Zim human rights defender wants stronger institutions

Activism, Africa, Democracy, Human Rights, Women, Youth, Zimbabwe

**I am reposting this from an article written by the Newsday on my acceptance onto the YALI Fellowship Programme **

Pan-African human rights defender, Rumbidzai Dube, wants strong institutional structures to promote accountability and good governance.

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She says the invitation to participate in the first ever Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Washington Fellowship in June will allow her to reflect on her work and life experiences in Zimbabwe while searching for innovative ways to expand and strengthen her work.

Her most recent work at the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) involves assessing the contribution of legislators to the democratic process. She tracks the MPs’ attendance, participation, representation of their constituencies and exercise of their oversight role over state institutions.

“I assumed the role of watching what our Parliament does, recognising that Parliament is a critical institution that has the capacity to ensure and guarantee state and government accountability. Putting members of parliament in the spotlight enhances their performance and encourages debate.”

Rumbidzai will spend six weeks at the University of Virginia/ William & Mary. “I will also increase my efforts in public legal education by launching a new website (www.allthingslegalzim.co.zw), a project that will simplify the law for the ordinary person.”

Forecasting her role during the Fellowship, she appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place. To her, the ambassadorial role foisted on her for being one of the 30 Zimbabwean young leaders that have been invited to participate in the Washington Fellowship presents a chance to brag but also to tell hard truths about Zimbabwe, she says. “It will be a delicate balancing act.”

As a legal researcher with a human rights non-governmental organisation and a human rights defender, she has seen the best there can be of the country and yet she cannot shy away from uncivil acts perpetrated against innocent individuals. She notes;

“Being an ambassador means defending my country’s honour and integrity, bragging about the good in it from the amazing people, the wonderful touristic sites, the abundant natural resources, with the biggest bragging point at the moment being that we are the most educated country with the highest literacy rate on the continent,” She adds, “on the other hand I will have to tell the hard truths of the indefensible and reckless acts of violence and corruption that I have witnessed and observed in my work as a human rights defender.”

Rumbidzai completed a law degree at the University of Zimbabwe in 2007. Three years later, she attained a LLM degree in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

Her career has spurned several international human rights bodies including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in Egypt (2011) allowing her to witness, first-hand, the struggle for human rights and democratic transformation in Egypt and other North African countries during the Arab Spring.

She also worked briefly in 2010 with the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

She sees herself as a social justice advocate, passionate about using the power of the written word to inform, educate and transform societies.

She writes on her personal blog- MaDube’s Reflections– where she interrogates issues of the law as it relates to women, human rights, democratic governance, international relations, and global politics. She is an admitted member of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

The unsung ones

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The unsung (s)heroes/heroines

The typical freedom fighter who is often arewarded after a struggle is one who holds the gun, stands at the forefront of the struggle and raises a voice speaking out against the injustices of an era. More often than not that freedom fighter is the man who stays in prison, is tortured and subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment yet he still stands firm against the ideals and policies of the regime he opposes. Indeed these men are brave men. Their role in challenging the status quo is an indisputably pivotal one in shaping the world into a better place.

However my heart bleeds for the forgotten freedom fighters…

The women who may not go to the warfront but are still drawn onto the battlefield. The women whose souls are battered as their bodies are turned into war zones as men rape them and mutilate them to exact revenge against their enemies. The women whose children die in their arms from hunger, starvation and disease yet they soldier on. The women who endure the long nights and dark days without their husbands, sons and brothers. The women who are left behind to wonder if they will ever see their loved ones again and who are often given the burden of taking care of the children, the elderly and the disabled under harsh conditions. Yes, these women’s role is huge yet it is often never recognised. They remain unsung heroines of the struggles for political freedom, for peace, for justice and for human rights.

At this moment my heart stands with a sheroine, Manal Bahey El Din Hassan, my friend, whose husband Alaa Abd El Fattah is being held by the Egyptian military rulers at Torah prison. Alaa stands falsely accused of inciting violence among protestors that led to the death of 26 people on 9 October. Yes for refusing to be tried in a military Court I salute him. For criticising the army and the violence it incited and executed at Maspero I also salute him.

But I salute Manal more. Right now she is heavily pregnant about to give birth to their first child. She is facing the difficulties of her final term of pregnancy alone, without her husband. Alone she stands firm and is continuously fighting the military and its policy of subjecting human rights defenders and political activists to military trials on trumped up charges.

Even her husband in a letter he wrote to the press acknowledged that while he is in prison his wife is out there;

“whom I will leave alone in the last days of her pregnancy and will leave her alone to oversee the workers who are preparing Khaled’s (their unborn son) room, I who shall be detained and she who shall be burdened while she is running around for my demands, my sustenance and my visitation permits as well as the campaign that was founded for my case.”
(Full article available at http://sultanalqassemi.blogspot.com/2011/11/egyptian-activist-alaa-abdel-fattah.html)

My heart also stands with Jenni William a Zimbabwean human rights activist and social justice champion whose struggle for social justice has landed her in prison many times. In her prison diary entitled “Reflections after my 39th arrest” Jenni writes

“My name is Jenni Williams, national coordinator of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). I am persecuted for being a human rights defender, just getting over my 39th arrest and recovering from my 3rd stint in a Zimbabwean jail as an unconvicted prisoner. Arrested on the 21st of September World Peace Day, I spent 2 days in horrific conditions at Bulawayo Central Police and then 10 days at Mlondolozi female prison in Khami complex. This brings my tally to 73 days of my life spent in jails wearing the bright green dolly rocker tunic of a remand prisoner. Despite so many arrests, the state has been unable to criminalise my right to peaceful protest so they through a particular officer with personal grudges have now resorted to criminal charges of kidnapping and theft.”

She denounces the dreary conditions in remand prison and says
“I ask us to think and try to find other ways than to send someone to a prison that cannot feed them in a country that will not reform or correct them. Instead of prisoners coming out as reformed members of society they re-enter society as hardened criminals with little hope of being reformed.”
(the whole entry is available at http://www.kubatana.org)

Many more women out there have taken the same role and time and time again their efforts have never been fully recognised for the sheer bravery they represent. These women are brave beyond measure and today I salute them and recognise them as true (s)heros.