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Rights defenders under siege

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…say ED desperate to manage Zanu PF fractures

HUMAN rights defenders in Zimbabwe are fretting over a political crisis as the 2023 general election looms, saying President Emmerson Mnangagwa will use every trick in the book, including violence, to win and silence insiders who have been clamouring for his ouster.

MOSES MATENGA

Southern Defenders, a sub-regional network that works towards the protection and promotion of human rights defenders in the Southern African Development Community, warned that rights defenders were under siege in Zimbabwe while people’s freedoms were suffocating under the Mnangagwa regime.

The organisation’s team leader, Washington Katema, told The NewsHawks this week that there was a need for regional solidarity for rights defenders in Zimbabwe ahead of the polls.

“What is concerning is that the incumbent is not only interested in winning, but he’s more interested in winning with a high margin to manage the internal succession dynamics within Zanu PF,” Katema said.

“Mnangagwa’s low-margin victory in 2018, and more so in the context where Zanu PF as a political party and based on the popular vote outperformed him with almost one million votes.

This really damaged his political ego and self-esteem.

“So, the narrative then was Zanu PF is popular but ED is not. So 2023 is about changing that narrative. And what it means is that Zanu PF in its various manifestations will most likely leverage on the margin of terror (violence) and margin of error (electoral fraud) to win the 2023 plebiscite.”

In his bid to win at all costs, Katema added, Mnangagwa’s team has already begun shrinking the democratic space while also targeting rights defenders to silence them.

“Human rights and civic space defenders continue to face multiple and intersecting challenges which include but are not limited to suffocation of the civic and democratic space as well as rapid deterioration of the situation of HRDs [human rights defenders],” he said.

“Women HRDs are disproportionately impacted. Our early warning system is flagging increased targeting and attacking of democracy activists and human rights defenders while the civic space, both online and offline, is shrinking at an alarming alacrity.”

He said the issue of Moreblessing Ali, a Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) activist who was murdered in Nyatsime last month and the subsequent arrest of Zengeza West member of Parliament Job Sikhala and his Chitungwiza North counterpart Godfrey Sithole were indications of what is to come.

“It is as instructive as it is revealing of what 2023 holds for the democratic contingent,” Katema said.

“The arbitrary arrests of Institute for Young Women’s Development staff members while convening a community development meeting with government officials present and the continued harassment of Artuz [Amalgated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe] leaders are other early warning signs that the ruling party is treating 2023 polls as a zero sum game.”

 “Civic space is the oxygen of citizen voices. We will also mobilise active solidarity with key actors in the region. Solidarity is the currency for the vulnerable. And HRDs in Zimbabwe are an endangered species.”

He said the organisation will work with other actors, institutions and coalitions across causes within “the human rights defenders’ protection ecosystem” to make sure all frontline and backline human rights defenders are “safe but not silent.”

“We also continue to support scalable, public interest and constitutionally guaranteed interventions sculptured to push back on the closing civic space, both online and offline,” he said.

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