The Southern African Development Community (SADC) convened an Extraordinary Organ Troika plus the Republic of Mozambique Summit of Heads of State and Government on 19 May 2020 in Zimbabwe. The host president, Emmerson Mnangagwa is the Chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation. Understandably, the leaders had to meet and discuss the surge in fundamentalist terrorism in Cabo Deldago, Mozambique’s northernmost province. However, there was one awkward elephant in the room: the brutality of the host government towards its domestic opponents. Almost exactly a week before the Extraordinary Organ Troika Summit, three female members of the opposition MDC-Alliance party were seized on 13 May 2020 and were found two days later, allegedly tortured and traumatised.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has commenced investigations into the matter even though it states that before whatever the investigation can ascertain “this violence against women runs parallel to the right to a peaceful existence as enshrined in Article 10 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol).” The Heads of Mission of the Delegation of the European Union, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and the Heads of Mission of Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America issued a statement exhorting the Government of Zimbabwe to launch “a swift, thorough and credible investigation into the abduction and torture of opposition Member of Parliament Joana Mamombe, along with Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova and allegations of the assault on Nokuthula and Ntombizodwa Mpofu in Bulawayo.”
The concerns of the ZHRC and the EU and US Heads of Missions highlight the silence of SADC on Zimbabwe’s drawn-out reign of terror. This goes to the heart of the raison d’être for seemingly inert bodies. The Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), the forerunner to SADC signed the Lusaka Declaration which clearly laid out its mandate to address racism and egalitarianism. SADCC also formed the bulwark of what was then known as the Frontline States against apartheid. Through modest resources and dexterous diplomacy, SADCC succeeded in constantly keeping the evil of apartheid on the global psyche. SADC, as the successor of SADCC, has problems of its own that should galvanize the entire Southern Africa in much the same way that in years past people were galvanized against apartheid South Africa and the Rhodesian regime. Bodies such as SADC seem to ignore the fact that what happened after African independence was not systemic change. It was a mere replacement of actors playing the same game and applying the same rules. This business-as-usual reality behoves SADC to maintain the advocacy for which its predecessor was known.
Protracted authoritarianism in Zimbabwe has been undeniable and for a long time, it was the hallmark of Robert Mugabe’s rule. Under Emmerson Mnangagwa, it has been continued and looks more grotesque lacking, as it does, Mugabe’s sophistication and polish. One of the biggest injustices ever to happen to Africa and Southern Africa, in general, is to excuse the atrocities and bad governance of certain actors based on their skin colour. African leaders are quick to point out the indefensible acts of edifices such as apartheid but remain callously mum when African governments indulge in similar acts with reckless abandon. South Africa’s kid-glove approach to Zimbabwe was pejoratively called ‘silent diplomacy’ because of how those charged with monitoring and pronouncing on the situation in Zimbabwe were either helpless or inadvertently in cahoots with the murderous Mugabe regime.
What has been happening since Mnangagwa took over from Mugabe proves that the cowardly approach used in years past has remained unabated. What is worse is that under current circumstances, the SADC region is experiencing more upheaval. Mozambique has the emergence of terrorism to deal with, Malawi is in limbo after its May 2019 election was rescinded, Swaziland remains implacably authoritarian with the vulgar profligacy of the King coexisting with grinding poverty for most of his citizens, and Zambia is actively squandering its democracy. These dispiriting realities do not accord with the vaunted ideals mentioned in the Treaty of the Southern African Development Community. Article 5 (a and b) of the Treaty promises to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth in the SADC region. It also vows to promote common political values that are safeguarded by democratic, legitimate and effective institutions. These are laudable ideals, but SADC’s handling of its errant members shows that they have been honoured in the breach. Those that have followed SADC’s activities since the beginning of the millennium are likely to remember the unpopular stance that Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia and Ian Khama of Botswana took in what they regarded as inexcusable excesses of the Mugabe regime. Alas, their voices were those of a minority in a cluster of irascible cronies. SADC remains an enervated club of gentlemen, living coddled and cosseted lives at the top of oppressed and cowed citizens. Is there any need for the continued existence of such bodies? For how long will Africans imbibe and buy into the heresy that oppression is only unforgivable if it is perpetrated by certain races, and explicable if it’s perpetrated by Africans? These are difficult questions that should arrest the attention of Africans with a platform to expose SADC for a feckless and cowardly body that it has been. It is well and good that the Extraordinary Organ Troika committed to helping Mozambique to deal with terrorism; but what about the state-sponsored terror of countries like the host?
Emmanuel Matambo is a Senior Researcher at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS)