The call was made at a three day Commonwealth Organisations Roundtable conference held in Johannesburg last week. Lifting media restrictions and repealing all repressive laws was a priceless exercise which could be done immediately to enhance free expression and free flow of information, particularly in the current process of re-writing a new constitution for Zimbabwe.
The Roundtable brought together about 80 Commonwealth associations and organisations as well as Zimbabwean civic society groups and others from the southern African region to review the needs of Zimbabwe during its current transition, identify priorities for practical help and support and develop new programmes of action to enhance the transition.
Mark Collins, head of the Commonwealth Foundation, said the 53 member club of former British colonies had a wealth of experience drawn from former trouble spots like Sierra Leonne, Rwanda, Northern Ireland and other countries which can be valuable to Zimbabwe as its people seek to achieve reconciliation and healing after a period of turmoil.
Part of Commonwealth
Although Robert Mugabe had pulled Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth in 2003, its people had always remained part of the Commonwealth and the clubs associations had thought it prudent to continue re-engaging with civic society in Zimbabwe and offer assistance wherever possible to enhance the transitional process.
There is no competition going on between SADC, the African Union and now the Commonwealth to see who can engage (in Zimbabwe) better, said Collins, in response to a question at a press conference about whether the Commonwealth could do anything that SADC had failed to achieve in Zimbabwe.
Our idea is to help the transitional process. We want to use every tool in the tool bag to ensure that this process is a success, Collins said.
Carl Right, the Commonwealth local government forums secretary-general, said his organization had the technical skills that Zimbabwes local authorities could drawn from as they battled to restore services and infrastructure destroyed during the countrys 10 year crisis.
Some participants had been unhappy that instead of pushing for the repeal of all draconian laws which impinge on basic rights and press freedoms, the new unity government was still setting up commissions to regulate the media.
There was no guarantee that these commissions would fair any better than the previous ones which had destroyed the independent Press. The pre-2000 environment in Zimbabwe in which the media was not regulated and citizens were allowed to set up their newspapers without hindrance is what Zimbabwe desperately needed now, according to participants at the conference.
Cephas Zinhumwe, the CEO of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), said one major success of the unity government had been the ability of his members to move freely to distribute humanitarian aid in the country.
However, he also called for the repeal of the repressive media and security laws which had been used to stifle NGOs in the past. As long as these laws remained in the statute books, the police could always resort to them whenever it suited them, Zinhumwe warned.
Former South African cabinet minister Jay Naidoo, who chairs the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), said his institution was prepared to help in Zimbabwe’s reconstruction but also called for reforms particularly at the central bank to ensure transparency in the use of any resources extended for the reconstruction process.Post published in: News