Khama slams SADC 'oppressive brotherhood'

In an exclusive interview with Namibian Sun, former Botswana president Ian Khama launched a blistering attack on SADC, describing the regional bloc's silence on gross human rights violations in Zimbabwe as “shameful”.

21 August 2020 | International



Former Botswana president Ian Khama, known for his frank talk on regional affairs, has challenged so-called revolutionary parties in southern Africa to take a firm stance on the escalating human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

Khama was the only regional head of state who called the late Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe to order while other SADC leaders believed in “quiet diplomacy” when it came to Zimbabwean issues for the past two decades.

Recently Khama participated in the #ZimbabweanLivesmatter movement and met Zimbabweans in his country to get an understanding of their deteriorating plight.

In an exclusive interview with Namibian Sun yesterday, he described SADC's tolerance of the human rights violations in Zimbabwe as “shameful”.

“SADC's silence perpetuates this kind of suffering when rigged elections are passed off as credible elections. SADC, as usual, is disappointing, it is frustrating,” he said.

Violations against human rights groups in Zimbabwe, including journalists and civic society organisations, have been worsening under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who recently described dissenting voices as “terrorists” who need to be flushed out.

This has resulted in the arrests of freelance journalist Hopewell Chin'ono, novelist and film producer Tsitsi Dangarembwa and dozens of other activists who have allegedly been tortured by state agents.

“I would like to believe that it will work if every country goes quietly and consults. Namibia in particular, because they do have a common history with Zanu-PF and have fostered a close bond over the years. Go quietly on the side and ask authorities whether this is really what they want for their people. Some of us are finding it difficult to continue being supportive when we look at what is happening,” Khama said.

Voice in the desert

Khama has for years openly condemned human rights violations, electoral fraud and rigging and dictatorship on the continent.

He was also the only African leader to go up against the rule of Mugabe and demanded an audit of the 2013 Zimbabwean election in which Mugabe claimed a landslide victory.

Political commentator Graham Hopwood this week said it was sad and shameful that SADC was not prepared to take a position on Zimbabwe.

“Unfortunately, SADC is dominated by a club of former liberation movements who will not criticise each other, come hell or high water. It's a pity that Swapo cannot free itself from this unwritten rule of so-called solidarity. History will judge those who are willing to dismiss the rights of the Zimbabwean people because of some misplaced idea of non-interference harshly,” he said.

Political commentator Henning Melber said SADC's silence was unsurprising since Zimbabwe was neither on the SADC nor on the AU agenda.

Melber added that SADC has always been a network in which solidarity among those in power, and in particular among the former liberation movements, was the ultimate compass.

“It did not help that the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and the Zimbabwe NGO Forum last week appealed to SADC to deal with the situation in Zimbabwe. And the fact that Mnangagwa could afford to prevent the two South African emissaries to talk to any opposition members when they were visiting speaks for itself,” he said.

Take back power

Meanwhile, Khama argues that the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS's decision to suspend Mali after an “unpopular” president was overthrown suggests that the continental bodies are more concerned with the welfare of leaders than that of citizens.

This week, Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was overthrown in a military coup after years of corruption and alleged election rigging which sent thousands of citizens into the streets demanding improved governance.

Namibia too condemned the coup in Mali, saying it violated the principles of the AU and the African Charter on Democracy.

Khama encouraged Zimbabweans to take inspiration from the people of Belarus who are going against an oppressive ruler, taking back their power.

“When leaders use their positions for self-benefit and to enrich those around them to the exclusion of others, eventually citizens have to take it on their own. The suffering in Zimbabwe is painful,” he said.

In Belarus, people have protested for more than a week disputing the results of a 9 August election in which Alexander Lukashenko, Europe's longest serving leader, claimed victory.

It is reported that clashes with riot police have left at least two dead, hundreds injured and at least 6 700 arrested.

“Some are tortured, but it certainly made a difference. Let them realise it is the people that have the power. They cannot beat and lock up the whole nation. And those who are afraid to protest can withdraw their labour so these leaders can realise we cannot continue like this,” Khama said.


Khama said he was optimistic when Emmerson Mnangagwa took the reins, saying all the right things.

“There was euphoria and joy. People were happy hoping that he came ushering in a new dispensation. And now the opposite is happening. It is a shame.”

He said he had hoped Mnangagwa would realise that was not the way to go.

“Comparing to FW De Klerk who came out of the National Party whose rule was painful and brutal for South Africans, but when he came to power, he realised that we needed to change and so he released Nelson Mandela,” said Khama.

Khama added that Mnangagwa, by showing a peace envoy from South Africa the door, was displaying the traits of Robert Mugabe who rejected any call for reform from outside, insisting that Zimbabwe was a sovereign state.

“Mugabe used to get annoyed and irritated when SADC brought these things to his attention,” Khama said.

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