Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa and his wife Tsitsi who have been forced to close their twitter accounts following a backlash, have been accused of being defenders of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The accusation was made by Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth in a message in which he is defending his Southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga over his comment on a tweet by Tsitsi Masiyiwa.
Tsitsi Masiyiwa was forced to close her account after tweeting: ““Some outcries and actions in pursuit of justice seem and look so right until you discover the source of the outcry and sponsor of the cause. Take a step back and reflect on some of the things we consider ‘good and just causes.’ #FoodForThought”
Mavhinga responded: ““If you are implying that all and any outcry & pursuit of justice is sponsored then that is really sad. When your husband pursued his fight to be licensed it was a just cause. In such position of privilege you should choose your words more carefully, lest it promote injustice.”
Masiyiwa accused Mavhinga of bullying his wife into closing her twitter account and insinuated that he was friends with the founder of Human Rights watch thus implying that he could have Mavhinga fired.
The founhder Masiyiwa referred to is Robert L. Bernstein.
Roth, the executive director, said that no one wanted to see Masiyiwa’s wife attacked on twitter but Masiyiwa was unfair by not explaining what happened.
He said that although he believed that it was not her intention, Tsitsi Masiyiwa’s tweet “closely paralleled the claim of President Mnangagwa and some of his supporters that critics of human rights conditions under his rule are not genuine but are sponsored by outsiders”.
He said the response from Mavhinga “far from bullying, …cites your personal story as a positive counterexample: your long experience fighting injustice shows that good causes can indeed be genuinely pursued without any foreign sponsor”.
“I accept that you and the responder differ on when sanctions against the Mnanagwa government should be lifted. You find it sufficient that in your view Mnangagwa is well intentioned. The responder and many others, including myself, prefer to see the government take concrete steps before lifting one of the main sources of pressure to secure improvements,” Roth said.
“That’s a legitimate difference of opinion. I would hope we could debate the merits of those positions without resorting to name-calling, especially such factually unsupported names, as you have now done.”
In his statement defending his wife, Masiyiwa, without naming Mavhinga, said: “Sadly one of the foremost bullies is a Zimbabwean who works for an international organisation that is highly respected for its work on human rights. Its founder, now 95 is a close family friend. I hope my human rights friend is happy now that he has stopped her from using twitter. Maybe he and others lie him will stop will stop this pathetic misogyny. What about the rights of women like my wife to also express an opinion?”
Roth responded: “Unlike your statement here, the responder didn’t bully anyone—and certainly not your wife—but simply responded to what he feared, whatever her intentions, would be taken as an attack on the credibility of the human rights movement.
“That others picked up on his point, without any encouragement or prompting by him, does not make him a bully but speaks to the resonance of his comment. And given his long respect for her work, as well as his highly respectful and productive relations with his many female colleagues in the human rights movement, I would hardly call him misogynistic.
“He would have responded to comments along the lines that your wife made regardless of who had made them. That is his right —and indeed his duty as a human rights defender.”
Roth also tweeted: “Defenders of Zimbabwe Pres Mnangagwa don’t want to hear criticism of his government’s persistent repression so they pretend all critics are foreign sponsored. A cheap shot. Why not address the reality?”