6 October 2012 witnessed people from different walks of life converge in Birmingham to relaunch the ROHR Birmingham branch. Our heartfelt thanks go to Lizzy Bell of the BIRCH Charity and others, who helped to make this event a success. BIRCH members and supporters also turned out to hear the ROHR Founder & President, Ephraim Tapa give the keynote address. But first it was Lizzy who took the floor to open the first session by welcoming and thanking everyone for coming. After brief opening remarks, she welcomed the ROHR President Mr Tapa to the stage to give the keynote address.

The President traced Zimbabwe’s economic demise from the dizzy heights of the 1980s to being one of the worst in the world. He also touched on how the economic problems were exacerbated by greed, corruption and a culture of impunity. He also lamented Zimbabwe’s appalling human rights record: Matebeleland Gukurahundi, violent farms reforms, Murambatsvina, the 2008 bloody election, and so on. The President narrated how the ordinary people were dying from preventable deaths, languishing from poverty and disease and suffering under a dictatorship, whilst the political elite from both sides of the political divide continued to enjoy unbridled wealth. He also spoke of how the Inclusive Government had failed to make a difference. The President echoed the widely held belief that the upcoming elections would be more violent than ever before as ZANU PF seeks to consolidate their stranglehold on the Zimbabwe economy and political landscape. He noted that torture bases were already being set up in readiness for the coming elections. Mr Tapa also told the meeting about violence and plunder of the Marange diamonds with China and the Zimbabwe’s ZANU PF benefitting the most.

This was then followed by a question and answer session. All present were touched by Mr Tapa’s reflections on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe and the woes of asylum seeking in foreign lands. Many expressed their desire to help and contacts were exchanged to enable progression of these noble intentions. All present were treated to a variety of tasty Zimbabwean dishes much to their delight.

After this session, BIRCH members left to give way to the launch of ROHR Birmingham branch. This session was attended by members from Birmingham as well as ROHR UK Executive members as follows:

Members: Edith Chinyura, Elector Zvorwadza, Shalom Chipere, Nandu Mpofu, Catherine Tewo, Petronella Mapara, Amanda Chikore, Tandiwe Mqotywe, Christine Gumbo, Chipo Denenga, Comforter Zibwowa, Tandiwe Gwarumba, Anne Chikumba, Godwin Kativhu

National Executive members: Collin Chitekwe – Co-rdinator, Jonathan Kariwoh – Co-ordinator, Nobuhle Mazula – Information & Publicity Secretary, Tapiwa Merrymore Semwayo – Vice Secretary, Naome Kakunguwo – Fundraising, Chamunorwa Chisuko – Organising Secretary, Huvandirwa Makaza – Vice Information & Publicity     

Thandiwe Gwarumba was the first to take the floor to welcome everyone present and introduce the business of the day. She told the gathering that as ROHR members in Birmingham, they had found it necessary to organise themselves and contribute to the cause of human rights. Thandiwe thanked BIRCH members for making it possible for ROHR members to meet for the relaunch of the branch. She then went on to welcome the ROHR Founder to the stage to address members about ROHR, its objectives, strategies and principles. The president in turn welcomed everyone present and again thanked the main organisers of the event, Thandiwe Gwarumba and Anne Chikumba, for their hard work.

The President explained that ROHR stood for the restoration of human rights and was aimed fostering a rights culture and dignity of the people in Zimbabwe. The President went on to say that under the present Inclusive Government, the three principals to the GPA (Mugabe, Mutambara and Tsvangirai) had taken over all power and relegated the people to the sidelines (animal farm style) where they are expected to see and hear no evil. He said the people of Zimbabwe had been taken for granted for far too long and that time had come for Zimbabweans to unite and take charge of their own destiny. The President emphasized that under the prevailing circumstances, ROHR Zimbabwe had become a leading voice of the voiceless and a champion in empowering the suppressed.

Mr Ephraim Tapa decried the Inclusive Government saying it was nothing more than a temporary ceasefire between the political parties and an opportunity for the political elite to enrich themselves. He spoke of the absence of meaningful reforms in the media, security, judiciary, law and order. He also emphasised that unless the perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to book, elections in Zimbabwe would continue to be characterised by violence. This made it all the more important for civil society to remain vigilant and develop the necessary capacity to confront the scourge of impunity and tyranny.

The President promised that coming into the next year ROHR would be conducting workshops on leadership and human rights. He added there was need for the organisation to develop passionate and loyal human rights activists who were also prepared to defend the organisation when under attack. He encouraged all present not only to spread the message about the organisation and the human rights causes but to bring others into the fold. The President finished by stating that the people in Zimbabwe had little hope in the internal politics and that they looked to the diaspora to help develop alternative program to free Zimbabwe. The President ended by explaining that human rights were not about empowering ourselves only but others.

After the President declared the re-constitution of ROHR Birmingham branch, elections were held and the following were elected

Chair                                        Thandiwe Gwarumba
Vice Chair                                Anne Chikumba
Organising Secretary                Cathrine Tewo
Fundraising                              Nandi Mpofu
Vice Fundraising                       Petronella Mapara
Information and Publicity           Huvandirwa Makaza
Secretary                                 Lorraine Manenji (confirmed later)

 The President challenged the Birmingham branch to work hard and take ROHR to the next level. He then warned against being hoodwinked by some renegade former members of ROHR who were still masquerading as part of the organisation. The President then thanked everyone for coming to the meeting and reminded that www.rohrzimbabwe.org still remains the ROHR website. The meeting ended with the song Ishe Komborera Africa and Catherine Tewo giving a short prayer.

Report by Thandiwe Gwarumba
Chair, ROHR Birmingham Branch