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Australia's relationship with the countries of Africa

CHAIR —Welcome. I appreciate  you arranged to appear at short notice. We do appreciate that. The evidence that you give to the inquiry must be truthful to the best of your knowledge. If there are any issues that you specifically would prefer to discuss in private with the committee just advise us if that need arises. We do not have a written submission but that is not in any way disrespectful.

As I said, you have been added to our list at short notice. But we are very interested to hear from you, particularly as you have had a significant role in Zimbabwe previously and you still play a significant role. If you could give us an opening statement about who you are, what you do and your experience then we will go to some questions.

Mr Kapuya —Thank you, Chair, and members of the committee for allowing me to appear before you. I started my activism when I was a student at the University of Zimbabwe where I became a student leader. Subsequently, I was banned from the university and suffered a series of arrests, including torture. I left Zimbabwe in 2001 and went to South Africa where I continued my role in promoting and fighting for democracy in Zimbabwe through various civic engagements and lobbying within the region and with the international community. In the past two to three years, I have been involved in some of the policy debates within the movement for democratic change, including assisting, writing and drawing up a policy proposal on how to engage young people in democracy promotion inside the country. I have been a fellow of the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington where I spent six months working through how best to engage young people in democracy promotion.

My particular interest in the young people of Zimbabwe is that, given the HIV-AIDS crisis, the collapse of the economy and the general decline in the mortality rate, Zimbabwe’s population is significantly youth. Close to 70 per cent of the population are young people. In that sense, young people will play a significant role in today and in the future in unlocking the political crisis and providing the base for any economic and national reconstruction which might happen. Equally, on a sad note, it has been young people who have to a very large extent been involved in the violence and the torture which most of you are aware of.

Estimates suggest that in the past decade, Mr Mugabi and Zanu PF, his political party, have enlisted close to 150,000 young people through a youth militia training program. These are the young people who have been involved in human rights abuses and various acts of atrocities, ranging from rape of women to the killing and butchering of activists—or perceived activists. This youthful core have been used to perpetrate these acts. It does not end there, because these young people have also been enlisted into the police force. Those who came from this training program have been enlisted into the police force and the army. The record of the Zimbabwean police and the Zimbabwean military speaks for itself—they have been deprofessionalised and are moving towards being an extra state military unit.

For my purposes here, I have two key things I want to raise: (1) the role Australia has played in Zimbabwe and continues to play in terms of providing humanitarian assistance and support for the reform element within the unity government; and, more importantly, (2) the role Australia can play in providing support for the future reconstruction and development of Zimbabwe.

Coming to that point, I think that there has been, as you might be aware, so much focus on short-term programs, whether providing water and sanitation, or support for healthcare workers, with the Australian government contributing as it has been doing through various aid efforts. But Zimbabwe is in a transition and whichever way people might look at it—whether it is a retreating transition or a frozen transition, or whether there is scepticism about the unity government or the reformists within the government—there are problems. In particular, frankly speaking, the former opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, may or may not be sustainable, but whether it is or not, the fact of the matter is that Zanu PF is a crumbling party. At its leadership structure level it is being led by people who are ageing. I would suggest that the median age of people in leadership in Zanu PF, for example, is about 70. Mugabe himself is ranging towards 87. That is his recorded age.

Comparing that to the MDC, you will find many more young, fairly educated people, people with a stake in the future prospects of the country. In terms of that investment, how does Australia see itself and what role would Australia play in what some of us would request from this committee and indeed from the Australia, keeping an eye on more of the medium- to long-term needs of Zimbabwe. These should include building and investing in the mineral resource capacity of Zimbabwe to provide a sustainable consolidation of efforts after the transition, and I think that is one key area which has been quite lacking. The other thing also is an appeal for an improvement in social relations mainly directed towards strengthening the visibility and the potential of the reform element in government through increasing an interface on things such as sporting and cultural exchange.

And, lastly, I would like to see consideration of rebuilding and reconstructing Zimbabwe’s private sector, and I think that is very important if democracy in the future is sustainable in Zimbabwe. As you might be aware, Zimbabwe’s economy has collapsed over the last 10 years. It currently operates at around 15 per cent of its 2000 capacity. This means people are looking for the promise of what democracy will bring and they become very doubtful when they do not see any significant changes happening in the economy. Unemployment still remains way above 80 per cent and youth unemployment is extremely high. So that calls for a real consideration and real thought about how we can work through mechanisms to ensure that there are prospects for private sector growth in the country. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Kapuya. Could you give us the years when you were a student? I think you said you came to Australia, or you left Zimbabwe in 2001.

Mr Kapuya —Yes.

CHAIR —Just prior to that—

Mr Kapuya —I went to the University of Zimbabwe at 19. Prior to that, my activism ranged from my church in the local community on sporting activities and getting young people off drugs into alternative forms of recreation which included sport. I went to the University of Zimbabwe to study an honours degree in psychology in 1999. I was 19 then.

CHAIR —I was not trying to find out how old you were, but just to get a general picture, if you like.

—I went to the University of Zimbabwe in 1999 and got banned from the university in 2001. I left Zimbabwe in 2002, just after the 2002 presidential elections. I lived in South Africa until some time in 2007 when I went to the United States. I spent six months in the United States and then went back to Zimbabwe and helped with the March 2008 elections—what was supposed to be the June election—and then left Zimbabwe and immigrated to Australia. So since 2008 I have been living in Australia.

CHAIR —I notice from the notes that we have been provided that you had a fellowship with the National Endowment for Democracy—Carl Gershman’s organisation.

Mr Kapuya —Yes.

Dr JENSEN —There are a few things that concerns me with the future of Zimbabwe. By way of background, I spent the first 19 years of my life in South Africa. I was in South Africa about a year ago and near where I used to live I met a person who was living in the park across the road. He was someone who had come from Zimbabwe and was out of work but, clearly, was well-educated. This is something that concerns me. One of the statistics that I was staggered by was that there are only 20,000 or so whites left in Zimbabwe. It is now a country where its people are finding difficulty feeding themselves, yet it was one of the bread baskets of Africa three decades ago, despite UDI. How do we get that skill base back? Basically the educated and the skilled people with the wherewithal and the capacity to leave have left and what you have got is a somewhat denuded population in terms of education and training.

Mr Kapuya —By way of statistics, there are about 2½ million Zimbabweans documented and undocumented—the majority of them being undocumented—immigrants into South Africa. Most of them are well-educated people who have finished high school, if not university educated. There were, for instance, medical doctors working as security guards in South Africa prior to the South African government going forward to free up the work visa regime and allowing them to work. So there is a significant pool of people who do have the skills.

I was going through AusAID’s report on Zimbabwe. The statistics show that there are over 20,000 Zimbabwean born Australian citizens here. My partner, for instance, is a medical doctor here. It is a skill which is in desperate need within Zimbabwe.

There is a particular challenge in terms of arguing that will get people back into Zimbabwe. The country cannot sustain even those who remained who do have skills. There are no job opportunities. The economy has virtually collapsed. We would have see an even worse situation of, for instance, more doctors leaving Zimbabwe if it had not been for certain intervention measures which, thankfully, the Australian government have been part of—providing salary incentives for health professionals.

As to the return of Zimbabwean citizens to the country, I think that it would depend largely on the capacity to get the economy functional again and get people to be employed within the country or, alternatively, getting significant resources to be able to remunerate those who wish to remain. There are a number of people—particularly those who have been attached to the democracy movement in Zimbabwe—who have a very strong heart for Zimbabwe. They are the base for Zimbabwe’s reconstruction. There are few who have left who are going to go back but there is a significant number of people who have chosen to remain in Zimbabwe for whom our appeal is that they have to have the capacity to play a significant role in the reconstruction.

Dr JENSEN —Another question. South Africa has been very weak in its response to the behaviours of Robert Mugabe in particular. There has been a lot of urging by expatriate Zimbabweans to take strong action against the Mugabe regime and yet its closest neighbour, while it has not been actively supportive, has certainly not been taking measures—not necessarily to have regime change—to change behaviours within the regime. Why is that and what can be done to address that to get some of those behaviours within that regime to change?

Mr Kapuya —South Africa’s attitude towards Zimbabwe has really been quite troubling to understand. There are some who have argued that there is a liberation history at play but that same history shows that ZANU-PF has never been an ally of the ANC and at various periods in their history they have been in conflict. The ANC has shared a history with the other liberation movement led by Joshua Nkomo. So ZANU-PF has not been a natural ally to the ANC. With the history of the ANC—coming from a solidarity movement background and having had a strong emphasis on human rights—it is very troubling to get to grips with what exactly has influenced it.

That said, South Africa has taken that particular position. The question which you raise is: how can we change that kind of attitude? I think there are countries including Australian which have leverage over South Africa. South Africa is one country where opinion—whether it is public opinion through the media or international opinion—weighs quite significantly. One would appeal for Australia to use its diplomatic influence and for other countries in the international community to keep on applying diplomatic pressure and other mechanisms of influence for South Africa to take a more progressive role on Zimbabwe.

CHAIR —Could I just followed that up? It has been suggested or written that the new President of South Africa, President Zuma, will take a more proactive role compared to former President Mbeki. Not a lot of time has passed, under the new president, but do you have a sense that the change of leadership in South Africa could bear fruit?

Mr Kapuya —Significantly, there has not really been much in terms of policy or actions to suggest that President Zuma will take a different line from the one which former president Mbeki took. But, equally, Zuma, from my experiences in and out of South Africa, is very conscious of public opinion. If there is anything which he has tried to play around it is public opinion and I would think that if public opinion was to shift significantly within South Africa—if there was a strong investment in shaping public opinion against South Africa, taking advantage of the momentum which had been generated in the past two years—we might begin to see certain policy shifts towards Zimbabwe.

I have just been reading an online news article in South Africa that Mr Mugabe has been calling for elections. At least in the past two months he has been calling for a general election next year, immediately after a constitutional referendum which might happen in the first half of the year. There is a suggestion that Mr Zuma is not quite happy with that and would rather want the unity government to run another couple of years, until 2013 at the very least, so that there is a cooling effect on the violence which has happened and also so that there is a measure of economic stability by the time that the elections happen.

What we have not seen, however, are strong influences on, or a strong calling for, democratic reforms to be implemented, including reforms in the media; in policing; in repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act, which does not allow for a gathering of more than three without police clearance if the subject is going to be anything to do with governance or anything else deemed political; and also in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which has been used to clamp down not only on journalists but also on university professors, for instance, in disseminating whatever information they might like to disseminate.

Ms PARKE —I would like to hear from you, Mr Kapuya, about the power-sharing arrangement and how that is going between ZANU-PF and MDC.

Mr Kapuya —Regarding the power-sharing arrangement, one can actually safely say that the bigger power there is Mr Mugabe. He dominates every aspect of executive authority in the country in breach, variously, of other points where he had agreed with the MDC. He has made appointments, in breach of the agreement and without consulting the MDC, of governors from the Reserve Bank governor to provincial governors to the appointment of certain ambassadors and the senior civil service and in reconstitution of the military hierarchy. He has done it single-handedly, in breach of what they previously agreed. Since the discovery and first sale of the diamonds, for instance, we have been seeing Mr Mugabe increasingly beginning to implement certain policy proposals without consulting the MDC, including the indigenisation act, which they did not even have to roll through parliament. They just took in a bill which had expired constitutionally and he signed it off. So there is that kind of entrenchment of power by ZANU-PF.

On the other hand, one might argue about why the MDC are still in if they do not have the executive powers. There is a public perception, and a growing public perception and confidence, that the only relative economic stability which is coming to the country is as a result of the MDC. People’s experience of ZANU-PF is 5 million or a billion per cent inflation. People’s experience of ZANU-PF is that schools and hospitals will be closed. That has changed the MDC, whether by its efforts or by whatever it is that has caused that to happen. The public perception is that it is the MDC which has brought about the particular reforms which have stabilised the economy, reopened the schools and stopped the cholera crisis and which are bringing antiretroviral drugs into hospitals and investment in malaria protection. That is the weight and strength which the MDC is deriving from this particular arrangement, but one cannot argue that the MDC is enjoying any significant executive power in this arrangement.

Ms PARKE —How are the sanctions arrangements that are at in place being perceived? Do you think they are effective?

Mr Kapuya —My personal opinion is that the sanctions have been quite effective. The reason why we ended up having this particular political arrangement and a relative cessation of violence is clearly the international pressure which has come to bear on ZANU-PF, in particular these sanctions. However, I think, given what has been happening over the past couple of months since the inception of this unity government, one would want to see reforms in the sanctions or restrictive measures regime, including really being conscious of the fact that ZANU-PF is also populated by people of a relatively reformist mind. If they are all generalised as being bad guys, without a smart policy which rewards reformists, which rewards those who dissociate themselves from the hardliners in ZANU-PF, we might end up seeing everyone else grouping together and ganging up together. But also the sanctions issue has been won on the propaganda of Mr Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Everything is blamed on sanctions, including where they loot and it is discovered that they have looted and they have vast properties in South Africa. They always blame it on sanctions.

Ms PARKE —The Refugee Council of Australia gave evidence to the committee this morning and recommended that the Australian government develop further links with the African diaspora communities in order to better inform our trade and aid policies. I note you said there are 20,000 people of Zimbabwean origin in Australia that you know of, so it would seem to me that they are a significant resource to be tapped into for these purposes. Would you agree with that?

Mr Kapuya —Yes. Certainly I think that finding mechanisms for working through the African immigrant population in Australia will be quite significant. One of the things which does happen is that most of the African immigrant population do still have strong links with their home countries. For instance, in South Africa, here and in the United States I know that most Zimbabweans have been key supporters of aid in Zimbabwe, sending back home remittances which carry kids through school, which provide food for families, which provide money for healthcare services for people who are back home. Besides the social security aspect, they also can be a significant catalyst for change in some countries, including Zimbabwe. Our opinions as immigrant populations and as people who are breadwinners for those who are back home are quite significant for them. There is that aspect which I think Australia has to be attentive to. So the immigrant population is not just people who just came here and basically ignore the challenges of where they came from. They can really be good change drivers in the countries that they came from. Also, much of the future of some countries, including Zimbabwe, will lie in this diaspora population. Most of them are the most educated. They are taking advantage of the economic spaces which exist in countries such as Australia to enhance capacity in themselves, which might at a point become valuable for a country such as Zimbabwe.

Ms PARKE —Thank you very much.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Ms Parke really asked my question, but, Mr Kapuya, perhaps you could elaborate. Do the MDC ministers have control in their departments? What is the position of parliament? Does it meet? Does it have any power? Are people able to speak freely in parliament?

Mr Kapuya —I will start off with the question on the parliament. In parliament people have been able to speak, at least in the past 18 months, without much consequence. Prior to that, prior to 2008, you really had to be made of steel to be able to open up your mouth on certain issues. People are now beginning to be able to speak. There were incidences when this particular parliament was formed where a number of MDC members of parliament—there could have been 10—found themselves being arrested and given jail sentences of 10 years and so forth for all manner of accusations. All of them won their appeals, but there had been a clampdown prior to that. Equally important is the question of building capacity in our parliament as an institution and in parliamentarians as people. Most of the people whom we have, in particular from the MDC side, are people with minimal experience in parliamentary matters. They have not been in parliament before. Many of them are first-timers, so things such as how to push for reforms or utilise parliamentary space for democratic activities many of them have been learning on the job. So I appeal to Australia to consider also investing in the parliament—in particular, in the committees of parliament. Going through some of the Hansard of the contributions of the parliament of Zimbabwe, you begin to see some element of reform. People will contribute in parliament to the debates on some across country issues where a non-partisan position can be enlisted. So there is really an urgency in investing in parliamentary reform. Coming to your question on—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But parliament has no say on the appointment of the defence chief that you said Mugabe had—

Mr Kapuya —Part of the crisis in Zimbabwe is that Mr Mugabe will not read the law and, even if he does choose to read it, he will not respect it. That is why there is a collapse in the rule of law. So some of the procedural aspects of our appointments have to be made from our own knowledge; you do not even think about it. The most immediate example has been the appointment of our provincial governors that I was talking about.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Can I interrupt. Did parliament express a concern that Mr Mugabe had ignored the agreement and appointed the provincial governors without reference to parliament or to Mr Tsvangirai?

Mr Kapuya —In the last week, particularly in the Senate, the parliament has expressed concerns about the money with which Mr Mugabe carried through the appointments. There was a boycott of the Senate by MDC senators. I am led to understand that that position has been changed so that they could come back and pass the budget, which the finance minister, who is the MDC Secretary-General, presides over. But there have been quite loud protestations from the MDC. But we are dealing with a political establishment. Mr Mugabe and his ZANU-PF do not have any respect for the law or the constitution whatsoever.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —My other question was about the MDC ministers. Do they have control of their departments?

Mr Kapuya —That is a very difficult question to answer. What we have seen happening with the coming into fruition of this coalition government is that the appointments only happen at the top. So you have a finance minister who will still preside over a ministry where the parliamentary secretary was appointed by Mr Mugabe. There is a dual reporting system where bureaucrats and ministries report to their respective minister and also to the president, so the lines of authority are sometimes blurred. We have seen some ministries—the ministry of information, for instance—with a parliamentary secretary blissfully disregarding whatever the minister of information or the deputy minister of information has to say, including even taking steps like carrying out television and radio interviews lambasting his own ministers. Those kinds of incidences do happen.

There are some strong characters as well from the MDC. The finance minister, Tendai Biti, for instance, has really been able to stamp his foot. We have seen the odd minister, for instance, Andrew M, being able to stamp his foot. We have seen the education minister, David Coltart, pushing through reforms irrespective of what the bureaucrats in the ministry or Mr Mugabe would say. So we have ultimately seen some improvements, but then those are largely personality driven, on the character and the strength of the personalities involved. But ultimately the public perception is one of confidence in the ministries which the MDC currently holds. It was a point of contestation initially that Mr Mugabe held on to security related ministries—defence, police, the judiciary and so forth—with the MDC holding on to social service ministries—education and such ministries—but then I think what has been becoming quite evident is that in those particular ministries which have a direct impact on the social wellbeing of ordinary Zimbabweans there have really been significant changes. We have managed to contain the cholera crisis with the help of countries such as Australia. We have managed to provide textbooks to schools, including rural schools, and to get every child back to school with significant international support. Those ministries lie, at least at a political level, in the hands of the MDC and the benefits do accrue to the MDC.

Mr RUDDOCK —I was particularly interested in that question because I think it really presages where we are going. You have outlined coalition failures quite comprehensively. I wonder whether you could outline for us the Tsvangirai strategy for dealing with the future. Do you see the coalition remaining in place? Is there a time in which it may be that the plug will be pulled? I get the impression that Mugabe is positioning himself to be able to put his lackeys in place for the longer term. I wonder whether you would be able to give to us the strategy and how we are likely to see events unfold.

Mr Kapuya —There is uncertainty as to the tenure of this particular unit of government. It is suggested that South Africa’s opinion is that it must run through a five-year term and end in 2013 and then you have a general election. As for all members of parliament including those of ZANU-PF, a month ago a decision protested an early election. The reality is that in the Zimbabwean constitution now we have a consolidated general election, so we can just have a presidential election without municipal elections or parliamentary elections. Members of parliament and those in local government come out and say they are not interested in an election. But, however, I think Mr Mugabe’s views usually end up being the ones which dominate the political space, so there is a possibility that we might see elections happening in the coming year. If they do happen, from what we have seen in the constitutional outreach program, which has been in place for the past year, there is a likelihood of incidents or violence to come into it. What was supposed to be just a basic outreach of asking people what they would want to see in a constitution ended up being the very same sort of war build-up whereby villagers were being rounded up, forced into camps with all through the night singing and being forced to recite ZANU-PF talking points on constitutional reform.

So that gave us a window on what could be possible if a general election is called next year. If that happens, there really is a likelihood that Mr Mugabe might wrest all state power to himself. But, on a very practical level, there is a significant level of doubt as to whether a general election in Zimbabwe will bring about the government, which can only be ZANU-PF. I think if they call a general election we will still have the current set-up coming back into being—another unity government. So my predication is that a general election in Zimbabwe will simply extend the tenure of the unity government by another five years. We will end up having 10 years of a unity government.

I will not speak as if I know in detail the MDC strategy in relation to this unity government, but what is quite evident is that, within this unity government, they have been able to provide Zimbabweans with a window on what is possible with an MDC run government, which I spoke about earlier: economic stabilisation, schools being opened, delivery of health services being intact and so forth. That should be one key component of the MDC—to consolidate the gains from that particular perception into something which they can ride on in the event of an election. Equally important are the efforts to strengthen civil society. This coalition government could not have come into being without the efforts of Zimbabwean civil society and the pro-democracy movement, including trade unions, and the work they have been doing—also that of the international community, including international NGOs and their campaigns.

So there is really, within the broader strategy, a framework needed to support and increase those efforts and keep on pushing for reforms—no matter how marginal they are—of the media and the repressive legal system and, more importantly, to find mechanisms for increasing our advocacy within the region. SADC in South Africa and, to some extent, the African Union will play a significant role in the future political determination of Zimbabwe. We saw this unity government come into being as a direct result of South Africa and former President Thabo Mbeki. I think that we perhaps lost on opportunity to really influence and have more input into the political argument that resulted, which came into being because of our lack of preparedness in how to deal, how to lobby and how to enhance advocacy within the region and in South Africa.

CHAIR —Thank you. As there are no further questions, thank you very much, Mr Kapuya, for your attendance and for your evidence today. It is very much appreciated by the committee, particularly having your first-hand experience provided to us, as is the continuing work that you do. Good luck. Before we adjourn, could a member of the committee move that the two documents that were provided today, the BHP Billiton sustainability report 2010 and the Australian Institute of International Affairs policy commentary Looking west: an Indian Ocean perspective, be accepted as exhibits.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —So moved.

CHAIR —I declare the motion carried.

Resolved (on motion by Senator Bishop):

That this committee authorises publication of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 2.09 pm