Zimbabwean human rights activist Justina Mukoko told me her story of unlawful abduction, torture and incarceration last week – it was the most difficult interview I had ever conducted.
Mukoko – a former broadcast journalist prior to her work with the Zimbabwe Peace Project – exuded an ability to fine detail the horrendous beatings and emotional torment she had endured during her three month incarceration.
Human rights activism in the country came at this price, Mukoko had put forward. And as any journalist would – she left no important detail out.
She included in precise description that December 2008 early morning when she was taken from her home in Harare in front of her young son. In her nightclothes she was bundled into a car by a group of men and a woman claiming to be officers of the law – they had on plain attire.
Hauntingly and fervidly she spoke of being driven in a car with her head on a man’s lap – not knowing her destination or what may have happened to her son. She described the rubber truncheons used to beat only the soles of her feet – before eventually being forced to kneel on gravel – something she never knew could cause such intense agony.
In South Africa, civil society groups have asked government that they be protected, free from intimidation, as they conducted their work.
Submissions made to the UN’s Human Rights Committee, which reviewed South Africa’s human rights record for the first time earlier this year, saw organisations asking that government representatives and police refrain from imposing restrictions on human rights defenders exercising their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly.
It expressed concern regarding threats, harassment, intimidation and excessive use of force against human rights defenders; and seek that the state takes the necessary steps to protect defenders.
And concern about the particular and significant risks faced by human rights defenders working to protect the rights of LGBTI people and defenders working on corporate accountability and transparency issues.
Targeting activists, through violence and intimidation has seemed to become a common occurrence in South Africa as people battle for a just society. It is here that I must point to the fact that without these organisations, that the flames of societal atrocities would not be eventually doused.
Fist raised in the air, I leave you with this: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – author Margaret Mead.