in South Africa, reports William Spring Zimbabwe's
new forces of repression
AN INFLUENTIAL Catholic organisation in Zimbabwe has called on the government here to consider repealing new regulations prohibiting legal action against cabinet and security force members.
The regulations were gazetted at the end of July and allow the Minister of Defence, who is currently the Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe, to prohibit legal action against the President, the Cabinet, or any member of the security forces for anything done to further the preservation of state security.
The regulations enable the Prime Minister to prevent any criminal or civil action against such people if he considers they acted "in good faith for the purpose of or in connection with the preservation of the security of Zimbabwe."
The regulations are retroactive to actions, judgments, and agreements made since independence in 1980. But the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, established in 1971, which has played over the past ten years a vital role in monitoring human rights violation in the country, has commented caustically upon the regulations.
The Commission chairman Mr Michael Auret said they would create injustice and denials of human rights matched only by the laws in South Africa. Michael Auret noted that the Commission had condemned similar regulations when first introduced by the Rhodesian Front government of Mr Ian Smith in 1975.
"The new regulations cannot be any more readily accepted than was the former Act, as they embody the same injustice and denials of human rights. Such an Act is designed to protect violent men and history has shown that no matter how well intentioned the government is these regulations can and will be abused.
"It is patently obvious that if the people these regulations are designed to protect are totally innocent there would be no need for any such indemnity." The previous Indemnity Act of Mr Ian Smith was condemned by African nationalists during the period of their armed struggle."
In November 1980 the new Zimbabwe government repealed the Act, "obviously for good reasons," added Mr Auret. "We feel that these reasons are still valid and that the government should reconsider its position." However, Edga: Tekere, Cabinet Minister in the Zimba...--c government until he was sacked by Robe, : Mugabe,
benefited from the pre v; o us Indemnity Act.
Defending himself against a charge of murdering a white farmer, shortly after independence, Tekere secured his acquittal, by successfuly arguing that as the Indemnity Act was still in force at the time the killing took place his actions were covered by the law as it then stood.
Michael Auret, in his comment upon the Commission's statement, noted that in 1975 the Catholic Bishops' Conference had issued a strong condemnation of the Rhodesian Front bill supporting comments made by the late Sir Robert Tredgold, the former Federal Chief Justice.
It is interesting to note that Sir Robert pointed out that the only other country to have such law which indemnifies future unlawful acts is South Africa and he stated then that the bill "outrages the rule of law and strikes at the very root of democracy." Mr Auret stated the Commission was "alarmed at the new regulations because it "wholeheartedly supports the Prime Minister and his government in their drive for reconciliation and the upholding of the United Nations Human Rights Charter."
However, the condemnation of the Commission is unlikely to cut much ice with the government in present circumstances facing as it does a sharply deteriorating security situation in the country. Ever since the dismissal of Dr :sshua Nkomo from the cabinet in Febt Lary this year, instances of armed banditry, particularly in the Matabeleland province have been on the increase.
The attack in Harare on the Prime Minister's residence a few weeks ago, marked a new escalation in the level of violence, which was followed up a few hours later by a further attack by armed men apparently directed at the residence of the Minister of National Supplies. Since these attacks, which were only reported on the local news after the BBC had already released the story, there has been a massive crack-down, particularly in the Bulawayo area, resulting in many more detentions. There is no clear figure at present as to how many people are detained without trial in the country but conservative estimates put it at least 100, and rising. But the dissidents, despite the repression, are only increasingly active.
In a black day for Zimbabwe on July 24 news was released of the abduction of a group of foreign tourists on the road from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls. The group, which includes two Britons, are still being held hostage by the dissidents who are threatening to execute them if their demands are not met. These demands include the reinstatement of Dr Joshua Nkomo to cabinet rank, and the release from detention of two former Zipra commanders, Dumiso Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku.
On the same day in another blow at the country's tourist industry bandits attacked the prestigious Victoria Falls Hotel killing a female telephonist, and making off with 5,000 dollars Zimbabwe from the hotel safe.
Police are now holding three men in connection with this incident but security forces have not been so successful in their hunt for the saboteurs, who also in the early morning of July 24 attacked the headquarters of the Zimbabwe Air Force, at Thornhill, Negweru, destroying or damaging 13 aircraft, including eight Hawker Hunters, one Lynx helicopter and four Hawk jets, newly arrived from the U.K. These aircraft comprise a quarter of the whole Air Force and represent much of its strike capacity.
The purpose of the attack or the people behind it is not clear, and the news that an attack took place, has still not been released on Zimbabwe Radio, nor has the Ministry of Defence issued any details of damage. Observers recall, however, the attempted insurrection last year at Entumbane near Bulawayo, where former Zipra units in the National Army mutinied, and were only quashed by the intervention of the white-piloted Air Force.
It is possible, therefore, that the Thornhill attack may be a preliminary within a larger stratagem. In such fraught situation the sane and liberal voices of the Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace are having a struggle to be heard.