CANADIAN advocacy group AIDS-Free World remained adamant that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) would investigate allegations of a politically-motivated campaign of mass rapes leading up to Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections, despite apparent mixed messages on the part of the national prosecutor.
Such an investigation would be the first of its kind in South Africa and would be a significant U-turn, as the NPA is about to defend in court its decision to decline to pursue a similar crimes against humanity investigation — into allegations of torture in Zimbabwe in 2007.
At a press briefing in Johannesburg on Tuesday, AIDS-Free World heaped praise on the NPA and the South African Police Service, saying South Africa’s "courageous and principled stand" was leading the way in ensuring justice for victims of sexual violence.
"This kind of action gives the women of Zimbabwe who were mercilessly raped a reason to hope and believe that justice is real," said the organisation’s co-chairman Stephen Lewis.
The organisation said it had documented brutal gang rapes of more than 80 Zimbabwean women by men singing Zanu (PF) songs and wearing the party’s T-shirts — as part of a widespread and systematic campaign, thus amounting to crimes against humanity. It had also identified more than 200 suspects.
By enacting the Rome Statue into domestic law, South Africa has an obligation to investigate crimes against humanity and then arrest suspects once they set foot in the country.
Co-chairwoman of AIDS-Free World Paula Donovan said the timing of South Africa’s decision was "critically important" as it would send a clear message to would-be perpetrators in the upcoming elections.
She said the organisation had anecdotal reports of politically motivated intimidation re-emerging in Zimbabwe in the run-up to the upcoming elections.
However, it remained unclear how committed the NPA and the Hawks were to the investigations — at least in public — saying that, while the matter was being looked into, a definite decision to investigate was yet to be taken.
On Monday the NPA said the Hawks were "busy with an assessment process" to "determine whether or not an investigation should be conducted". The NPA was still waiting for a "formal decision" from the Hawks.
Hawks spokesman Paul Ramaloko would say nothing more than to confirm that "this matter is in our hands and we are looking into it".
But AIDS-Free World’s legal and gender adviser Shonali Shome said that an enquiry docket had been opened, a case number assigned, a detective put in charge and that the organisation’s legal team had a "positive" meeting with the NPA.