22 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Civic Groups Walk Out After Threats By Mines Minister

Members of the Kimberley Process Civic Society Coalition, who monitor Zimbabwe's diamond industry, walked out of a breakfast meeting organized by the Mines Ministry on Wednesday, following threats by the Mines Minister Obert Mpofu and Attorney General Johannes Tomana.

Speaking in Harare on Wednesday, at a meeting meant to review the just ended Victoria Falls Diamond Conference, Mpofu accused local civic society organisations (CSOs) of "deliberately peddling falsehoods" and "malicious reports" on Zimbabwe's diamond industry.

"Let me warn our colleagues in civil society that if you do not want to work with us, then we will go it alone and we will be very hard on you," Mpofu fumed.

He added that he will not continue to tolerate, "a bunch of individuals masquerading as representatives of the people" and diminishing the government's efforts and gains through "unjustified vilification" of the diamond industry.

Adding to Mpofu's threats, Attorney General Johannes Tomana told the CSO representatives that the country "will not hesitate to evoke laws" against individuals and organisations who "deliberately seek to derail" the economic interests of the country.

"Our economy is protected by the way. Anybody who threatens our economic interests violates the law and the laws are there. Anybody who threatens our security interests as a nation is violating the law and we have those laws," Tomana is quoted as saying.

Thabani Nyoni, spokesperson for the Crisis Coalition, told SW Radio Africa that the threats are not new but they are taken very seriously by the CSOs. Nyoni insisted that CSOs would continue to hold government accountable, in spite of any threatening rhetoric from politicians.

He pointed to the recent arrest of activists from the Counselling Services unit (CSU), who were taken from Harare to Bulawayo without being charged and then released on bail. Nyoni described this as "persecution by prosecution", saying no crime had been committed.

"We know a number of CSO representatives will be arrested, some will be detained and some intimidated, especially as we build up towards the next election. But no amount of threats will stop us from holding the state accountable, especially if they continue selling diamonds without accountability," Nyoni explained.

A Crisis report quoted Cephas Zinhumwe, CEO of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), blasting Minister Mpofu for his comments and blaming him for the deteriorating relationship with CSOs.

"There is now serious mudslinging and instead of engaging freely the Minister wants us to wash his feet and hero-worship him. As civil society we continue to call a spade, a spade, come rain or thunder. That is our mandate", Zinhumwe is quoted as saying.

Asked what the CSOs want next, Zinhumwe told SW Radio Africa: "What we are looking for in terms of all mineral resources and anything our government does, is the issue of accountability. It's a long journey but we are looking at various mechanisms until we are all accountable."

The Mugabe regime has always been critical of civic groups in the country, accusing them of being agents of the Western countries with a regime change agenda. The groups have also been accused of working with opposition political parties, particularly the MDC-T.

The truth is that civic society exists as the eyes and ears of the people, to monitor, document and expose the activities of government officials, political parties, councils, in fact anyone in the system who needs to be held to account. As such, they represent a threat to anyone guilty of human rights abuses and corruption.

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