The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

25 September 2007

Stand up for human rights in Zimbabwe

A cry for help:
The crisis in Zimbabwe is getting worse by the day. Every day that passes, more and more people will suffer and die unnecessarily.

As the international community, we owe the people of Zimbabwe a chance for a better tomorrow.

Many political, religious and human rights leaders have highlighted and debated about the atrocities in Zimbabwe, some have taken action.

No one individual, party or organization can solve the Zimbabwean crisis alone.

We call on all concerned world leaders, individuals and organizations to work together in tackling the Zimbabwean crisis now, before it is to late.

The crisis in Zimbabwe ranks among the world’s worst government created humanitarian disasters. Here are some facts and figures. Zimbabwe has…
• The lowest life expectancy in the world with an average age of 37 years
• With over 85% of the population living in poverty
• And the worst inflation in the world at over 7000% and rising
• 3.5 million have fled the country and 1000's more flee every week
• Zimbabwe had one of the best health care systems in Africa, now is one of the worst. Only 6 healthcare workers and 1 doctor per 10 000 people
• The government has sanctioned the use of excessive force and torture by the police and military. Innocent men, woman and children are being brutalized and tortured on a daily basis
• In May 2005, the government launched operation "drive out trash" resulting in 700,000 people losing their homes and livelihoods
• Land redistribution ordered by the government has destroyed Zimbabwe's agricultural commercial sector. Tobacco, Zimbabwe's main export, has fallen from 2 million kilograms per year to 60 thousand in 6 years
• Over 7000 people have been arrested in the past 6 months for not adhering to government controlled prices
• In an effort to take over the mines, the government has arrested 20,000 people since 2006
• 2 million people are vulnerable to starvation. International food aid is being distributed by the government to its supporters, and the government punishes supporters of the opposition

Robert Mugabe, the great freedom fighter who brought Zimbabwe’s independence (along with Joshu Nkomo) would like you to believe that the problems are a result of colonialism and the policies of the West (which are mainly sanctions on travel by senior ZANU-PF officials and the attempt to get food aid distributed for humanitarian rather than political purposes).

Despite the fragmentation of the opposition and the fierce bullying of its leaders, Zimbabweans are speaking out about the abuse of human rights taking place. This story hit the newsstands in September 2007:

Harare taxi driver, Tafadzwa Nyatsanga, was negotiating fares with passengers outside an agricultural show when a policeman arrived and demanded to be taken somewhere for a fare of just Z$50,000, about 10p. When Nyatsanga refused, pointing out that other people had been queuing for hours, the officer, Michael Masamwi, began beating and punching him, whacking him round the head with his truncheon.

There was nothing unusual about this in the Zimbabwe of President Robert Mugabe. But then something strange happened. Someone from the crowd stepped forward and told the officer that what he was doing constituted “a human rights abuse” and he should stop. Masamwi laughed and hit him too. The man again told him that what he was doing was wrong as there were hundreds of people waiting. This time the crowd joined in, turning on the policeman and beating him.

The officer called in riot police. They dispersed the crowd violently and arrested the taxi driver, who is still in jail two weeks later.

A few days after the incident, however, Masamwi received a legal summons. Then last week about 500 people gathered outside his police station to demonstrate. This protest was also broken up by riot police and 11 people were arrested, but the demonstrators returned the next day.

Such unprecedented public action is the result of a new movement that has been launched in Zimbabwe to try to end police brutality by naming and shaming the most violent officers and taking them to court. Restoration of Human Rights is the brainchild of two Zimbabweans, one white, one black, who were living in Britain.

Until a few months ago Justin Shaw-Gray, 33, was in Godalming working in IT sales; Stendrick Zvorwadza, 38, was a business studies teacher at a college in Bradford. But the two men were so shocked at the repression in their homeland that they decided to give up their jobs and do something.

“We’re saying enough is enough of police brutality,” said Shaw-Gray. “We felt you might not be able to get rid of Mugabe, but we could make people aware of their rights and how to act. It seemed to us there were plenty of human rights organisations documenting abuses, but none actually doing anything about it.”

Using their savings and contributions from friends, they have spent the past two months meeting district leaders and recruiting members. This is no easy task, given Zimbabwe’s notorious public order laws that require police licences for gatherings of more than five people.

The pair have been arrested several times. “My mum is so scared she can’t sleep at nights,” Shaw-Gray said. Yet so far they have signed up more than 15,000 people.
“We tell people if you stand up alone you’re at risk; if five of you stand up, you’re at risk, But if we stand up in our thousands, they can’t do anything,” said Zvorwadza.
“There are around 45,000 police, of which maybe 5,000 are bad guys. The rest want to do their job. What we want to do is start weeding them out and naming them so they can no longer hide behind the cloak of the system and will be living in fear.”

The plan is to hold demonstrations outside offending officers’ homes and workplaces, and to sue them, working with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

When asked about the risks, he said: “Zimbabwe has the lowest life expectancy in the world and people are starving. We’re explaining to people if you don’t stand up you’ll be dead anyway in six months, 12 months, maybe 18 months, because the economic situation is so bad. You must stand up or you’ll die.”
– from Timesonline: and Justin was interviewed on BBC World Service on 25.10.07

Two things you can do:

1. Support the campaign for the Restoration of Human Rights in Zimbabwe. Use this website to send a message of support to Justin, Stendrick and their colleagues in Zimbabwe who are putting their lives at risk to defent human rights in Zimbabwe. They are standing up in the face of extreme adversity; do what you can to encourage and help them:

2. Join the Vigil, outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London. This takes place every Saturday from 14.00 to 18.00 to protest against gross violations of human rights by the current regime in Zimbabwe. The Vigil will continue until internationally-monitored, free and fair elections are held in Zimbabwe:


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