By Tichaona Sibanda
9 January 2010
The appointment of the former chief immigration officer, Elasto Mugwadi, to the new Human Rights Commission has come under fire, following revelations of a spate of injustices he perpetrated during his time in government.
In 2001, under his watch, Mugwadi’s department supervised the stripping of citizenship status and rights of close to 1.5 million Zimbabwean mine and commercial farm workers born of parents from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. This exercise resulted in statelessness for all these victims, who were also denied the right to vote in the 2002 presidential elections.
The late Sir Garfield Todd, the former prime minister of Southern Rhodesia, once hailed by Robert Mugabe as a ‘friend of Zimbabwe’, was one of those stripped of his citizenship in 2002 and was also deprived of the vote.
In 2003 Mugwadi refused to comply with a High court order to block the deportation of well known American journalist Andrew Meldrum.
Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa fought tenaciously for Meldrum to stay in Zimbabwe, but he was illegally ‘kidnapped’ by the police who bundled him into a vehicle and drove him straight to the airport. At the time of his deportation Meldrum held a valid residence permit.
The weekly Zimbabwe Independent reported on Friday that human rights activists this week went on a campaign to protest Mugwadi’s appointment and those of several others.
The activists raised concerns over Mugwadi’s integrity due to the nature of his arbitrary and discriminatory interference with citizenship. The Independent said besides the former immigration chief, some of the other commissioners appointed were unfit for the job given their history, saying they had no ‘demonstrable’ record in the human rights field.
SW Radio Africa spoke to a former customs officer who is now a successful businessman man in Harare. He told us that as a customs officer he worked closely with the immigration department.
‘He (Mugwadi) was feared and had a reputation as a yes man for the politicians. There is a lot that happened in the immigration department under his watch. A number of foreigners with vast business interests were deported from the country in the last decade. Who has taken over their businesses? Do your research and you’ll be horrified who owns these businesses now,’ the businessman said.
Last month Robert Mugabe appointed the Human Rights Commissionioners: Mugwadi, Kwanele Jirira, Carol Khombe, Joseph Kurebwa, Jacob Mudenda, Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, Neseni Nomathemba, and Ellen Sithole.
Human rights lawyer Gabriel Shumba said the mandate of the HRC was to promote and protect human rights in the country.
‘If anybody is tainted by misdemeanours related to human rights protection and promotion, that person is not a fit and proper person to hold an office as a commissioner on the HRC,’ Shumba said.
He added; ‘We know of what he’s done to Zimbabweans whose parents came from the neighbouring countries. He was involved in the stripping of citizenship status and rights, resulting in the statelessness followed and, in many cases, by persecution of farm workers who voted MDC in the 2000 parliamentary elections.’