Southern Africa Director Human Rights Watch and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Director, Dewa Mavhinga recently died in South Africa following a short illness related to the Covid-19 infection.
He was 55.
“Shocked and devastated by the passing of our Southern Africa Director, Dewa Mavhinga. He was a powerful advocate for human rights, a wonderful colleague and friend, and a kind human. He left us far too soon and will be deeply missed,” said Ida Sawyer, who is Deputy Africa Director Human Rights Watch.
To many ordinary Zimbabweans, the name Dewa Mavhinga may not even ring a bell.
Few may know why he is being celebrated or missed by others, while he may not be missed by some.
Perhaps it is time that a story is told about the man that Dewa Mavhinga was.
African wisdom says “wafa Wanaka, (the dead are infallible),” so we will let the facts captured in history do the talking.
As Southern Africa Director Human Rights Watch who commanded some solid ground in Zimbabwe’s Civic Society sector through Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which he chaired, Mavhinga became the Western favourite point person for policy considerations on Zimbabwe.
In 2011, December 2 to be specific, Mavhinga appeared before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at which he gave damning witness account of what he perceived as human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
It was at this same appearance that he successfully convinced the US Foreign Policy thinkers to suspend all re-engagement overtures, citing the then upcoming 2013 elections which he opined would not be free fair.
“That is why in the previous Congress I introduced H.R. 5971, the Zimbabwe Renewal Act of 2010. This act would authorize debt forgiveness with Zimbabwe by U.S. Government agencies. I have not yet reintroduced a bill for this Congress because I want to take the testimony we hear today into careful consideration before revising the legislation. I am particularly interested to hear from our witnesses on the assessment of the progress that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC formations have made in implementing critical reforms as well as recommendations on how the U.S. can best support those reforms and meaningful democratic transition in Zimbabwe,” said Mr Johnnie Carson, who was then Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs in the US Department of State at the time.
Give it to him, Dewa Mavhinga this meeting, he managed to convince the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to delay and later discard the noble Zimbabwe Renewal Act of 2010 which was meant to become the launch pad for Zimbabwe’s ambitious re-engagement process with the world.
“I am pleased to welcome Mr. Dewa Mavhinga of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition to represent the views of the Zimbabwean civil society to our panel today. In this time of civilian-led uprisings across Africa and the Arab world, which has led to the demise of such formidable strong men as Mubarak and Gadhafi, it is difficult to digest that just 3 years ago a compromise approach to regime change in Africa was deemed acceptable by some. Of course, the 2008 Global Political Agreement is far from perfect, but many believed that it was the most viable option for democratic change at the time,” said Mr Carson in welcoming Mavhinga to the panel.
To many, the compromise agreement of 2008 which0 gave birth to the Unity Government in 2009 was a golden chance for Zimbabwe to redeem itself and earn back its place among the family of nations.
But wait until the testimony of one Zimbabwean who convinced the world to halt engagement overtures with Harare, his homeland.
This Bill would have resulted in the cancellation of Zimbabwe’s debt, setting the stage for economic growth through access to new lines of credit.
Yet after this meeting where Mr Mavhinga was the star witness, all came to ashes.
What later happened after the 2013 elections is there in history for all to see.
He vigorously campaigned to prevent the US from repealing the ZIDERA sanctions Bill which could have seen lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe.
This is what Mavhinga said then before the Committee,
“I wish to thank the U.S. Government for its humanitarian support to the people of Zimbabwe and support to civil society groups, and I wish to submit the following recommendations for your consideration: The U.S. Government should actively encourage and support the emerging SADC consensus on Zimbabwe relating to the need to establish a legitimate government through genuinely free and fair elections that are preceded by a new constitution and other necessary reforms.
The U.S. Congress should avoid any legislative initiatives on Zimbabwe at the moment, including repealing ZDERA, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, or targeted sanctions, until after genuinely democratic elections have ushered in a legitimate government reflective of our people’s wishes.”
As can be clearly visible in this instalment, as far back as 2010, the US government was ready to engage Zimbabwe and lift economic sanctions through the H.R. 5971, the Zimbabwe Renewal Act of 2010, but thanks to Mr Dewa Mavhinga, the nation is now 10 years into his sanctions induced reign of terror.
The country has been under siege for the past 10 years because of his “goodwill”.
But as they say, ” wafa wanaka”.
Mr Mavhinga, regrettably, for the rest of his life saw nothing good about Zimbabwe or its people. His mind was only focused on gratifying those that paid his bills.
He is credited for authoring the highly critical Document entitled, “Diamonds in The Rough: Human Rights Abuses in Zimbabwe’s Marange Diamonds Fields”.
In the contentious document Mr Mavhinga was pushing for the case for Zimbabwe’s Diamonds to be classified as Blood Diamonds and be banned from world markets.
It is in the public domain how Zimbabwe has struggled to sell her diamonds to the world mostly because of such adverse reports which criminalises them.
“Most of the revenue from diamonds, which could play a pivotal role in boosting the state spending on key social sectors and supporting overall economic development, has largely bypassed the formal government structures controlled by Finance Minister Tendai Biti of the MDC. Lack of transparency and accountability for the vast diamond revenue raises serious risk that the money couldd be used to finance a violent election, if one is called prematurely in the absence of mechanisms to prevent state-sponsored violence,” said Mavhinga in a testimony before the US Senate Committee of Foreign relations, then in 2011.
Perhaps it is equally important to highlight how Mr Dewa Mavhinga drifted back into his real being in that meeting, abandoning his Civic Society robs into a fully fledged into Opposition lobbyist.
Of course, he had become the MDC Chief Advisor on Foreign Relations.
After the November 2017 transition in Zimbabwe, the MDC duo of Tendai Biti and Nelson Chamisa flew to the US to once again persuade the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations not to consider any policy shift on Zimbabwe regarding sanctions.
They met the anti-government activist duo of Dewa Mavhinga and Peter Godwin, with the later coming out as the only reasonable person who called for the US to consider lifting sanctions as an incentive to the new government of President Mnangagwa.
“And that way you take the excuse of sanctions and whatever, so you take it back and flip it,” said Godwin.
“That would be a way to prioritize the carrot over the stick, and mix it up and see if it works,” he added.
Dewa Mavhinga, on that trip of shame then in 2017, was unrelenting in his call for stiffer sanctions on his home country.
“Our key recommendations to the US government include that the US government should maintain the existing policy towards Zimbabwe until the military removes itself from politics and the 2018 elections are legitimately assessed as peaceful, transparent, free and fair and power is smoothly transmitted to the newly elected government”.
Of course Mavhinga’s recommendations are responsible for the present suffering that Zimbabweans are going through on the back of continued imposition of sanction.
But, as they say, ‘wafa wanaka’.