The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF Zimbabwe) has waded into a political storm following a controversial statement by its public relations unit where an active Zanu PF supporter and daughter of a cabinet minister is the communications specialist.
The UNICEF communications specialist, Elizabeth Bessie Mupfumira, is the daughter of the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister, Prisca Mupfumira, who is a prominent Zanu PF member.
Elizabeth’s unit on Saturday produced a press statement that took many aback by condemning a family birthday memorial for abducted Itai Dzamara last Wednesday.
Dzamara was abducted by suspected security sector agents in March last year and his whereabouts remain unknown.
He had led a string of protests against Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe, who his group, Occupy Africa Unity Square, accused of running down the country.
The UNICEF statement described the family event to celebrate Itai’s 39th birthday as political and criticised its conveners for involving children.
Interestingly, Mupfumira had expressed similar sentiments through the government-controlled media the previous day.
“The State has a responsibility to ensure that children’s rights are safeguarded. The use of children in the protest violates Article 36 of the UNCRC, which provides for the protection of children from any form of exploitation, which includes being taken advantage of.
“In this case (the commemoration) it is clear that the organisers of this protest took advantage of these children to get a sympathetic ear,” said Mupfumira, as police expressed keenness to investigate the conveners.
Elizabeth has never hidden her Zanu PF affiliation.
At the Zanu PF congress in 2014, she posted on Facebook bragging about her participation at the event.
“Thrilled to be in attendance at the Zanu PF 6th National Congress. Awaiting the arrival of the President,” she posted then.
She has also been photographed in the company of Saviour Kasukuwere, the Zanu PF national commissar.
Kasukuwere, ironically, has been organising rallies for Mugabe and his wife, Grace, where children are shepherded out of school.
But while there is speculation that Elizabeth and her unit boss, Victor Chinyama, played an active role in the production and sharing of the UNICEF statement, UN agency communication is normally thoroughly vetted and approved by the head of the organisation or his or her proxy and sometimes with the involvement of the headquarters.
The UNICEF scandal comes as human rights critics have complained over a recent decision by the UN to recruit a senior police officer in South Sudan despite a record of brutality within the local law enforcement agency.
Pressure group #Tajamuka meanwhile has accused UNICEF of hypocrisy saying “President Mugabe, his wife and their party Zanu-PF have often disrupted classes to bus children to augment depleted numbers at their rallies. Unicef has never said a word.
“The commemorations of Itai Dzamara’s 17 months since his disappearance was not a demonstration and the police, not the children, should never have come there,” it said.
Chinyama refused to comment on the matter, saying he had not seen the statement.
“I have not seen that statement and I cannot comment until I have seen it. However, as Unicef we stand by the statement that we issued on Saturday,” he said.
In a statement to Nehanda Radio, Patson Dzamara was livid.
“It’s now very clear why UNICEF attacked the action we did on the commemoration of Itai’s abduction last week.
“From the onset i expressed my utter disgust and disbelief when I read that statement. I knew that something was wrong with that statement.
“I knew that there was more to it and i even stated that in my official response to that statement. My suspicion and reservation has been confirmed.
“This is unacceptable. I do not expect organisations such as UNICEF to stoop that low in serving their mandate. They have been infiltrated by ZANU PF and their integrity and sincerity is now questionable. Nehanda Radio