDC), which represents opposition parties in the region.
"In light of the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, I intend to head up an SAPDC fact-finding mission there as soon as possible, which would include a meeting with your government," Maimane wrote.
The DA leader also intends to meet Nelson Chamisa, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, who told journalists this week that Mnangagwa intended "to cripple" the MDC through the crackdown by security forces.
At least 43 party officials are in hiding, saying they fear for their lives, and several MPs and councillors are behind bars.
The crackdown has sparked criticism from the regional and international community. The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions said its members would march on the Zimbabwe embassy in Gaborone in protest at trade union and human rights violations. The Nigeria Labour Congress said it stood in solidarity with workers in Zimbabwe and called for an end to the carnage.
Harriet Baldwin, the UK's Africa minister, said the response to protests sparked by the fuel price hike was reminiscent of the Robert Mugabe regime.
"The abuses [and] failure to follow the due process of law contravene the fundamental tenets of international human rights standards and have absolutely no place in a democratic society," she said.
Only the ANC has offered succour to the increasingly isolated Mnangagwa. It sent a delegation led by secretary-general Ace Magashule to meet the president and other senior Zanu-PF officials.
Matyszak said the ANC's gesture was the usual show of solidarity, which "has always been a problem, of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses"...

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