PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime is intensifying repression against vocal critics ahead of the 2023 general elections. This comes as main opposition CCC senior leader and MP Job Sikhala, legislator Godfrey Sithole and 14 others from Nyatsime have been detained without trial for more than 100 days on allegations of inciting public violent following the murder of their colleague Moreblessing Ali by a Zanu PF linked accused.
Speaking during a Twitter Spaces discussion hosted by journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on Tuesday, several experts, including lawyers and academics, said the Mnangagwa administration was stopping at nothing in its quest to retain power.
They said the opposition must act to avert mass arrests and a bloodbath that could cripple its campaign strategy.
Sikhala, Sithole and 14 other activists were arrested in June following violent clashes in Nyatsime, Chitungwiza, after Ali was killed by a Zanu PF activist.
Academic professor Ibbo Mandaza said the ruling Zanu PF’s strategy ahead of 2023 is to instill fear within the opposition circles.
“lt (the discussion) is taking place after we raised a petition with Mnangagwa and expressed concern on conditions the opposition MPs have been under, unconvicted but placed with high-level criminals in leg irons,” he said.
“These are political prisoners and this means the opposition is virtually regarded as outlaws. It is a feature of Zimbabwean politics since the 1980s.”
Mandaza said Zimbabweans are witnessing the closure of democratic space amid fears of more repression in the countdown to the elections. He said citizens are fighting a military state that is pre-emptive in its approach, adding that the incarceration of the 16 opposition activists is indicative of that.
“This is an indication of what the state can do and pre-empting what it is able to do ahead of the 2023 elections. There will be further attempts to decimate the opposition as you have seen already,” he said.
Award winning author and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga said the arrests should worry Zimbabweans, especially knowing that the activists have spent more than 100 days in prison without trial and repeatedly denied bail.
She said bail is a constitutional right, but the manner Sikhala and others were being treated was a bad sign. Over 30 000 people have signed a petition on the situation faced by Sikhala and others.
Constitutional lawyer and human rights activist Brian Kagoro said: “100 days in prison is equivalent to a custodial sentence already and to be detained without trial for this length of time is in itself punitive.”
Brighton Mutebuka, another lawyer who spoke on the incarceration of the Nyatsime 16, said the message the regime was sending home by continuous arrests and incarceration of activists was to instill fear.
“I was horrified with what Professor Lovemore Madhuku said and l will dismiss it with the contempt that it deserves,” he said on the constitutional law expert’s comments on the need for a political solution to Sikhala’s arrest.
“l consider that to be utter nonsense. Ultimately, the regime’s approach is meant to cower the entire population of Zimbabwe into submission. lf CCC was to go and negotiate with the regime for Sikhala to be released, as long as the regime’s tactics do not change, it means there will be millions of other Sikhalas who are just moments away from being taken and unjustly incarcerated by the regime.”
“What should happen is the regime should be challenged using both symmetrical and asymmetrical tactics.”