Persecution, repression mark 43 years of Zim Independence
WHEN main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) senior official Job Sikhala was arrested last year for allegedly inciting violence, many people thought he would be released on bail pending trial.
Over 300 days have now passed with him still languishing in prison in what many believe is punishment for demanding justice for slain CCC activist Moreblessing Ali.
Ali was abducted in May last year, while her mutilated body was discovered in a disused well in Nyatsime in June. A Zanu PF activist Pius Jamba, who was seen abducting her, has been arrested on allegations of murder.
Sikhala was arrested after protests broke out in Nyatsime over the Ali’s murder. He has been denied bail since the arrest.
The legislator’s prolonged pre-trial detention shows how human rights violations, similar to those witnessed during the oppressive Rhodesian era, have continued more than four decades after Independence.
Zimbabwe will celebrate 43 years of Independence on Tuesday, but Sikhala is likely to commemorate the day in prison.
His case highlights how the Zimbabwean government continues to tightening screws on opposition politicians while closing down civic space, thereby worsening the country’s already-tainted human rights record.
With Sikhala losing several freedom bids, his son Job Sikhala Jnr has taken the mantle, to become Zengeza West constituency’s representative in the upcoming general elections, a move that has been viewed as political defiance to the Zanu PF regime.
In total, Sikhala has been arrested close to 70 times, the majority being under the late former President Robert Mugabe, and a dozen times under the Mnangagwa’s regime, which rose to power courtesy of a military coup five years ago.
The coup was widely supported at home and broad partly because of Mnangagwa’s promise to reform. Local, regional and international support has been mobilised for Sikhala, making him arguably the face of resistance against the Mnangagwa administration, with organisations in and out of Zimbabwe speaking out against his incarceration.
Sikhala’s incarceration has shown that the promise to reform has been thrown in the dustbin. Other opposition political figures have also been persecuted.
Last week, CCC spokesperson Fadzai Mahere was convicted for violating a law that the High Court said did not exist in 2021, and was also dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2013.
Mahere was convicted for publishing falsehoods, following her 2020 tweet over a woman whose child she erroneously reported to have been struck to death by a baton-wielding Harare police officer while he was enforcing Covid-19 lockdown regulations in 2020.
However her conviction flies in the face of a in 2021, High Court judgement by Justice Jester Helana Charewa, who had ruled that “there is no offence called publishing or communicating statements prejudicial to the State under Zimbabwean law”.
Another Supreme Court ruling in 2013 by Justice Luke Malaba also said the law does not exist.
Other activists have not been spared.
The government has resuscitated prosecution of human rights activist, Rashid Mahiya on charges of attempting to overthrow the Mnangagwa government, four years after he was initially accused.
Mahiya, who is 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 in Harare’s Pomona Suburb between 3 and 6 December 2018.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has maintained that the meeting was aimed at toppling Mnangagwa.
Watchdogs predict that the trend is set to worsen with the government making strides to close the civic space.
The government also introduced the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill in Parliament, which has been condemned as a weapon to constrict civil liberties.
The Bill, which has already sailed through the National Assembly has been met with outrage from opposition legislators, over its overtures to close the civic space, ahead of this year’s general election.
Analysts fear that the bill is likely to be a danger to civil liberties.
Findings by think tank, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) in a report titled: “Civic Space Contestation Ahead of 2023” show a drastic fall in civil liberties during the political tenure of Mnangagwa, 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 into power ahead of the 2023 elections.
The findings showed a two percent increase in the civic space and state freedom during Mnangagwa’s first year in power, compared to Mugabe in 2014.
In 2019, there was a 13% decline in state freedom from 44% in 2014 under Mugabe to 31% in 2019, which was also Mnangagwa’s second year in power.
During that time, the government descend heavily on civic society leaders, said the report.
Government has been ratcheting pressure on the main opposition CCC. Since February last year, when the party was formed, rebranding from the MDC-Alliance, over 70 of its rallies have been banned by police, as previously reported by The NewsHawks.
Opposition rallies have in several instances been disrupted by the police or Zanu PF activists.
On 27 February, a gang of Zanu PF youths armed with machetes, beer bottles, iron bars, spears and bricks, disrupted a CCC rally in Kwekwe and tried to stop people from attending.
Mboneni Ncube, a 30-year-old CCC supporter, was stabbed to death with a spear, and at least 17 others were seriously injured in the attack. His killers continue intimidating witnesses.
Human rights watchdog, Amnesty International says government in 2022 weaponised the law against the opposition.
“Authorities weaponised the law to persecute CCC members and supporters by subjecting them to arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention and unfair trials. On 6 February, police arrested 10 (CCC) party supporters in Mkoba, Gweru, during a roadshow to canvass for votes ahead of the by-elections. They were released without charge two days later,” Amnesty said.
Political scientist, Alexander Rusero says human rights abuses have been continuing because Zimbabwe is still a colonial state.
“From a de-colonial perspective where some of us hail from, we cannot talk of independence actually because the African state in general and Zimbabwe in particular is still a colonial state. So just like there were no human rights to talk about in the physical colony, there cannot be human rights now in the current status quo where states are grappling with coloniality.
“It is a continuation of the erstwhile era, so there is no way you can talk of human rights in a world where the black color has been denied the right to be human. You only have rights when you are human. So, the black color is not yet at the level where it is regarded as human because it is obtaining now is the hierarchicalisation of human beings.
“The white colour is placed at the top, and the black color is way down there. So, for the black people in particular, they have been denied right to rights because they are not perceived as human,” Rusero said.
He said the country’s human rights woes have been emanating from the fact that Zimbabwe inherited a colonial system.
“What was required was to change the systems of coloniality, to break all the systems that were put in place by colonialism. But we just replaced some white fellas with black fellas, because Zimbabwe is a colonial state. So we cannot talk about rights in a country that is still a colony. It can only be attained through attaining independence.
“In the context of Zimbabwe I do not subscribe to the context of independence has brought freedom because Zimbabwe is still a colonial state. Job Sikhala is in prison, and it is not necessarily about the evils of Zanu Pf. But, it is about the state infrastructure that the back government inherited. It was a colonial infrastructure which they are still using, because they themselves are colonial subjects who need to be freed before they can think of freeing others,” he said.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiCZ) director, Blessing Vava says while the country has been degenerating on rights since independence in 1980.
“It is refreshing to be commemorating 43 years of self-governance but we reflect in grief on the way the country has slide down into an authoritarian state were the state of human rights have deteriorated. What we are witnessing today is a total betrayal of the ethos and values of the liberation struggle,” Vava said.