THE sentencing of opposition Transform Zimbabwe (TZ) leader Jacob Ngarivhume (pictured) on charges of inciting violence after he called for peaceful anti-corruption demonstrations shows that Zimbabwe is a fully fledged authoritarian state, contrary to the gospel of tolerance that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been preaching since the 2017 military coup.
Ngarivhume was arrested for leading and organising the 31 July 2020 protests. He was convicted by Harare magistrate Feresi Chakanyuka on Thursday and has been sentenced to 48 months imprisonment, with 12 months suspended.
He will effectively serve 36 months in prison without the option of a fine. He was accused of inciting public violence by using his Twitter handle to convene the 31 July 2020 nationwide anti-corruption protests which were quashed by the security forces.
He becomes the latest victim to walk the plank, in what several organisations and political activists have condemned as politically-motivated persecution meant to silence and instill fear in critics ahead of the 2023 general election.
The government has also dealt severely with other political activists. For instance, this week Zengeza West legislator Job Sikhala was convicted, almost a year after his arrest, and slapped with a suspended six-month custodial sentence and a US$600 fine to be paid by 5 May 2023.
Sikhala was however not released from police custody, despite spending over 300 days in prison, with the state arguing he has outstanding cases.
Analysts say the civic space is becoming even more restricted under Mnangagwa, with the country now in full-throttle dictatorship since his coming to power in the 2017 military coup.
“Zimbabwe has never essentially left the repressive era from the time of Mugabe. What we have is a continuity from the 2017 coup, if not the worsening of repression. And the case of Jacob Ngarivhume points at the levels to which this regime is prepared to entrench fear amongst the citizens of this country,” said political analyst Rashweat Mukundu in an interview with The NewsHawks this week.
“If there is a lesson from this, it is that we are in a full-throttle dictatorship, no pretense at all. And all state institutions that must countervail the authoritarian executive power and abuse have been politically captured, be it the judiciary, the police, the army, the intelligence, the Parliament.
“There is no expectation that what we are facing will slow down or be mitigated in any manner, and we need to emphasize this to the international community, to the regional powers that Zimbabwe cannot develop when it is facing these high levels of repression which limit the capacity of people to engage with those that are in power,” he said.
The Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) think-tank in its 2022 report titled: “Civic Space Contestation Ahead of 2023” shows a drastic fall in civil liberties during Mnangagwa’s rule, compared to that of the late Mugabe.
The organisation made an analysis of the civic space between 2014-2021 by contrasting Mugabe’s final four years in power ahead of the 2018 elections, and Mnangagwa’s initial four years in power ahead of the 2023 elections.
The findings showed a 2% increase in the civic space and state freedom during Mnangagwa’s first year in power, compared to Mugabe in 2014.
The year 2019 saw a 13% decline in state freedom from 44% 2014 under Mugabe to 31% in 2019, which was also Mnangagwa’s second year in power.
The report revealed there was parliamentary capture, with Zanu PF making almost two-thirds of the National Assembly, which made it easy for Mnangagwa to pass legislation that would stifle opposition.
Parliamentarians from the main opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) were also recalled by the rival MDC-T whose underfire leader Douglas Mwonzora has been largely viewed as a Mnangagwa proxy.
Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) programmes manager John Maketo says repression has worsened, with the ruling elite channeling resources to build a war chest that would enable them to stay in power.
“In my view, the current situation must be viewed in the bigger picture of things centred on retention of power at all costs, including control of economic resources as a means to oil the political machinery. I would safely say that we are in an era of kleptocracy in Zimbabwe.
“The electoral promises of 2018, it appears, were nothing but a means to an end, including legal and economic reforms, improved liberties and fighting corruption — there is still little to show for it at this point.
“Unfortunately, some of the celebrated legal reforms or milestones have been eroded by regressive and repressive new legislation coming up — for example the repeal of Aippa and Posa was a milestone — but the emergence of the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO)
Amendment Bill and the Cyber Security Act, among others, has seen some provisions from those repealed laws smuggled back into the governance framework,” Maketo said.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede also says civic space has been shrinking, which is worrisome.
“Cases of political activists being jailed or otherwise convicted, in some cases on laws that have been declared invalid, is evidence of further closure of the democratic space. The courts should not only be impartial and be seen to be treating people equally regardless of political affiliation.
“We have also recently witnessed threats to journalists. This has an impact on the political environment ahead of elections, where people should have their freedom of speech and their freedom of conscience respected, protected and promoted,” Gwede said.
More repression has been flagged, with the state being slammed for continuing with the persecution of human right activists.
For instance, last month, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), an organisation that protects and defends human rights through sustainable litigation, raised concern over the continued persecution of perceived opponents of President Emmerson Mnangagwa ahead of the general elections.
This came after the government resuscitated the prosecution of human rights activist Rashid Mahiya on charges of attempting to overthrow the Mnangagwa government, four years after he was initially accused.
Mahiya, the executive director of Heal Zimbabwe, a civil society organisation, was arrested in 2019 alongside several pro-democracy campaigners, trade unionists, civil society and opposition legislators after countrywide demonstrations against fuel price hikes.
The state has resuscitated his case, accusing him of unlawfully convening a meeting at Wild Geese Conference Centre in Harare’s Pomona suburb between 3 December and 6 December 2018 which the National Prosecuting Authority says was aimed at toppling Mnangagwa.
The ZLHR says the oppression trend is likely to continue.
Mnangagwa’s penchant for dictators has been equally worrisome. He recently hosted Africa’s last absolute monarch King Mswati III of Eswatini, sparking an outcry from civil society.
In February this year, Amnesty International wrote to Mswati demanding justice over the killing of prominent human rights defender Thulani Maseko who was gunned down by unknown assailants from the window of his living room.
Notably, Maseko was killed a day after King Mswati III reportedly said in a public address that those who were calling for democratic reform in the country would be “dealt with”.
In January this year, Mnangagwa hosted the Belarusian dictator, Lukasheko, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s confidante. Putin is under fire over his invasion of Ukraine.