Outspoken Zim chiefs 'fear for their lives': Madonsela, Zwelithini asked to investigate

Matabeleland leaders say security agents have threatened them

10 February 2019 - 00:00 By NJABULO NCUBE

Two chiefs from Matabeleland are cutting lonely figures in their criticism of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government over a deterioration in human rights.
After speaking out publicly against Mnangagwa, Chief Vezi Maduna Mafu of Filabusi in Matabeleland South and Chief Felix Nhlanhla Ndiweni of Ntabazinduna in Matabeleland North said they fear for their lives and claimed to have been threatened by state security agents.
They have engaged the services of human rights lawyer David Coltart as they seek to bring their plight under the spotlight and have it examined by the courts.
On Friday, their legal team wrote to Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) chair Elasto Mugwadi about the alleged threats to their lives. Maduna said the threats began after he wrote to Mnangagwa asking him to set up a commission to investigate the Gukurahundi killings of the mid-1980s, which claimed an estimated 20,000 lives.
After receiving no response, Maduna asked UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres to set up an 18-person independent commission of inquiry into the killings. He proposed that Ndiweni, Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini and SA's former public protector, Thuli Madonsela, be among those on the commission.
An aide to Ndiweni said the chief had asked Coltart to alert the ZHRC to "life threats" by state security agents. "He [Ndiweni] has had no breathing space. The state security agents are trailing him in and out.
"He is living in fear of his life," said the aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The ZHRC entered the bad books of Mnangagwa's government when it issued a statement last month accusing the army of using excessive force against citizens.
Last month, Ndiweni issued a strongly worded statement condemning the government for brutality during the three-day stayaway sparked by a fuel price hike of 150%.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, in its latest report on the human rights situation in the country, released this week, said 16 people were killed, 81 suffered gunshot wounds, 16 were raped and 1,700 people were assaulted by the military.
In his statement, Ndiweni said it was important for chiefs to speak out during difficult times.
"When the administration of the day chooses to use live ammunition against its own people, how can amakhosi [chiefs] keep quiet?" he asked.
"When an administration chooses not to provide a functional health service, chooses not to provide security for its people, chooses to be reckless with the economy of the country, how can amakhosi keep quiet?"
Ndiweni said Fortune Charumbira, president of the Zimbabwe Council of Chiefs, was complicit in the deteriorating human rights situation by remaining silent when citizens were being brutalised by security forces.
Insiders told the Sunday Times the outspokenness of Maduna and Ndiweni has divided the 35-member council, which is dominated by traditional leaders who have sworn allegiance to the Zanu-PF administration.
Asked to comment on the threats against the Matabeleland chiefs and their criticism of Mnangagwa, Charumbira said he "was busy" in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the African Union summit.
Coltart on Friday confirmed that he was acting on behalf of Maduna, but not Ndiweni - despite the chief's aide's insistence that the human rights lawyer was also Ndiweni's legal representative.
"I have sent a covering letter with his [Maduna's] own letter to the ZHRC. I would need my client's permission to reveal the contents," said Coltart...

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