A civil society consortium in partnership with the United Nations’ (UN) International Organisation for Migration (IOM) held a human rights clinic and a multi-stakeholder consultative forum on human rights from 26 – 27 November 2018 in Chiredzi, Masvingo province.
The civil society organisations include Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Counselling Services Unit (CSU), Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Civic Forum on Human Development, Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), and Zimbabwe Community Development Trust (ZCDT).
The community outreach at Chetsanga Hall, which coincided with the coincided with the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence which commenced on International Women’s Day on 23 November, was graced by the Swedish Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Ms. Sofia Calltorp.
Ambassador Calltorp said the Embassy of Sweden supported interaction between citizens and elected officials as well as gender issues.
“From our side we think it is important to have dialogue with the people accountable and the people elected into power to strengthen citizen participation and to build this inclusive development which will benefit both women and men,” said Ambassador Calltorp.
ZimRights director, Mr. Okay Machisa told Chiredzi residents: “We want you to know your rights so that you take advantage of the new Constitution. We want the rights to shelter of sugarcane workers and decent working conditions to be respected.”
Other stakeholders present at the event, include several councillors, members of the security institutions, representatives from the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, the Chiredzi District Administrator’s office and workers’ union leaders from Sugar Milling and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (SMAWUZ).
Chiredzi Town Council chairperson, Cllr. Gibson Hwende said while the new Constitution has a declaration of rights knowledge among public officials and citizens remained limited.
“We have human rights which we have to enable as councillors. So we can only do that if we know those rights,” said Cllr Hwende, while thanking civil society for availing the opportunity for residents to know about human rights and interact with office-holders.
The meeting saw residents of Chiredzi interacting with their councillors and asking about pertinent issues concerning service delivery such as outstanding salaries for council workers, lack of water in some residential areas, lack of places for children in council schools, and employment opportunities for local youths.
Residents also asked about the utilisation of major council properties to generate revenue such as Chigarapasi bar, which is Zimbabwe’s biggest liquor joint.
Cllr. Hwende promised the residents that the council will look into their issues, while revealing that the local authority is currently undertaking projects such as replacement of old water pipes and improvement of street lighting despite serious revenue shortfalls.
The town council also indicated that it was in the process of paying unpaid workers, who have eight months of their salary arrears, with two months already paid and another two months set to be cleared by December 2018.
IOM Director, Mr. Roger Charles, promised that the UN agency will continue to support human rights initiatives in the communities.
The residents walked away with civic education material such as abridged versions of the Constitution’s Declaration of Rights in local languages and information on key services being provided by civil society organisations, who were also running exhibitions and awareness sessions about their work such as legal aid to the underprivileged, counselling of human rights victims, human rights monitoring and civic education.
The event was also spiced up by entertainment from a local dance group.