From a protector to a threat

Grace Mugabe: Interests of the State placed ahead of individual human security

Obtaining or having statehood comes with certain privileges and rights which have made it politically seductive and therefore sought-after by the political elites, often with little or no regard for the wellbeing and even existential fears of their own citizens. Victor Daniels analyses what the Grace Mugabe incident means for individual security in South Africa.

In an address by the then Deputy President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma to a seminar on the review and discussion of the Human Security Report in Pretoria on 26 May 2003, he said amongst other things that, “The principle of human security is important as it reminds us that human security must be centred on people and not states… Lasting stability in Africa cannot be achieved unless human security concerns are addressed”. He went on to suggest that we need to “revisit the definition of human security.”

Over a decade later, Zuma is at the helm and at the heart of the human security discourse lies concerns and debates about the security of individuals and communities in contradistinction to that of the state, but not necessarily in opposition to it. However in international relations obtaining or having statehood comes with certain privileges and rights which have made it politically seductive and therefore sought-after by the political elites, often with little or no regard for the wellbeing and even existential fears of their own citizens.

On paper, the emphasis of a human security approach is to prioritise human security as a necessary imperative for the survival of states, but de facto, the security of the state and the protection of political elites prevail. In many parts of the world, the state has today been transformed from being theoretically, the sole purveyor of human security into probably its most potent threat; this despite the existence of international civil and human rights treaties and domestic protective legal frameworks and institutional mechanisms.

This is an international phenomenon, but resonates loudly in most of the states of Africa. What is needed is for human security to be given a new status that a proper relationship between it and state security can lead to a more effective security regime for both the state and its people. In pursuit of such a relationship, it is imperative that any useful and resourceful work on human security in Africa, not only focus on identifying some of the most potent threats to the security of Africans, but equally important, to discuss the legal and institutional mechanisms for protecting human security of Africans from such threats.

The question though is, is such harmony between the security of the state and the human security of its people achievable in the short and or medium term? We have very little to make us believe that this will obtain the amount of attention it deserves. Grace Mugabe’s diplomatic immunity after having attacked Gabriella Engels in a Johannesburg hotel proves this.

International politics are replete with examples of considerations of supposed state interests, and even spurious existential reasons why human security should be sacrificed in service of the state. This takes on a more despicable and or sinister character under conditions of overt state brutality, state failure to mobilise its protection resources and allegations of international political cronyism. Engels is unfortunately the victim of the imperatives of state security trumping her human security, despite the brutality meted out on her by Zimbabwe’s First Lady.

Perhaps we can still, for what it is worth, ask the President what he had in mind when he addressed the Human Security seminar in 2003.

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