The US ambassador to Zimbabwe is speaking out (Wednesday) about criticism from state-run media and about Tuesday’s diplomatic row in which police delayed him and tried to detain him for questioning. Ambassador James McGee and other envoys visited hospitals in Mashonaland central, where victims of political violence are being treated.
The state-run Herald newspaper accused Ambassador McGee of trying to demonize the government ahead of the presidential runoff election and of breaching diplomatic protocol in traveling more than 40 kilometers from Harare.
VOA reporter Blessing Zulu spoke with Ambassador McGee, who rebutted the Herald’s accusations.
“The Herald needs to check its facts before it comes out with stories that are less than factual. President Mugabe himself, when I presented my credentials, encouraged me to go out into the countryside and visit with the people of Zimbabwe and see for myself what’s happening in his country. I was taking the president up on that offer yesterday when I visited what is, now we know, a torture camp and two hospitals. We saw evidence at the torture camp that violence is being perpetrated against innocent people who’d done nothing more than vote their conscience in the last election. And we saw exactly the same thing at the two hospitals that we visited. We saw images, horrible images, of people who had been beaten senseless, again for nothing more than voting their conscience in the last election. So, I don’t think you can call that demonizing anyone when we’re reporting nothing but factual evidence,” he says.
Asked his opinion of the scope and nature of the post-election violence in Zimbabwe, Ambassador McGee says, “I think that the scope is massive. We’re talking about large numbers of people who are being intimidated by violence. We’re talking about large numbers of people -- and this may be an even more serious issue -- who are being displaced from their possessions, from their homes. These are people who will not be able to vote in any runoff election, if that does happen, because they won’t be living in the wards where they’re registered. So, that’s a serious issue right there.”
He adds, “The degree of the violence is brutality like I’ve never seen before. I’ve even been in war zones. I served in Vietnam for four years… What I’m seeing here I did not even see that type of brutality in a war zone.”
Asked whether he believes the violence is being organized and supported by the ruling ZANU-PF Party as many have claimed, Ambassador McGee says, “I’ve personally spoken to literally a hundred, maybe a hundred and twenty people. I’ve had one person who tells me that he’s a ZANU supporter and was a victim of violence. To a person, everyone else tells me that they were an MDC supporter and that the people who had brought the violence down upon them were ZANU or ZANU supporters. This leads me to believe, from my small sampling of what’s happening here in Zimbabwe, that the vast, vast majority is being perpetrated on MDC personnel by ZANU people.” However, he adds, “What I have to say to everyone is I really don’t care if you’re ZANU or if you’re MDC -- the violence has to stop in Zimbabwe.”
Commenting on whether he thinks the Mugabe government is taking steps to end the violence, he says, “I’ve seen no evidence that the government is determined to stop this violence. No evidence whatsoever.”
As for Tuesday’s incident, in which Ambassador McGee opened up hospital gates despite police attempts to detain him and others, he says, “My decision was a very simple one. It was time for us to depart the hospital. There were four policemen, armed policemen, who were standing at the gate. I said it was time for us to depart and I went and opened the gate and asked my people to leave. As an accredited diplomat here I should not be detained. Article 26 of the Vienna Convention…says that diplomats should be afforded free and unimpeded passage throughout the length and breadth of the country that they’re accredited to.”
Asked where Zimbabwe goes from here, with a runoff presidential election pending, the US ambassador says, “I think there are several ways forward. Number one, I think that the people of Zimbabwe need to stand up and say enough is enough. We have made a decision. Let’s move forward and give us the opportunity to again express our will.”
Ambassador McGee says the government needs to announce a date for the election. “The government of Zimbabwe, as well as the people of Zimbabwe, needs to assure that this will be a safe, free, fair election. The second thing I think needs to happen is that the…regional communities, such as SADC, need to step in and ensure that their rules regarding the conduct of an election in their member nations are being met here in Zimbabwe. SADC has some very, very definitive rules about the type of violence that we see happening here in Zimbabwe. And I think it’s incumbent upon SADC to ensure that Zimbabwe as a member state lives up to those rules,” he says.