Zimbabwe’s ‘crocodile’ crushes dissent ahead of Wednesday elections

Despite his pledge not to curtail people’s rights when he came to power in November 2017, the past five years under President Emmerson Mnangagwa has seen the rights landscape shattered in Zimbabwe. Now we have another election coming up this week. What hope remains?

The world should have known better when Mnangagwa declared in his first inauguration speech that despite deposing Robert Mugabe through a coup, his predecessor remained his “mentor, comrade-in-arms and my leader”. His apprenticeship under a ruthless dictator has since proved to be a triumph for autocracy. Known as “the crocodile” because of the political cunning, Mnangagwa reigns over a country grappling with the same issues as before – high inflation, poverty and extreme repression.

After visiting Zimbabwe in September 2019, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, said he had noted “a serious deterioration of the political, economic and social environment since August 2018”.

Since tasting power, Mnangagwa has silenced dissenting voices and has used a captured judiciary to jail political opponents, the most prominent being opposition MP Job Sikhala and another outspoken critic Jacob Ngarivhume.

Sikhala, a lawyer, has been unjustly incarcerated for over a year for speaking out as a legal representative of the family of an opposition activist Moreblessing Ali, who was killed by a Zanu-PF member.

Citizens Coalition for Change President Nelson Chamisa

As Zimbabwe heads to the polls for general elections on 23 August, the political murders have continued. In this election, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) President Nelson Chamisa (right) poses a serious threat to Mnangagwa’s reelection bid. During the last 2018 elections, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced Mnangagwa as the winner with 50.8% of the vote compared to Chamisa’s 44.3%. The opposition disputed the election outcome.

Five years on Chamisa is running for the presidency under the CCC banner, a party he formed last year after he was controversially removed from what used to be the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Chamisa, a Pentecostal preacher, is popular and charismatic. He says though the political field is tilted against the CCC, something Mnangagwa denies, claiming the elections will be free and fair. Evidence suggests otherwise.

During the first week of August, an opposition supporter was killed by Zanu-PF members as they disrupted their rival’s rally in Harare. CCC activist Tinashe Chitsunge died when he was allegedly pursued and stoned by a mob of Zanu PF supporters in Harare’s Glen View suburb.

Victims of Mnangagwa’s regime go far beyond high-profile politicians and their lawyers. University of Zimbabwe student leader Gamuchirai Chaburumunda is one of many people who has been at the receiving end of the brutal regime. She was arrested with five other students while protesting against Sikhala’s continued jailing. Now out on bail and reporting to a police station twice a week, Gamuchirai believes that during her month-long detention, the state sought to break her spirit and instil fear in her and others.

Gamuchirai was first detained at Harare central police station and later at a maximum-security prison. She says she is haunted by flashbacks from her time in prison.

“I was detained with all sorts of people; murderers, rapists, drug addicts. Some detainees were pregnant, others even had babies. There were others in the psychiatric cells. The most heart-breaking thing is when strip searches were conducted,” she said in an interview with Index.

“We would be told to strip naked and be searched for any illegals almost every time we came back from court. It made me feel like detainees have no right to privacy.”

The intimidation is made worse by the passage of repressive legislation, notably the Patriotic Act, which criminalises criticising the government, and the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act, which restricts freedoms of assembly and association. An amendment to the Private Voluntary Organisation Act is set to further restrict the operations of non-governmental organisations.

The strongman behaviour has not relented and the electoral playing field is further tilted in Mnangagwa’s favour with the police, public media and the courts acting as an extension of the ruling party. The police have banned dozens of opposition rallies, for example, while the courts have been used to remove one of Mnangagwa’s presidential election challengers, Saviour Kasukuwere, from the ballot even though his candidacy had been accepted by the country’s electoral commission.

The government also issued new directives to restrict advertising by opposition political parties and candidates.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-Zimbabwe) director, Tabani Moyo, said in the run-up to this month’s elections more journalists have come under attack compared to the last 2018 elections.

“Already we have seen journalists being on the receiving end of violations, the recent case being of Anastacia Ndlovu, Pamenus Tuso and Lungelo Ndlovu. These three were assaulted by members of the ruling party while covering [election] lead-up events. In 2018, the last election, we recorded six cases of violations; the bulk of violations then came after the announcement of the election results. This time around we have already recorded 13,” Moyo told Index.

Moyo noted that although the Constitution provides for editorial independence, observer mission reports from previous elections noted that the state-owned media was mostly reporting on the ruling elites. He said there is a general hidden hand instructing media content to be in favour of the ruling class.

He decried the latest move on billboards, saying by their nature billboards are part of a communications approach that political parties should all be able to access and utilise to get their message across.

“A billboard is a public square. It is supposed to be an area where we articulate our ideas. No one should tamper with opposing views,” he added.

Political analyst Ricky Mukonza said the muzzling of freedom of expression is something Zanu-PF is known for. He highlighted the attempt to pass the draconian Patriotic Act as a case in point.

“It’s simply a repressive piece of legislation that should not have space in a democratic country,” said Mukonza.

A week before the elections, reports emerged that ZEC had secretly conducted postal voting, in violation of the law, for police officers who were being forced to vote for Zanu-PF.

Chamisa tweeted afterwards that it was illegal and that these postal votes would not be accepted. But when the Zanu-PF are using all the dirty tricks at their disposal to retain power how will successfully contest this? It seems Zimbabwe is heading for another sham election.

Zimbabwe: President Mnangagwa doesn’t have the right to shut down the internet


Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 23 January 2019 (Credit: World Economic Forum)

Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa at the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 2018 (Credit: World Economic Forum)

Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa tweeted on 20 January that “in light of the economic situation” he would be cutting short his “highly productive” European junket to return home. This wasn’t the whole story. What forced him to come back early was a crisis precipitated by the steep fuel price hike he announced on 12 January just before he flew off.

Many people first heard of the increase via social media, and the initial calls to protest came online from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general Peter Mutasa and #ThisFlag activist Evan Mawarire, who was shortlisted for the 2017 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, who was released on bail on Wednesday 30 January. Mawarire is facing charges of treason related to a three-day strike that began on 14 January to protest the price hike.

Things immediately turned violent, with looting and arson causing millions of dollars worth of damage and clashes with police and military, responding with the brutality they are renowned for, leaving hundreds injured and an estimated 12 people dead. Those arrested face “assault, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment“.

Following the protests, Zimbabwe’s government forced a “total internet shutdown” from 15-17 January, with a brief restoration on 16 January. No one anticipated that the government would block the entire internet. Internet service providers only told their customers of the shutdown after Energy Mutodi, the deputy minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, spun it to Zimbabweans on national television that the internet was “slow” because it was “congested”.

On 21 January judge Owen Tagu in Zimbabwe’s high court, following an urgent appeal by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Media Institute of Southern Africa challenging the disruptions, ruled that the government exceeded its mandate in ordering the internet blackout during the protests.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Media Institute of Southern Africa argued that the state security minister who issued the directive for the shutdowns had no authority to do so. Tagu concurred.

Until the restoration of the internet, Zimbabweans still couldn’t access Whatsapp, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter without a virtual private network.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Media Institute of Southern Africa do not rule out another court hearing as Zimbabwe’s Interception of Communications Act “provides for the lawful interception and monitoring of certain communications in the course of their transmission through a telecommunication, postal or any other related service or system in Zimbabwe; to provide for the establishment of a monitoring centre; and to provide for any other matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing”.

Only the president has the power to issue a directive for the interception of anybody’s communications. However, as Denford Halimani, one of the lawyers for the applicants, told Index on Censorship, not even the president can shut down the internet: “The act does not give him that power. If parliament had intended to give him that power it would have said in addition to intercepting you can also shut down the internet for everyone.”

The internet has been integral to recent events in Zimbabwe, which may explain the government’s current nervousness. The military and those behind the November 2017 coup used social media to call on citizens to march in support of Mnangagwa. Thousands heeded the call and possibly helped persuade Mugabe, who had until then stubbornly refused to step down, to go.

Social media, specifically Whatsapp, was the medium of choice for disseminating information on the January 2018 strike and on what was going on in various parts of the country.

Mnangagwa may have missed the irony that when he made his announcement to return home on Twitter, but Zimbabwean Twitter users did not. Simbabrashe Chirara responded in Shona, the most widely spoken language in Zimbabwe: “The internet is blocked so who are you talking to, comrade?” With the widespread use of VPN’s, as recommended by the tech-savvy, many Zimbabweans are seemingly unfazed by the social media blackout.

Others wondered why he was talking about the “economic situation” without addressing the issue of those killed by the security forces. When gruesome footage of an attack on a protester by security officials featured in a Sky News report, Mnangagwa could no longer remain silent on the matter. In a statement on 28 January, the president expressed how “appalled” he was, adding that he has ordered the arrest of those behind it.

With the ongoing violence, questions are now being asked as to whether Mnangagwa’s has control over the country, with many believing that Zimbabwe is effectively a military state.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1549984748531-9fde297e-f33f-1″ taxonomies=”173″][/vc_column][/vc_row]