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Nothing to celebrate on Independence Day

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PALESA MUWANI

“WE do not want to create a socio-legal order in the country in which people are petrified, in which people go to bed having barricaded their doors and their windows because someone belonging to the special branch of the police will break into their houses….This is what we have been fighting against…This is why we are in this revolution for as long as it is necessary, to abolish this system”.

These words of the late Zanu PF founding member Edison Zvobgo have probably more prominence now than when he made the remarks in an interview as the country marks 41 years of Independence on Sunday. 

The Independence Day commemorations come at a time President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has intensified the crackdown on the opposition and civil society since coming into power on the back of a military coup that ousted the late former president Robert Mugabe in 2017.

During his inauguration in 2017 the septuagenarian leader promised a new dawn for the country in which democracy will be enhanced amid pomp and fanfare from a citizenry that had been at the receiving end of a brutal oppressive Mugabe regime which crushed dissenting voices. 

During Mugabe’s dictatorship, scores of opposition activists were either killed, beaten or arbitrarily arrested, particularly before and during  elections.  However, the joy and hopes emanating from the change of leadership was short-lived.

The killing of six people by soldiers during a protest over the delayed announcement of the 2018 harmonised elections on August 1 dissipated the expectation that Mnangagwa  would keep his promise of enhancing democracy under his leadership.

Mnangagwa appointed a commission of inquiry led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe into the August 1 post-election violence. The commission concluded that the security forces were responsible for the deaths and recommended they be brought to book and the victims be compensated. More than two years later, Mnangagwa is yet to implement the recommendations, much to the consternation of Zimbabweans and western nations.

Before the ink had dried on the Motlanthe Commission report, the government launched another crackdown in response to protests against the 150% increase in the price of fuel by security forces in January 2019. Scores of people from various suburbs, mainly in Harare and Bulawayo, were subjected to savage beatings, some in the dead of night, a move which has drawn widespread  global criticism.

This was worsened by the government’s decision to disconnect internet connectivity, a move which was condemned by rights groups as a ploy to enable the authorities to carry out atrocities under the convenient cover of a blackout. The High Court struck down the directive, declaring it illegal.

Several opposition activists, striking doctors and even comedians have been abducted and tortured by suspected state agents. The government has said the abductions are stage managed, an accusation which has found few takers.

However, the clearest indication that Mnangagwa will not tolerate any protests despite the right to do so being enshrined in the country’s constitution was in July last year. Opposition Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume, who was organising a nationwide protest against corruption scheduled for July 31 last year and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono were arrested by police over allegations of inciting violence and criminal abuse of social media and held in remand for several weeks.  On the day of the planned protests, security forces blocked all roads leading to the city centre. 

On the same day, MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere and award-winning author Tsitsi Dangarembga were also arrested for holding protests.

This year’s Independence commemorations will not be celebrated by many Zimbabweans as they feel that freedom remains a mirage, according to political analyst Eldred Masunungure.

“Independence should be celebrated whether you are from the North or the South, whether you are Zanu PF or MDC,” Masunungure said.

“There will be some who will be celebrating Independence and celebrating the neutralising of the opposition, particularly those who have benefitted from the status quo. There will also be a significant proportion of Zimbabweans that will see Independence as not having achieved freedom. They will feel that they have not reached Canaan, the Promised Land and that they are still stuck in Egypt. They will see it as uhuru which has not yet been achieved and feel that the fruits of Independence are yet to be experienced.”

Masunungure said there has been a significant decline on the democracy front since Mnangagwa assumed power  more than three years ago and this has contributed to the disillusionment towards Independence Day  celebrations.

As the country marks 41 years of Independence, pro- democracy opposition activist Makomborero Haruzivishe is languishing in prison after being convicted recently of inciting violence, through whistling, and jailed for 14 months.

“I strongly disagree with both the conviction and sentence of Makomborero.
This is a case on which the charge rested on an allegation that Makomborero whistled, and it was supposedly by his mere whistle that he incited vendors to engage in public violence. The conviction itself is extremely shaky and will be challenged through the appeal process.,” human rights lawyer Doug Coltart said in an interview with a South African publication after Haruzivishe’s conviction. 

“It is shocking from a legal point of view, but from a political point of view it’s not shocking. This is really the direction that the regime appears to be taking — the weaponisation of the criminal law and weaponisation of the detention of political activists, human rights activists and anyone who criticises the regime. Clearly, this is the weapon of choice that the regime is using to clamp down on freedom of expression and any form of resistance to their misgovernance.’’

Haruzivishe is not the only one that has fallen foul of Mnangagwa’s regime. MDC Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti, deputy chairperson Job Sikhala, MDC Alliance parliamentarian Joana Mamombe, former Zimbabwe National Students’ Union president Gilbert Mutubuki and even those such as Vonai Tome who went to offer solidarity to Haruzivishe have been arrested and detained in police cells.
There is absolutely nothing to celebrate on Independence Day, according to political analyst and Habakkuk Trust founding chief executive Dumisani Nkomo.

“There is nothing to celebrate because 41 years after Independence the rights that were fought for by the likes of Joshua Nkomo and Lookout Masuku have been trampled upon,” Nkomo said.

“People are now poorer than they were 41 years ago as the economic conditions have deteriorated. I think that the situation is actually worse than it was during the Mugabe era when it comes to the level of intolerance of opposition and the shrinking of the democratic space.”

As Joshua Nkomo observed in his book The Story of My Life: “The hardest lesson of my life has come to me late. It is that a nation can win freedom without its people becoming free.”

As the country commemorates Independence Day, many Zimbabweans, including the likes of Haruzivishe, will resonate with Nkomo.

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