By Kenneth Magwada
“Those who love peace must learn to organise as effectively as those who love war.”
– Martin Luther King Jnr.
ZimRights is the largest movement of grassroots human rights activists in Zimbabwe and is striving to achieve a culture of human rights in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has just entered its 41st year of independence but the journey to where we are now is chequered with gross human rights violations, too shameful to be attributed to an “independent” and “democratic” sovereign. Ironically, 41 years later – more so after a second republic or a “new dispensation” has been ushered, Zimbabweans continue to be pummeled , by economic hardships, political uncertainty and blatant disregard for human rights. Looking back, one may be tempted to wonder why the Zimbabwean citizens have allowed this to happen. Could it be docility or defeatism, or it is sheer helplessness and hopelessness?
At ZimRights, we believe it is none of the above. Our greatest enemy has been apathy. The human rights discourse has been left to the big political voices and civil society actors. Zimbabweans have surrendered their voice to the endless parliamentary debates, workshops and conferences. For years, Zimbabweans have received and read well prepared reports on what is wrong with the country as well as brilliant recommendations needed for the country to reach the promised land – but the promised land has remained a mirage, and for some, hope is fading.
It is against this background that ZimRights decided to go back to its roots, the grassroots and make the human rights discourse the people’s agenda. ZimRights, leveraging on its over 200 000 members nationwide, about 1,5% of Zimbabwe’s population, believes that locating the ordinary man and woman at the heart of the human rights agenda is the key to bringing real and sustainable transformation.
Borrowing from Martin Luther King Jnr’s quote alluded to above, ZimRights in 2020 developed a membership engagement strategy that mainly sought to combat apathy in civic issues and stir up human rights passion, in citizens, to enable being proactive in things that affect their day to day lives. One of the major successes of the strategy was bringing in 3949 new members to ZimRights in 2020– in essence 3949 new human rights defenders securing the future of human rights activism in Zimbabwe. As the membership coordinator,I will share the highlights and dynamics presented by the new membership.
One of the prime 2020 targets we had at ZimRights was to recruit as many women and youths as possible. This was informed by our realisation of the role of women and girls in leading the human rights agenda and the need for it to be strengthened to ensure not only visibility of women, but building their capacity to articulate human rights issues from an informed perspective and as champions for human rights. This was also in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The Resolution is a recognition of the serious impact that violations of human rights have on women, and acknowledgement of the potential of women to contribute to advancing human rights. To this end, ZimRights managed to recruit 2113 women, representing 54%of the total members recruited in 2020.
ZimRights also takes pride in managing to recruit 1224 youth members. These are defined by Section 20 of the constitution of Zimbabwe, guided by the African Youth Charter, as between the ages of 15-35 years. We celebrate this as a milestone because, at 31% of the total recruits, there is light at the end of the tunnel in a society riddled by apathy and lack of youth inclusion as well as participation. Undeniably, Zimbabwe is a youthful country, with 67.7% of its approximately 14 million total population under the age of 35. According to UNDP’s 2014 Human Development Report, the annual population growth rate estimates range from 2.4 to 3 %, and these projections indicate a population of 23 million by 2030. Sadly, youth are bedeviled by a number of challenges such as high unemployment rates, poor and limited educational opportunities, limited civic engagement opportunities among many others. The 1224 youths present a doorway to positively exploit this vulnerable group, as agents for social change.
During the membership drive, ZimRights was able to transcend the rural -urban divide and reached out to members from the marginalised communities in the rural areas. While Bulawayo metropolitan province topped the list with 900 members, rural areas like Jotororo, Chinyenyetu and Silobela, in Midlands, featured strongly with members that put Midlands province on second position with 667 members. From other provinces, areas like Figtree, Mhondoro, Murehwa, Bikita, Chimanimani, Mahenye and Muzarabani also contributed their fair share of new community human rights defenders. In light of this, a question by Barack Obama on whether Africa needed strong women or strong institutions is boldly answered by these inroads towards strong communities that shape both institutions and the people who lead and serve them according to the sacred values of Ubuntu/Hunhu.
ZimRights retired from the year 2020, with a spring in its step, knowing that the membership engagement strategy has created a path towards real and transformative activism. The challenges posed by the COVID 19 pandemic and the lockdown where a minor setback but we are now on course to building resilient and sustainable communities that are able to defend human rights in Zimbabwe.
ZimRights is proud that women and youth are topping our community human rights advocates. ZimRights salutes both the passionate 2020 recruits and resilient old members and this year 2021, ZimRights communities will do more in championing rights.
Kenneth Magwada is the Membership Coordination Officer at the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association. Comments to this article can be send to firstname.lastname@example.org For more information about our work, please visit our website on www.zimrights.org.zw