Beaten, bereaved, exiled – still committed

“The world over, it is the most dangerous field to delve into, but once you are in, you just cannot go out because it becomes a way of life,” says Ishmael Kauzani about political activism.

The protest continues.....Kauzani, left, with a fellow activist at a recent protest march.
The protest continues…..Kauzani, left, with a fellow activist at a recent protest march.

Kauzani is one of the founding activists behind the formation of the MDC, who propelled the party into a nationwide phenomenon that has given President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) sleepless nights since 1999.

Not only that, he is also one of those who has braved torture by the Mugabe-aligned security forces.

During his 13 years of political activism, Kauzani has lost his brother, Godfrey and best friend, Better Chokururama – both killed by state security agents for supporting the MDC. He has also sustained broken limbs, been beaten up and left for dead. In 2008 he was hounded out of his country, but remains committed to the cause.

“To me, the struggle has to continue till it is won. The many setbacks I have encountered have been a source of strength rather than fear. I cannot quit now because I owe it to my brother and friend to fulfil what they died for – or at least die trying.”

Kauzani (38) is now President of Johannesburg-based Zimbabwe Youth Wing, a humanitarian grouping of exiled MDC activists officially launched in 2009.

It’s main aim is to facilitate the formation of a sustainable environment for integration and empowerment of youths to actively participate in political, social and economic decision-making in a progressive and democratic Zimbabwe.

“The strategic thrust of ZYW is to present a platform for youths who are involved in the struggle for democratic space and to ensure that they are not marginalized in critical social, political and economic decision-making processes that affect them.”

Besides looking after the interests of fellow MDC activists, the organisation has also been very active in challenging the rampant abuse of Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa.

Fighting for refugees has attracted its own negatives for the activist, who was last year beaten up and robbed by soldiers and police officers in central Johannesburg, where he filmed the abuse of foreign vendors.

Late last year, Kauzani was part of a three-member civil rights leadership that toured the TIRRO refugee reception centre in Pretoria on a fact-finding mission that exposed corruption and the brutal treatment of asylum seekers by government officials and security personnel.

They compiled a report and circulated it to various media houses and the SA government. It has since been used as the basis of remedial measures by the Home Affairs Department.

“The latest action by government shows us that we are making an impact, but it will still not be enough if the activists finally get good treatment here while Zimbabwe continues to burn. South Africa will not be able to consume everyone who comes here and that is why the struggle for a free Zimbabwe should continue.”

And continue it has through various campaigns and protest marches at South African embassies, courts and regional summits, where the thrust has been to mobilise regional and international pressure on Mugabe to respect human rights and obey the rule of law.

“I live a painful life today because I chose to be a political activist, but I know that one day, Zimbabwe will be free and I will look back and say, ‘I helped shape this land into what it is today’ and not only my children, but also the whole future generation will appreciate me for that,” added Kauzani.

“For now, I will continue to fight against a regime that has criminalised everything and denied people their birthright just to remain in power. To me, it is not about aspiring for political office. I harbour no such plans, but will remain an activist so that I will not be corrupted into turning against the same values that I am fighting for.

“Some politicians easily forget that without activism, they would not have risen to their top positions. They lose regard for the same people who made sure that their work does not go unnoticed. No political party can ever grow strong without passionate activists.

“I dream of a country that will afford its people all the basics they need at a reasonable rate and a government that will lead through citizen participation, not one that relies on a few generals and party bigwigs to lay down the rules on how to govern.”

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