By Bianca Silva and Siphosethu Stuurman
Zambian president, Levy Mwanawasa, likened the situation in Zimbabwe to the sinking Titanic. There are currently three to four million Zimbabwean refugees, which is equivalent to Iraq. Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been assaulted and consequently hospitalised. Zimbabwe has an inflation
rate nearing the 2000% mark, which explains why it has been described as being in the throes of economic meltdown.
In addition, there are constant human rights violations, and still South Africa remains silent. South African President Thabo Mbeki has taken the position of mediator between Mugabe’s ruling party and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). However some Rhodes University staff, students, and the Grahamstown community have taken an active stance. They have voiced their opinion by responding to human rights violations through a march and the “My Brother’s Keeper” candlelight vigil for Human Rights in Zimbabwe.
April 17 is Zimbabwe’s Independence Day. To mark this event, the local cathedral was almost filled to capacity, as people gathered with lit candles to listen to a variety of speakers express their opinions about human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
The vigil was the sequel to a well-supported protest, where roughly 350 students and academics marched across the Rhodes campus on March 23 calling for freedom and waving posters with slogans like “Bob can’t build it”. Approximately 13% of the university is comprised of Zimbabwean students, most of who did not attend the march or the vigil out of fear of retribution from the Zimbabwean government. Felicity
Sibindi, the organiser of these events, felt there was a definite absence of black Zimbabwean students. Sibindi said people were too scared to come. “I wanted to go but I was afraid, there have been rumours of Zim government spies and my parents told never me to get involved in politics,” said student Michelle Reid.
Sibindi feels it is time for Mbeki to take a stance. Prior to the march there were students on campus wearing Zanu-PF T-shirts in an attempt to intimidate other students. Sibindi said that after the march, men dressed in SAPS uniforms came looking for her. They had a picture of her, but they refused to identify themselves and did not have any badges. She doesn’t want Rhodes to punish the people who have tried to intimidate her because she worries that she’ll suffer the consequences back home in Zimbabwe.
Sibindi has not experienced further trouble at Rhodes.
The themes of both events were to speak out for those who could not. Rhodes University has announced their position of no tolerance towards intimidation, and have urged anyone who experiences intimidation to report it to the dean of students, Vivian de Klerk. Speakers at the vigil included Felicity Sibindi, Bianca Camminga from Sharc, Faith Bosworth from OutRhodes, Alan Kirkaldy on behalf of the Jewish community, Fatema Morbi, president of the SRC, Carla Tsampiras on behalf of Women’s Academic Solidarity Association (WASA), Professor Paul Maylam, head of the history department and Vice-Principal Colin Johnson. Tsampiras felt that the fear, greed, silence and violence in Zimbabwe was reason not to celebrate what was supposed to be a day marking independence. “Pass light into dark places and speak for those who can’t,” she said.
Maylam said seven years ago people started asking how long the Zimbabwean situation could go on for. He believes it can continue for years to come and the only way to make a change is to continue exerting external pressure, even in small ways such as attending a march or vigil. Morbi felt Zimbabwe had violated fundamental principals, such as human rights, which nations are built upon, and the South African government has been silenced by diplomacy. Morbi announced a proposed march on May 25. All university SRCs nationwide will be marching at 12:30pm for Zimbabwe. They would like to hand over a document on the issue to Mbeki.
“Kick on, the struggle continues, we are with you all the way,” said Sasco official Awethu Zumana. Bosworth said it was important for those who could speak out to do so. “Viva breaking the silence,” she said.
The Catholic Archbishops of Zimbabwe are writing a letter to protest intimidationhere at Rhodes, “but progress is being made,” according to Sibindi. She believes that someone has to say something and that pressure is necessary. Sibindi says by keeping quiet, people are condoning what is happening, just as it is in a court of law, and says that because of the approaching elections things have worsened the situation in
Zimbabwe and infighting has broken out. She believes, however, that there will definitely be a change next year, whether it is for better or worse.