have spoken out sooner.
Asmal, a human rights lawyer and senior member of the ANC’s executive, publicly broke ranks and questioned Pretoria’s view that only Zimbabweans themselves could decide their own future.
He was speaking at the launch of exiled Zimbabwean activist Judith Todd’s book “Through the Darkness”. A poem about the silence of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power to heart, appears to have influenced Asmal’s speech.
Asmal stressed he was speaking as a “proud citizen of a free South Africa who should have spoken out and campaigned against a regime which has brought Zimbabwe to its knees”.
He said to a packed launch, attended by Zimbabwean exiles, among others: “Why do I speak now? I should have done so in the 1980s, when thousands of people were murdered by the infamous Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland. I did not do so. Neither did I do so during Operation Murambatsvina, when those who want to retain power refer to their hapless fellow citizens as ‘shits who have to be removed’.
The so-called clean-up campaign, which involved the Pol-Potian destruction of houses, clinics, and businesses, left hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean’s homeless, destitute and starving, Asmal said, referring to the murderous Cambodian regime of Pol Pot.
Asmal went on to say that “Pol Pot’s main henchmen are now being tried for crimes against humanity,” a remark that was widely interpreted by members of the audience as implying that President Robert Mugabe and his lieutenants should similarly be tried.
But Asmal denied this was what he meant when asked about it afterwards, saying he had only made the remark to illustrate his general point that under international law today governments could be held accountable for what they did internally.
Asmal said he also had taken to heart former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan’s appeal during this year’s Nelson Mandela lecture.
“Speaking in a country which asked for and received solidarity from most parts of the world, Kofi Annan reminded us that Africans must guard against a pernicious, self-destructive racism that unites citizens to rise up and expel tyrannical rules who are white, but to excuse tyrannical rulers who are black.”
Asmal said that South Africans were “constantly reminded by our betters” that only Zimbabweans could decide their future. But you can only be conscious actors for change if there is a level political field, not only for the holding of elections but also in the run-up. There is no normality in Zimbabwe.
Instead we have the ‘destruction of the rule of law, the judiciary, the press and economy and the brutalisation of the population’, with a quarter of the country’s population now living in the diaspora and with the army and the civil service, both instruments and controllers of the ruling party.”
Todd’s book reminded that silence could give rise to complicity.
“I am here to add my voice to Judy Todd’s appeal to assist the people of Zimbabwe. But there is also a selfish reason: the majority of our neighbours are now starving, or sick, or brutalised and without hope. Many were now fleeing to South Africa and to neighbouring countries. Therefore remember: Zimbabwe, for various reasons, has now become our crisis also.”
Post published in: Business