South Africa votes amid corruption and rampant abuse of power

Two years ago, South Africa was named the most unequal country in the world in a World Bank report. This in a country where apartheid was dismantled 30 years ago. As the country goes to the polls on 29 May, inequality is proving to be at the heart of the debate which is stoking claims that freedom of expression is under threat.

Arthur Shopola, a lecturer in the Department of Public Administration and Local Government at South Africa’s North West University, says nothing has changed since the World Bank report and that failure to deliver for the electorate is due to ineffective leadership and poor management of public resources, corruption as well as maladministration.

He said South African citizens continue to enjoy some rights brought about by the democratic regime, particularly universal suffrage, but the ballot has not translated into the tangible results that people yearn for.

“Poverty, high levels of unemployment and inequality remain pressing issues for ordinary South Africans,” Shopola told Index.

Crucially, the land question remains unaddressed, he said.

“The right to equality is an area that the state has failed to promote. Also, everyone has a right to access clean water. This is one of the rights that SA has dismally failed. Just recently, over 100 people in Hamanskraal (Gauteng province) were admitted and many died because they were supplied with unclean water. There are many people in various parts of the country who still drink and wash clothes from the rivers. It’s sad,” he added.

Earlier this month, the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), released an advertisement featuring the burning of the South African national flag. President Cyril Ramaphosa criticised the advert, telling the BBC: “South Africans are more educated, empowered and healthier than they were under apartheid,” and people must not threaten that progress.

South Africa’s national broadcaster banned the advertisement, sparking outrage among freedom of expression advocates who said it sets a dangerous precedent. They also contended that the Constitutional Court has recognised that the right to freedom of expression is not limited to statements that are moderate and inoffensive, but extends to those that offend, shock or disturb.

DA leader John Steenhuisen, in a speech delivered on 9 May, said the advertisement is the most successful political advertisement in South Africa’s democratic history – with over four millions views online and millions more on radio and TV. He said it symbolises “how South Africa’s flag, Constitution and future would burn to ashes if voters allow destructive populists to seize power”.

Steenhuisen also condemned the banning of the advert.

“This attack on free speech and suppression of the opposition only confirms the urgency of the DA’s warning contained in the ad. The ANC’s clampdown on freedom of speech to protect itself from criticism is but a small foretaste of what is to come under the ANC/EFF Doomsday Coalition, which will burn our flag, burn our democracy and burn our economy to the ground,” he said.

Steenhuisen talked of the hardships that ordinary South Africans now face – the single mother struggling to put food on the table for her children, the unemployed father who has lost his job because the ANC destroyed the economy and the young graduate who has been reduced to begging on street corners.

The alarm over the possible direction of South Africa is not only shared by South Africans in general or the DA in particular. Vitalis Dhokwani, a Zimbabwean living in South Africa since 2018 after fleeing economic ruin back home, said there are tell-tale signs that the country could head in the direction of Zimbabwe. Dhokwani said South Africa is going through what Zimbabwe went through: corruption by political elites, abuse of the law, lack of accountability and transparency. He said there are similarities between Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, and South Africa’s ANC, both liberation parties who have betrayed promises of independence.

“People’s spending power has gone down and the cost of living has gone up. Health services were free to everyone but now even locals are paying,” said Dhokwani.

“South Africa is going the same way Zimbabwe went: corruption, rampant abuse of power. I really feel you can’t separate the ANC and Zanu-PF. These revolution parties abuse the tag of revolution parties. Just because they liberated the country does not mean they must make themselves rich while the poor get poorer.”

He criticised political parties who blame immigrants for South Africa’s problems. Dhokwani said South Africa is suffering from misgovernance and corruption from the people who were put in office.

“We can’t blame immigrants for failure of councils. How can one blame foreigners on service deliveries from council? Generally most immigrants are not formally employed they do self-employed jobs and some immigrants have even created for employment for locals as jobs are hard to come by,” he said.

In a statement on 6 May, Human Rights Watch said the scapegoating and demonising of foreign nationals by candidates in South Africa’s general elections risks stoking xenophobic violence. The human rights watchdog detailed a number of cases in which South African politicians had promoted hate against immigrants. It said candidates were pushing a narrative not just that migration is out of control, but blaming undocumented migrants for the country’s ills and engaging in xenophobia.

Shopola, the public administration lecturer, said politicians blaming immigrants were embarking on an opportunistic theorisation of the problems facing SA. “It’s a misdiagnosis. My worry with that theorisation is that it is loaded with hatred, not only hatred but self-hate and disingenuousness by those who push the narrative,” he said.

“What is failing is the laws and systems put in place to attend to issues of land, employment and the economy which is still in the hands of the few.”

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.

Contents – Express yourself: Overcoming neurodiversity stereotypes


The Summer 2023 issue of Index looks at neurodiversity, the term coined in the late 1990s to identify and promote the positives of variation in human thinking which has become more widely used in the past few years. Are old stereotypes still rife? Has the perception of neurodiversity improved? If not, was this because of censorship? Using neurodivergent voices, we wanted to know about this in a global context.

The majority of the articles are written by neurodivergent people, as we wanted to put their voices front and centre. Many said they did have more of a voice, awareness had shot up and the word “neurodiversity” empowered and welcomed a growth in onscreen representation. However, at the same time it was clear that conversations around neurodiversity were playing out along society’s current fault-lines and were far from immune.

Up Front

Mind matters, by Jemimah Seinfeld: The term neurodiversity has positively challenged how we approach our minds. Has it done enough?

The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest in free expression news, from an explainer on Sudan to a cha-cha-cha starring Meghan and King Charles.


Bars can't stop a bestseller, by Kaya Genç: Fiction is finding its way out of a Turkish prison, says former presidential hopeful and bestselling writer
Selahattin Demirtaş.

Don't mention femicide, by Chris Havler-Barrett: Murdered women are an inconvenience for Mexico’s president.

This is no joke, by Qian Gong and Jian Xu: The treatment of China’s comedians is no laughing matter.

Silent Disco, by Andrew Mambondiyani: Politicians are purging playlists in Zimbabwe, and musicians are speaking out.

When the Russians came, by Alina Smutko, Taras Ibragimov and Aliona Savchuk: The view from inside occupied Crimea, through the cameras of photographers banned by the Kremlin.

The language of war and peace, by JP O’Malley: Kremlin-declared “Russophobe foreign agent and traitor” Mikhail Shishkin lays out the impossible choices for Russians.

Writer's block, by Stacey Tsui: Hong Kong’s journalists are making themselves heard, thanks to blockchain technology.

The Russians risking it all, by Katie Dancey-Downs: Forced to sing songs and labelled as extremists, anti-war Russians are finding creative ways to take a stand.

The 'truth' is in the tea, by Jemimah Steinfeld: Spilling the tea on a London venue, which found itself in hot water due to a far-right speaker.

Waiting for China's tap on the shoulder, by Chu Yang: However far they travel, there’s no safe haven for journalists and academics who criticise China.

When the old fox walks the tightrope, by Danson Kahyana: An interview with Stella Nyanzi on Uganda’s latest anti-LGBTQ+ law.

Would the media lie to you?, by Ali Latifi: Fake news is flourishing in Afghanistan, in ways people might not expect.

Britain's Holocaust island, by Martin Bright: Confronting Britain’s painful secret, and why we must acknowledge what happened on Nazi-occupied Alderney.

The thorn in Vietnam's civil society side, by Thiện Việt: Thiện Việt: Responding to mass suppression with well-organised disruption.

Special Report: Express yoruself: Overcoming neurodiversity stereotypes

Not a slur, by Nick Ransom: What’s in a word? Exploring representation, and the power of the term “neurodiversity” to divide or unite.

Sit down, shut up, by Katharine P Beals: The speech of autistic non-speakers is being hijacked.

Fake it till you break it, by Morgan Barbour: Social media influencers are putting dissociative identity disorder in the spotlight, but some are accused of faking it.

Weaponising difference, by Simone Dias Marques: Ableist slurs in Brazil are equating neurodivergence with criminality.

Autism on screen is gonna be okay, by Katie Dancey-Downs: The Rain Man days are over. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay star Lillian Carrier digs into autism on screen.

Raising Malaysia's roof, by Francis Clarke: In a comedy club in Malaysia’s capital stand up is where people open up, says comedian Juliana Heng.

Living in the Shadows, by Ashley Gjøvik: When successful camouflage has a lasting impact.

Nigeria's crucible, by Ugonna-Ora Owoh: Between silence and lack of understanding, Nigeria’s neurodiverse are being mistreated.

My autism is not a lie, by Meltem Arikan: An autism diagnosis at 52 liberated a dissident playwright, but there’s no space for her truth in Turkey.


Lived experience, to a point, by Julian Baggini: When it comes to cultural debates, whose expertise carries the most weight?

France: On the road to illiberalism? by Jean-Paul Marthoz: Waving au revoir to the right to criticise.

Monitoring terrorists, gangs - and historians, by Andrew Lownie: The researcher topping the watchlist on his majesty’s secret service.

We are all dissidents, by Ruth Anderson: Calls to disassociate from certain dissidents due to their country of birth are toxic and must be challenged.


Manuscripts don't burn, by Rebecca Ruth Gould: Honouring the writers silenced by execution in Georgia, and unmuzzling their voices.

Obscenely familiar, by Marc Nash: A book arguing for legalised homosexuality is the spark for a fiction rooted in true events.

A truly graphic tale, by Taha Siddiqui and Zofeen T Ebrahim: A new graphic novel lays bare life on Pakistan’s kill list, finding atheism and a blasphemous tattoo.

A censored day? by Kaya Genç: Unravelling the questions that plague the censor, in a new short story from the Turkish author.

Poetry's peacebuilding tentacles, by Natasha Tripney: Literature has proven its powers of peace over the last decade in Kosovo.

Palestine: I still have hope, by Bassem Eid: Turning to Israel and Palestine, where an activist believes the international community is complicit in the conflict.

Contents – Modi’s India: The Age of Intolerance


The central theme of the Spring 2023 issue of Index is India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

After monitoring Modi’s rule since he was elected in 2014, Index decided to look deeper into the state of free expression inside the world’s largest democracy.

Index spoke to a number of journalists and authors from, or who live in, India; and discovered that on every marker of what a democracy should be, Modi’s India fails. The world is largely silent when it comes to Narendra Modi. Let’s change that.

Up Front

Can India survive more Modi?, by Jemimah Seinfeld: Nine years into his leadership the world has remained silent on Modi's failed democracy. It's time to turn up the temperature before it's too late.

The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest news from the free speech frontlines. Big impact elections, poignant words from the daughter of a jailed Tunisian opposition politician, and the potential US banning of Tik Tok.


Cultural amnesia in Cairo, by Nick Hilden: Artists are under attack in the Egyptian capital where signs of revolution are scrubbed from the street.

‘Crimea has turned into a concentration camp’, by Nariman Dzhelal: Exclusive essay from the leader of the Crimean Tatars, introduced by Ukranian author Andrey Kurkov.

Fighting information termination, by Jo-Ann Mort: How the USA's abortion information wars are being fought online.

A race to the bottom, by Simeon Tegel: Corruption is corroding the once-democratic Peru as people take to the streets.

When comics came out, by Sara Century: The landscape of expression that gave way to a new era of queer comics, and why the censors are still fighting back.

In Iran women’s bodies are the battleground, by Kamin Mohammadi: The recent protests, growing up in the Shah's Iran where women were told to de-robe, and the terrible u-turn after.

Face to face with Iran’s authorities, by Ramita Navai: The award-winning war correspondent tells Index's Mark Frary about the time she was detained in Tehran, what the current protests mean and her Homeland cameo.

Scope for truth, by Kaya Genç: The Turkish novelist visits a media organisation built on dissenting voices, just weeks before devastating earthquakes hit his homeland.

Ukraine’s media battleground, by Emily Couch: Two powerful examples of how fraught reporting on this country under siege has become.

Storytime is dragged into the guns row, by Francis Clarke: Relaxed gun laws and the rise of LGBTQ+ sentiment is silencing minority communities in the USA.

Those we must not leave behind, by Martin Bright: As the UK government has failed in its task to rescue Afghans, Index's editor at large speaks to members of a new Index network aiming to help those whose lives are in imminent danger.

Special Report: Modi's India

Modi’s singular vision for India, by Salil Tripathi: India used to be a country for everyone. Now it's only for Hindus - and uncritical ones at that.

Blessed are the persecuted, by Hanan Zaffar: As Christians face an increasing number of attacks in India, the journalist speaks to people who have been targeted.

India’s Great Firewall, by Aishwarya Jagani: The vision of a 'digital India' has simply been a way for the authoritarian government to cement its control.

Stomping on India’s rights, by Marnie Duke: The members of the RSS are synonymous with Modi. Who are they, and why are they so controversial?

Bollywood’s Code Orange, by Debasish Roy Chowdhury: The Bollywood movie powerhouse has gone from being celebrated to being used as a tool for propaganda.

Bulldozing freedom, by Bilal Ahmad Pandow: Narendra Modi's rule in Jammu and Kashmir has seen buildings dismantled in line with people's broader rights.

Let’s talk about sex, by Mehk Chakraborty: In a country where sexual violence is abundant and sex education is taboo, the journalist explores the politics of pleasure in India.

Uncle is watching, by Anindita Ghose: The journalist and author shines a spotlight on the vigilantes in India who try to control women.


Keep calm and let Confucius Institutes carry on, by Kerry Brown: Banning Confucius Institutes will do nothing to stop Chinese soft power. It'll just cripple our ability to understand the country.

A papal precaution, by Robin Vose: Censorship on campus and taking lessons from the Catholic Church's doomed index of banned works.

The democratic federation stands strong, by Ruth Anderson: Putin's assault on freedoms continues but so too does the bravery of those fighting him.


Left behind and with no voice, by Lijia Zhang and Jemimah Steinfeld: China's children are told to keep quiet. The culture of silence goes right the way up.

Zimbabwe’s nervous condition, by Tsitsi Dangarembga: The Zimbabwean filmmaker and author tells Index's Katie Dancey-Downes about her home country's upcoming election, being arrested for a simple protest and her most liberating writing experience yet.

Statues within a plinth of their life, by Marc Nash: Can you imagine a world without statues? And what might fill those empty plinths? The London-based novelist talks to  Index's Francis Clarke about his new short story, which creates exactly that.

Crimea’s feared dawn chorus, by Martin Bright: A new play takes audiences inside the homes and families of Crimean Tatars as they are rounded up.

From hijacker to media mogul, Soe Myint: The activist and journalist on keeping hope alive in Myanmar.