Except for the fat cats of the leadership of Zanu-PF, there is now universal consensus among ordinary people in Zimbabwe that the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa has made things even worse. It did not have to be that way. The crisis is because the new regime was unwilling to break the old patronage and corruption networks from which former President Mugabe and his cronies profited.
As a result of growing hunger, record unemployment and brazen corruption, Zimbabwe’s restive population has increased calls for mass protests to force the Mnangagwa regime to make drastic political reforms or concede to the creation of a national transitional authority to give the country an opportunity to return to accountable governance.
However, to protect itself from accountability and democracy the Manangawa regime is having to go backwards on its initial promises of a free society, with the protection of human rights and space to organise and protest, as envisaged under Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution. In the last two years there have been brazen abductions, murders, mass arrests, and threats by the regime against trade unions, opposition political parties and activists.
This has led to condemnation by several high-powered personalities. It started with the former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe releasing a report in 2019 after Zimbabwean soldiers killed six civilians on the streets of Harare following demonstrations on 1 August 2018. The report recommended prosecution and sanction of the perpetrator soldiers who killed civilians on 1 August. To date this has not been done.
On 27 September 2019, Clément Voule, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Association, issued an End of Mission Statement after his visit to Zimbabwe which lamented “the loss of lives due to excessive use of force against protestors and urged the Government to ensure a thorough and independent investigation of these events and the prosecution of those responsible”.
Again, no such investigations were ever done. Impunity prevailed.
The 31 July protests
Now, once again, the threat of violence is evident in the tense stand-off between the regime and civil society activists over calls for nationwide protests tomorrow, 31 July, which Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Commissioner General Godwin Matanga has declared illegal and warned that law enforcement agents are “ready to enforce the law”. Police leave has been cancelled and police told to bring bedding on 30 July to “be prepared to sleep at the station”.
The arrests of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and Transform Zimbabwe leader, Jacob Ngarivhume, on 20 July, were directly connected to calls for protests (see this informative interview with Chin’ono’s lawyer Doug Coltart on Zambian television). Both are charged on flimsy grounds with incitement and have been denied bail. Earlier this week an attempt to appeal Chin’ono’s bail denial was conveniently postponed after papers didn’t arrive in time from the magistrate’s court.
In recent days human rights activists within Zimbabwe have reported a marked increase in security presence and road blocks in Harare and Bulawayo. According to one activist in Bulawayo “they are trying to get people panicked. It’s kinda working.” Zanu-PF has also ratcheted up the war talk: Acting Zanu-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamassa, for example, issued a call on:
“Zanu-PF supporters, cadres and sympathisers, wherever you are, to remain alert and ready to defend yourselves, defend our people, their property and most importantly defend peace in your communities against these malcontents, these hired hooligans and hoodlums who rejoice at burning properties and looting.”
Chinamassa described opposition activists as “hooligans and mercenaries”, calling on Zanu-PF supporters to “use any means at your disposal to defend yourselves”.
Several activists report being monitored and yesterday there were reports of the abduction of another activist. On 27 July, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) made public a list of 14 activists that it wanted to “interview” and called on the public to “supply information on their location”.
However, although there is fear in the air, many activists feel that enough is enough and are refusing to be intimidated. One of the people on the ZRP list, trade union leader Robson Nikita Chere, responded on social media, saying: “It has come to my attention that the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) are looking for me for an ‘interview’ in relation to the impending demonstration on the 31st of July 2030.
“As far as I am concerned and from where I stand, I have never applied for any job with the ZRP. I am employed by the government already as a passionate and dedicated teacher. It is enough for me so I don’t need any interview with the police.
“The government is emphasising the need for social distance due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a law-abiding and responsible citizen, I will not ignore the government directive of social distance by availing myself to a reckless, ill advised and unnecessary interview.
“In that light, I advise the ZRP to contact me telephonically. They have my contact details already. We have visited one another countless times over the years.
“In case that the interview materialises telephonically, my answer is clear. I am not the cause of any demonstration. Corruption, poverty and dictatorship are the causes. Not me. Let them address those issues and there will be no demonstration.
“May the ancestors of the revolution guide us on the 31st of July as we make our position clear. Aluta continua.”
The MDC Alliance Youth Assembly issued a statement pointing out that several of the people on the list are its leaders and ridiculed the police action calling it “bad policing not anticipated in a 21st century modern police service”, saying that:
“… this behaviour makes your Police Force complicit to tyranny and unconstitutionalism which stubbornly seeks to uphold what the late National Hero Edson Zvobgo once called a socio-legal order under which people live under constant fear of victimisation and abuse.”
It declared the invitation “DEFIED”.
In addition, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association has laid a complaint of hate speech and incitement to commit violence against Chinamassa with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.
All eyes are again on Zimbabwe. Statements have been issued by the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) and the SADC Lawyers Association, which has pointed to attacks on legal practitioners and warned of “arbitrary arrests” and other extrajudicial actions by the state to create “a palpable state of trepidation amongst law-abiding citizens”.
Across the SADC region, human rights defenders are calling for solidarity with demands for democracy and equality in Zimbabwe and protests at Zimbabwe’s embassies are being planned in several cities across southern Africa. DM/MC