A NEW report by the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has reaffirmed fears of a bloody election period this year and warned that Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s chilling threat that the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) supporters will be crushed like lice is a strong indicator.
The report, titled Communique on Attacks on Human Rights Defenders in the Sadc Region, also cites state repression in neigbouring countries like Eswathini, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa and Angola.
On Zimbabwe, the report flagged utterances by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputy Chiwenga, as well as repeated cases of human rights implosion as indications that the coming polls will be drenched in blood.
“The cases against HRDs (human rights defenders) are expected to increase as Zimbabwe heads towards the 2023 harmonised elections as this has been the trend in the past election cycles. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has openly threatened government critics, independent civil society organisations, including legal and medical organisations providing services to victims of human rights violations, as well as members of opposition parties,” the report reads.
“While addressing his supporters in March 2022, President Mnangagwa threatened to “shorten the lives” of Mthwakazi Republic Party members, among other threats to the opposition.
“Earlier, in February 2022, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga made some shocking utterances to the effect, ‘I have heard others here saying down with triple C; let me assure you that there is nothing that it can achieve, you see how we crush lice with a stone. You put it on a flat stone and then flatten it to the extent that even flies will not make a meal out of it. That is what we are going to do to the CCC.
“Such threats and hate speech are not to be taken lightly and are characteristic of the restrictive civic space in Zimbabwe that is increasingly intolerant of opposing voices,” reads part of the report.
Chiwenga made the remarks at a rally at Mbizo Stadium in Kwekwe while campaigning for Zanu PF ahead of the 26 March 2022 by-elections won in the constituency by the opposition CCC’s Settlement Chikwinya against the ruling party’s candidate Vongaishe Mupereri.
After the VP’s remarks, there was violence in Mbizo which claimed the life of CCC supporter Mboneni Ncube and left dozens injured.
Last year alone, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum recorded 2 683 cases of violations against government’s critics such as assaults, abductions, verbal threats, arbitrary arrests, detentions and prosecutions.
It includes the case of Zimbabwean opposition member of Parliament Job Sikhala who was arrested in June 2022 after attending the funeral of opposition political activist, Moreblessing Ali. He is still locked up.
At the time of his arrest, Sikhala, who is also a lawyer, was acting on behalf of Ali’s family. For over eight months Sikhala has been detained at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison without going to trial.
Human rights lawyer Kudzai Kadzere was assaulted by police officers while attending to his clients who happened to be members of the opposition.
Kadzere’s assault is one of many documented cases of lawyers, particularly those representing pro-democracy, anti-corruption activists and opposition members, who have been physically and verbally harassed, arrested as well as arbitrarily arrested.
In Budiriro, the CCC’s interim organising secretary Amos Chibaya and Budiriro MP Costa Machingauta as well as several other party activists were arrested at the legislator’s private residence while holding a closed-door meeting.
Senior government officials have also publicly chastened the Law Society of Zimbabwe following the institution’s public involvement in rule of law and constitutional matters.
In one other blatant case of lawfare, award-winning Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga was convicted of inciting public violence and sentenced to a six-month suspended sentence and fine for merely holding up a placard inscribed “We want better. Reform our institutions”.
In the latest report, SAHRDN and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum made far-reaching recommendations if the next elections can be salvaged from politically motivated violence.
“We call on Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Eswatini, Malawi and South Africa to guarantee and ensure that independent and thorough investigations are carried out in cases of the abduction, torture and extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders in their countries.”
“Perpetrators, including police services and armed forces, must be publicly held accountable for these heinous acts against HRDs and their communities. The victims and their families must be adequately compensated.”
“We call on member states to refrain from militarising their police in the absence of war. Eswatini must immediately desist from engaging Private Military Companies and revoke any existing contracts.”
“We call on Eswatini and Zimbabwe governments in advance of their national elections in 2023 to ensure that they are conducted freely and fairly. We condemn the harsh response by all member states against citizens that are peacefully protesting for political reforms,” read part of the report by the two human rights organisations.