Robert Mugabe speaks in Zimbabwe on January 21, 2013 (Photo: CP Images)
"This puts Mugabe on notice that the world is watching."
That's Canadian activist Stephen Lewis talking about a groundbreaking decision by South Africa.
Prosecutors there have agreed to investigate an alleged campaign of mass rape carried out in Zimbabwe before the June, 2008 reelection of Robert Mugabe.
Lewis is the co-director of AIDS-Free World, the international advocacy organization that published a report on the alleged rape campaign in 2009.
The report details allegations that "hundreds and possibly thousands of women had been raped by members of Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party as a strategy to influence the election."
According to the report, ZANU-PF party members forced people to attend political meetings at the party's so-called "base camps," which were allegedly used for rape and torture. If they refused, they were threatened with punishment.
Once at the meetings, people in the provinces of Mashonaland East, Harare, Manicaland, and Bulawayo told AIDS-Free World that they were raped by party members, who told them "they were being 'fixed,' often while they were being raped."
According to AIDS-Free World, the victims "survived the rapes, but were left to cope with physical and psychological trauma, abandonment, unwanted pregnancies, and the lingering terror that their attackers were among the 15 per cent of adults in Zimbabwe infected with HIV."
Until now, no legal action has been taken against any members of the ZANU-PF party over these allegations.
The International Criminal Court is unable to investigate crimes in Zimbabwe unless it receives a referral from the UN Security Council. Zimbabwe is protected on the Council by its ally, China.
After four years of looking for a way of prosecuting those allegedly responsible, the Globe and Mail reports that Lewis and AIDS-Free World submitted a request to South Africa's national police force in December, 2012.
Earlier this month, the South African prosecutors and police sent a letter to AIDS-Free World confirming they will investigate President Mugabe's party for crimes against humanity. AIDS-Free World commented on the decision in a statement today.
This will be the first time an African government has launched a legal investigation of another African country.
According to AIDS-Free World, the need for prosecution is especially urgent because Zimbabwe is due to hold a constitutional referendum and a national election in the coming months.
The "base camps" where the rapes allegedly took place still exist, and the organization fears they could be reactivated.
Investigating the crimes now could be central to preventing further attacks and ending the impunity of Mugabe's supporters, Lewis said.
Stephen Lewis was in the red chair last season with his wife Michele Landsberg. Check out that interview right here.