Pretoria - Zimbabwean activists on Thursday claimed they were hiding in South Africa after escaping state-sponsored violence blamed on security forces during the recent crackdown on protests.
Activists Munyaradzi Shoko, leader of the Children of Zimbabwe War Veterans' Association, and #Tajamuka’s pro-democracy campaigner Elvis Mugari arrived at the Zimbabwe Embassy in Pretoria on Thursday, led by Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane.
The activists were prevented from entering the embassy, where Maimane was seeking “a safe passage” to travel to Zimbabwe and engage the government and civil society on the violence.
“We are here to try to meet everyone. We are waiting for the outcome [of Maimane’s meeting with the Zim Embassy]. So far we have engaged the president of the DA who has been working with us to try and help us. We wait for the outcome...,” said Shoko to journalists at the embassy.
He said the activists had reached out to different political party formations in South Africa, but only the DA had shown interest in assisting them.
“But as for the African National Congress, we feel that we cannot approach them. They have been supporting a government which has been torturing its own people and killing its own people. We are afraid of even approaching the ANC because eish, we don’t feel safe in their hands,” said Shoko.
During the fierce clampdown on the protests that were sparked by an astronomical hike in fuel prices, police and soldiers were filmed hunting down activists.
As many as 12 people were killed during the clampdown and 68 were treated for gunshot wounds. Authorities also shut down the internet and WhatsApp communications in the wake of widespread protests earlier in January.
Mugari said the Zimbabwean nation was in a state of paralysis.
“We organised the [national] shutdown saying Mnangagwa we need an explanation. Why all of a sudden did he come on national television to announce fuel prices? We organised a successful shutdown which took three days … then on the 16th January in the evening six armed government security officials raided my house, and they were firing live bullets. They destroyed everything,” said Mugari.
“I managed to escape through the window, then I walked more than 20 kilometres barefoot, trying to navigate so that I would come to a neighbouring country for safety. Our clarion call to the international community … we really need your help in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is really in a crisis. Our problems emanate from a contested election.”
Maimane said he would be travelling to Zimbabwe next week to meet government officials, civil society, opposition parties and labour representatives.
“Our intention has been to come and request that we have a safe passage next week as we travel into Zimbabwe," he said.
The DA leader said he had written to the Zimbabwean presidency, "to meet, not only with the current government of Zanu-PF but to request a meeting with civil society, opposition leaders … because we need to go on a fact-finding mission to ensure that we are dealing with the status of democracy, to restore democracy. That is the fundamental issue here.”
“We also urge the South African government to take a much stronger stance against Zimbabwe. Any [financial] bailout to Zimbabwe must go towards humanitarian aid. We want to make sure hospitals are open, police services are functional, to ensure that systems of Zimbabwe continue to work.”
African News Agency/ANA