Fourteen long agonizing years now separate us from those days which turned day into night, life into death, when an orgy of bloodletting unprecedented in the history of the Republic of Rwanda. The genocide was sparked by the death of the Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down over Kigali airport on 6 April 1994. And with him the president of Burundi, Mr Cyprien Ntaryamira, and many chief members of staff were killed.
Some seconds after this painful ordeal, leaders of the political opposition were murdered, and almost immediately, the slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus began. The early organizers included military officials, politicians and businessmen, but soon many others joined in the mayhem. Encouraged by the presidential guard and radio propaganda, an unofficial militia group called the Interahamwe (meaning those who attack together) was mobilized. Soldiers and police officers encouraged ordinary citizens to take part. Participants were often given incentives, such as money or food, and some were even told they could appropriate the land of the Tutsis they killed. On the ground, the Rwandese were largely left alone by the international community. UN troops withdrew after the murder of 10 soldiers. Between April and June 1994 (hardly three months), an estimated 800,000 Rwandese were killed and many more fled to the neighbouring countries of Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda in a space of 100 days.
Just across the boarder to the north of our beloved country, humanity is yet again threatened by these lingering murder mystery and gruesome crimes perpetuated against innocent souls.
This time around, against the voiceless and poor ordinary Zimbabweans while the international community is yet again trapped in a culture of silence. What pains more is the fact that the victims of these occasionally ethnic ridden tensions are none other than members of the so-called minority tribes whose only participation in many economies is the casting of a ballot. By so doing, opening doors to riches for eventual office bearers and their beloved families who later turn around and put knives on these innocent voter’s throats as a token of appreciation.
A quite regrettable scenario and a sheer act of infamy is a case where these voiceless and economically disadvantaged groups often fall victims of their own very decisions it is purported they make through the power of their vote. They queue lines with little knowledge that they are in actual fact spelling doom to their sacrosanct right of existing as humans; they queue lines with little knowledge that they are in actual fact sliding their lives once more into depression and despair, and other problems that distort and mutilate human existence. The vital task therefore, confronting all those who desire the creation of a more humane society like Chelwa ya Shekgalagari Association is to raise up the banner of hope, to establish once again in the popular consciousness the inextricable connection between elections, which is basically the inalienable right of choosing a leader of your choice, and peace & security, as well as hope for better living. The challenge is to help restore to peace and security their democratic essence, their passionate concern with human freedom. At a memorial conference at the UN headquarters in April 2004, Mr Kofie Annan, then UN Chief, said he realized he personally could have done more to rally support for international efforts to stop the Rwandan genocide.
To quote him verbatim, he said, “The international community failed Rwanda and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret,” and that “the international community is guilty of sins of omission”. We only wish, as Chelwa ya Shekgalagari Association, that Mr. Annan’s painful memories could influence the current UN Chief, Mr Ban-Ki-moon, to lobby the international community to employ the political will to achieve the necessary agreement on how to put in place to the world the type of measures that will prevent from happening in the future a possible genocide that is currently looming in Zimbabwe.
The African Union, under the Chairmanship of President John Kofour of Ghana, watched helplessly as people were being butchered recently in Kenya and is continuing to watch helplessly as people are being butchered in Zimbabwe.
SADC, under the Chairmanship of President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, is helplessly watching as people are being butchered in Zimbabwe. Is the international community only going to act decisively after a plane carrying Mr. Tsvangirai and his entourage, who could be you or your relative, is courageously brought down by the so-called war veterans? Is the international community only going to act decisively after the Ndebeles in Bulawayo, Plumtree and other Ndebele areas are brutally massacred and forced to flee their ancestral land? It took three months in Rwanda to unashamedly force close to a million souls to depart from this world before it was their time! A buoyant Minister of Justice in Zimbabwe, Hon Patrick Chinamasa has of late been pronouncing that it might take close to a year before the anticipated presidential run-off takes place! One wonders how many souls would have unceremoniously departed this world before then because of the butchering perpetuated by war veterans militia! What then can we do to help as Botswana?
To begin with, we kindly request that as you read through this discourse, you close your eyes and think deeply about the situation of Zimbabwe. Think if it were your mum or kid, how would you be feeling now? As we speak, a person is virtually sent to a death row by war veterans’ militia in Zimbabwe without a trial and eventual conviction by a competent judiciary. The threat of genocide and with it, of human annihilation, is greater now in Zimbabwe than at any time in the contemporary history of any Sub Saharan African state. This discourse is written under the conviction that, under the world now plagued by violence and war, normally perpetuated by lust for power and greed by fascist-type dictators so much characteristic in Africa, no African country can confidently say its territory is immune to a situation that has now bedeviled Zimbabwe. It does not matter the types of names Botswana would attract from her detractors, if ever an effort was needed to position ourselves as caring, compassionate and serious minded human beings or nation in the face of the world, it must be today.
It is becoming a necessity to determine whether our existence as human beings, on the one door created by one God, holds any validity if the very existence of human beings next door is under siege. Zimbabweans stand in desperate need of a genuine help today than ever before. They have fought to break the chains of domination that have tied them to a life of drudgery and misery through a power of vote but reality has proven them otherwise. Jacques Roux put it at the height of the French Revolution in 1793 that, “Liberty is no more than an empty shell when one class of men is allowed to condemn another to starvation without any measures being taken against them. And equality is also an empty shell when one class of men, has the power of life or death over other members of the community”.
It is against this background that we pray with peace loving people of this country, Human Rights Institutions, Political Organizations across the divide i.e., Government and the civil society as a whole to converge at the National Stadium and once again condemn the monstrous acts that were once attributed to the Late Ian Smith’s regime by none other than Mr Robert Gabriel Mugabe and his lieutenants. We urge the nation to unequivocally declare solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe. God willing! It is our hope that Zimbabweans who flee their country and seek refuge in Botswana shall be treated with dignity and respect.
Noah Salakae is a Secretary of Chelwa ya Shekgalagari Cultural Association, (a non-political association fighting for the emancipation of the minority groups).