RadioVOP’s Nkosana Dlamini (ND) spoke to the diamond rights researcher to hear the journey he has travelled to earn this prestigious award and to also hear his views about the decision by the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme to allow Zimbabwe to export her rough diamonds.
Nkosana Dlamini (ND): You have tested state persecution in its form. I refer also to your incarceration by the state for four weeks? How has been the experience?
Farai Maguwu (FM): Zimbabwe is a country where the rule of law is in an intensive care unit. As such, those like me who seek to hold the state to account have no protection. Life has been extremely difficult. I live one day at a time. At our offices we have CIO people parked at the gate many times during the day, monitoring who comes in and out of
CRD. I receive threats over the phone and sometimes I have people following me wherever I go in Mutare. I am constantly checking who is in front, behind and on my sides. However, I have committed my life to God and in His hands I take my refuge.
ND: Tell me about two occasions where you can say you suffered the most in the hands of the state.
FM: When I got arrested I got very sick with a high fever, throat infection and chest infection. Lawyers demanded that I be taken to hospital but the police would have none of it. The lawyers then brought in a medical doctor and he was denied access. My condition worsened and for a while I began to smell death. I cried at one point, thinking my life was being prematurely terminated. In the end I had to be operated to remove my swollen tonsils. The doctor advised that I stay in hospital for 12 days but I was only allowed 2 days and a prison doctor came to demand that I be released into his custody. He successfully took me back to jail but never came to see me thereafter. I was writhing in pain for 2 weeks before my wounds healed.
ND: Is there a time you can recall when your inner Farai told you “no this is dangerous business. Please quit this human rights business? If so, what had happened?
FM: When I was released from jail I was under intense pressure to slow down. I strongly felt the high risk involved in my work as surveillance around me intensified. At the same time I had a strong conviction that told me not to betray my conscience. I decided to continue with my work.
ND: Do you fear for your life any time?
FM: Yes sometimes I do fear for my life, but I also try not to be paranoid about security. I strive to live a normal life just like any other person.
ND: Do you ever joke with some security agents when you meet them and in what form are those jokes?
FM: I joke with a number of security agents. Recently I met one at an intersection in Mutare and he shouted, “Maguwu, when will you be arrested again”.
ND: What would be your response to government claims that you were being used by the powerful West in an attempt to throttle the country’s economy by blocking the sale of Zimbabwe’s diamonds?
FM: It’s difficult to respond to rhetoric. The issues that we advocate for are very domestic and easily verifiable. We are saying government should stop brutalising its citizens in order to secure diamonds. Further, we are saying diamonds must not enrich a few people, as is the case now and for the foreseeable future, but rather should benefit
the whole country like is happening in Botswana. I don’t see an imperial hand in such advocacy work. All right thinking Zimbabweans see reason in our advocacy work. A country cannot survive on donor funds but must make the most out of its God given resources.
ND: Do you have any evidence of human rights abuses in Marange and where do you premise that?
FM: There is overwhelming evidence of human rights abuses in Marange by both state security agents and private companies.
ND: What is your reaction to the green light that has been granted to Zimbabwe to export her rough diamonds?
FM: The deal is a step in the right direction but it falls short of our concerns as Zimbabweans. It does not protect the Marange community from abuses. The deal is silent on human rights nor does it call on the Zimbabwean authorities to protect the Marange community. The deal sweeps under the carpet the failure by Zimbabwe to implement earlier agreements reached in Namibia and St Petersburg recently. This is the third deal on Zimbabwe in as many years and there is no justifiable reason to think this ‘deal’ will mark a turning point in Zimbabwe’s commitment to the KPCS and to transparency and accountability. It is largely a blank check to the privileged few who are making a killing
out of Marange diamonds.
ND: By the way, did you finally get back your laptop and other valuables that were seized from you by state agents at the airport?
FM: The court order to return my property has been ignored.
ND: How serious are human rights violations in Zimbabwe and what is your assessment of other human rights defenders? Are they cut out for the gruelling task of standing up to the regime?”
FM: The human rights situation in Zimbabwe remains terrible. Citizens do not have protection of the law. The level of risk human rights defenders face is commensurate with the level to which they hold government to account.
ND: Perhaps last Farai, you have been awarded the Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award for extraordinary Activism, how do you feel about the honour?
FM: I feel very much humbled to be recognized by such an international organisation working in 90 countries. Being chosen amidst many great people doing incredible human rights work around the world is something very special. I keep asking sarcastically, “why me!”