THE incarceration of opposition MDC Alliance activist Makomborero Haruzivishe this week has all but confirmed President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s unwillingness to reform as his regime continues to use lawfare to entrench repression in Zimbabwe.
Since taking over the reins in a military coup that toppled long-time leader Robert Mugabe in 2017, Mnangagwa has continued to tread the ruinous path of repression and human rights abuses, including the jailing of vocal opposition activists.
Haruzivishe (28) was on Tuesday sentenced to an effective 14 months in prison after being convicted last week for inciting violence and resisting arrest.
His incarceration is testimony that Mnangagwa’s regime has not departed from the iron-fisted approach of the Mugabe era.
If anything, repression has gone a notch up since the coup, given the spate of kidnappings and torture targeting comedians, political and human rights activists and ordinary Zimbabweans.
According to state papers, Haruzivishe mobilised members of the public to revolt against the police officers. His incarceration sparked skirmishes outside Harare magistrates’ court.
Like Mugabe, who maintained a tight grip on state power through the abuse of security forces and the judiciary, Mnangagwa has upped the ante on human rights abuses to silence dissenting voices.
Mnangagwa’s government has, since 2017, used the country’s courts to settle political scores, especially those who refuse to be co-opted.
The youths in the MDC Alliance and other pressure groups have suffered under the heavy handedness.
Last week, The NewsHawks published a US State Department report on human rights, which exposes state repression in 2020, that included imprisonment, abduction, and assault of political activists.
According to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Report, 2020, compiled by the US State Department, Zimbabwean security forces were involved in widespread human rights abuses between March and September 2020.
Security forces assaulted defenceless citizens with clubs for violating Covid-19 curfews, as confirmed by the report.
“From March to September, during a government-mandated lockdown due to Covid-19, uniformed and plainclothes soldiers and police officers systematically used clubs to beat civilians in the Harare central business district and suburbs for violating curfews, failure to wear masks, or failure to exercise social distance,” reads the report.
Mnangagwa has also employed the carrot- and-stick approach, with those who refuse the carrot facing the full wrath of the state.
Many political and human rights activists have been jailed for months without trial.
Student leaders, like Takudzwa Ngadziore and Allan Moyo, have spent months in remand prison, only to be released following international pressure.
Other opposition activists like Joana Mamombe, Cecelia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova have been arrested several times on trumped-up charges. They also allege to have been tortured and sexually assaulted during their abduction last year.
It is apparent that the “new” dispensation’s rhetoric of reforms and the “Zimbabwe is Open for Business” mantra has fallen off the rails as the regime has gone back to default settings.
Zimbabweans, including the opposition and civil society, were naïve to celebrate Mugabe’s removal through the military coup.
Legitimising a coup will remain a permanent dent in Zimbabwe’s history.
Although there were a few voices of reason whose warnings went unheard under the euphoria of Mugabe’s removal, the international community was also complicit in sanitising the coup.
Knowing the likely consequences of the military coup, the international community also celebrated the removal of Mugabe and expressed goodwill towards the new regime, whose rhetoric was accepted around the globe.
But three years into the new government, the international community continues to deal with a headstrong regime, which insists on playing international politics on its own terms.
With reforms clearly out of the window, the Mnangagwa regime continues to be brutal on perceived opponents, while the security forces are accused of perpetrating human rights abuses.
This has affected the re-engagement drive, which has gone off the rails as goodwill dissipates under international scrutiny.
From 1 August 2018, when six civilians were shot dead in central Harare, to the killing of 17 in January 2019, coupled with a series of abductions in 2019 and the arrest of opposition activists, Mnangagwa’s government has gone for broke in clamping down on civil liberties.
Zimbabwe has made international headlines for the wrong reasons, while other progressive autocracies like Rwanda continue to attract billions of investments.
Therefore, Haruzivishe’s conviction is a culmination of the state’s ploy to whip the opposition in line.
Despite overtures of goodwill from the international community, the Zimbabwean government remains headstrong and continues clamping down on civil liberties.
Haruzivishe, one of the youths who expressed disgust at the abduction of fellow student Tawanda Muchehiwa last year by confronting Impala Car Rental workers, is the second student leader to be locked up for demanding closure on the case.
Muchehiwa was abducted in broad daylight in Bulawayo by suspected state agents and driven to an unknown location where he was tortured for days.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said under Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe had degenerated into an authoritarian regime in the mould of the Smith era.
Mandaza said it was disgraceful for Mnangagwa to reactivate authoritarian legislation to cow the opposition, adding that his counterparts in government should advise him against clamping down on civil liberties.
“That is how this regime reacts. That is how they have compromised the judiciary. The idea is shut them down,” Mandaza said, adding that Haruzivishe’s detention had energised the opposition.
“When we were detained during Rhodesian days, we got energised. People like Emmerson should know that. But for some of us to see a repeat of the Rhodesian days is disgraceful,” Mandaza said.
In a tweet, MDC Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti said Zimbabwe had descended into pre-independence fascism.
“The more things change the more they remain the same. The 60s was a sad period in which colonial regime captured the law used against thousands of nationalists who were jailed without cause.41 years into independence Zimbabwe has descended back into pre-independence fascism,” Biti said.
Stephen Chan, professor of world politics at University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said current repression is lamentable.
“It is in many ways more lamentable. Now we have elite members of a black majority that is slowly but surely refusing to recognise the equal rights of other members of the black majority,” Chan said.
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