Human rights defender visits Ireland

Zimbabwe Human Rights Defender visits Ireland

Trocaire by Garry Walsh

24 August 2018

Jestina Mukoko, who was abducted under Mugabe’s regime, speaks of her hopes and fears for a new Zimbabwe

Jestina Mukoko, Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, visiting Ireland in August 2018. Photo : Garry Walsh, Trócaire.

This week Jestina Mukoko is visiting Ireland, raising awareness about the situation of human rights in Zimbabwe.

Jestina is a brave and outspoken defender of human rights, and acts as the National Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project. Trócaire has supported their work for many years, as they monitor and document human rights violations, helping to build a peaceful Zimbabwe.

Jestina arrives in Ireland as Zimbabwe is on the cusp of a new beginning. Mugabe has departed, and fresh elections have been held. These are historic times, after decades of Mugabe’s rule. Yet the elections have been disputed by the opposition, and marred by violence.

Ten years since being abducted

2018 marks ten years since the darkest chapter in Jestina’s work defending human rights. She was abducted by Mugabe’s agents in the middle of the night while still in her nightgown. Of the experience she says “I was abducted, tortured and kept away from my family for weeks on end, and at the end of the day had to face trumped up charges”.

She was missing for nearly three weeks, and her family thought that she had been killed. Her brother went through the morgues searching for her body. Thankfully she survived this experience and the charges against her were eventually dropped. However she is still seeking compensation for her ordeal, and hopes to finally see a court decision this year.

A fish rots from the head

She describes the experience of Mugabe’s departure last year in emotional terms. “When Mugabe was ousted, for me, I was really excited. I was happy that he had been removed because it was during his regime that I was abducted, tortured and really went through a lot of pain”.

“I know that he had established a system and as head of that system, that was the beginning of that system crumbling”. She adds that “they say that a fish rots first from the head and that was the kind of situation I felt at the time”.

She describes Mugabe’s departure as an exciting time for the whole country. She describes the mood as “euphoria similar to what we went through when the country got independence”.

“I was so excited that we had removed this man that I had seen as being really very repressive and being at the head of a system that was really cruel in relation to the work of Human Rights defenders”.

Election violence

Following Mugabe’s departure, fresh elections were held in late July. The pre-election period was markedly different to previous campaigns. According to Jestina, “it was not as violent as other elections that we have observed and monitored” and hopes were high for a fair election, free of violence. While polling day was calm and there was a euphoric mood on the streets, things turned violent once the results were disputed.

“Six people are confirmed to have lost their lives and scores of others were injured when they army came to the streets and they used live ammunition on unarmed civilians,” according to Jestina.

The opposition party took a consitutional case which challenged the ruling party's claim of winning the Presidential election. However, today that case was rejected by the Constitutional court in Harare, and Mnangagwa from Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party has been declared the winner.

Three Zimbabwean women go to fetch water. Hopes that elections in Zimbabwe would provide a political breakthrough to relieve the country's economic crisis are in doubt after violence following the elections. Photo: Isabel Corthier

Hope for Zimbabwe’s future

Despite the questions around the election and the violent acts by the armed forces, Jestina remains optimistic. “I think as a Human Rights defender I do have hope for the country or I would not find myself doing this work.” She says she looks forward “to a Zimbabwe where people’s rights are respected” and “a democratic society where you will do things as a free citizen and not think about the repercussions afterwards.”

Jestina spoke this week at a Trócaire seminar on Women’s Leadership at the World Meeting of Families, as well as other speaking and media engagements. She says that “during my difficult times I have been able to come to Ireland where I have had the opportunity to come to Ireland and cool off away from the frontline.”

Her own experience of violence and oppression has not deterred her to keep defending human rights. She says that her experience of being abducted and the targeting of her work by the state showed that “the work that I was doing was recognised by the system” and this shows “the impact of the work that Zimbabwe Peace Project does, work that is supported by Trócaire”.

She adds that “what really drives me is when I see people that we work with wear a smile, it just keeps me going”.

Watch a snippet from Jestina's talk here:

Such an inspiration. Human Rights Defender @Jesmunga speaks about how she got the courage to continue to work after being abducted in 2008 #WomenLeaders #WomensEmpowerment

— Trócaire (@trocaire) August 23, 2018