By Zimbabwe Peace Project
November 2020 marks three years after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in, taking over from the long-time ruler Robert Mugabe following a military coup.
At his swearing in ceremony on 24 November 2017, thousands of Zimbabweans filled the National Sports Stadium—the biggest arena in the country, and diplomats, former presidents from other countries as well as opposition political party leaders like the late Morgan Tsvangirai—were all part of this grand occasion. The thousands of Zimbabweans in the stadium and those watching from home had expectations.
Taking over, President Mnangagwa had the goodwill, and to back that up, he made a cocktail of promises to take Zimbabwe from the past, into a new democratic future characterised by the respect for civil, political and socio-economic rights as enshrined in the Constitution and the adoption of security sector reform.
The pledges also included his government’s intention to end the widespread high-level corruption and to ensure Zimbabwe took the path of re-engagement with the international community following more than two decades of isolation.
Three years later, we reflect.
Civil and political rights
At his swearing in ceremony, President Mnangagwa pledged:
“My Government will work towards ensuring that the pillars of the State assuring democracy in our land are strengthened and respected.”
He went on to say, “My goal is to preside over a polity and run an administration that recognises strength in our diversity as a people, hoping that this position and well-meant stance will be reciprocated and radiated to cover all our groups, organisations and communities…”
As we reflect three years later, it is with great concern that we note that President Mnangagwa’s administration has shown no tangible progress in ensuring citizens enjoy all their civil and political rights.
Instead, we have witnessed sustained intolerance for dissent, opposition political activity and human rights work as evidenced by the cases documented by the Zimbabwe Peace Project.
Over the past three years, from November 2017 to this November, the organisation has recorded 7 962 human rights violations and, in all this, State security agents and officials of the ruling Zanu PF have been the major perpetrators. The violations include abductions, torture, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, and harassment and intimidation, among others, and these have largely targeted opposition activists, government critics and human rights activists.
On 1 August 1 2018, soldiers fatally shot six people and injured dozens others who were protesting over the perceived delayed release of presidential election results. President Mnangagwa set up a commission of inquiry led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe. The commission came up with a set of recommendations, among them the need to hold to account those responsible for the abuses, and a call for compensation to the families of those killed and those who lost property. The commission also recommended a cocktail of security sector reform. To date, none of these have been implemented to the letter, exposing the high levels of impunity.
With memories of the August 1 2018 killings still fresh, the government once again unleashed state security agents on citizens in January 2019 following protests against a hike in fuel prices. 17 people were killed, dozens others were injured and hundreds were arrested in what showed the increasing levels of intolerance.
On 16 August 2019, police brutally assaulted opposition political supporters who had gathered in central Harare to protest the worsening economic crisis.
Abductions and torture
ZPP has recorded 103 cases of abductions in the three years since Mnangagwa came to power, heightening fears that human security, as promised by his government in 2017, is no longer guaranteed.
In August 2019, six masked gunmen abducted popular comedian Samantha Kureya, known by her stage name as “Gonyeti”, following a skit she had made highlighting police brutality. During her abduction, she was beaten and forced to drink raw sewage; and within the same month, using the same modus operandi, gunmen abducted activist Tatenda Mombeyarara, accusing him of organising anti-government protests. Mombeyarara was left with a broken leg and fingers as his abductors used iron bars to assault him during interrogation.
On September 14 last year, three unidentified men abducted and tortured Dr Peter Magombeyi, then leader of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association, which had organised a series of protests to demand better salaries for government health workers. Magombeyi is currently in exile.
In May this year, three MDC Alliance activists—Cecilia Chimbiri, Netsai Marova and Joanna Mamombe— were abducted, tortured and sexually abused, then dumped in Bindura, 80 kilometres from Harare.
On July 30 this year, suspected security forces raided the house of journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu in Bulawayo and arrested his sister. Mathuthu’s nephew, Tawanda Muchehiwa, was subsequently abducted and tortured and his narration of the abduction has since pointed to a shadowy parallel and unaccountable state security structure called the Ferret Team.
Post July 31, the terror on citizens continued and 23-year-old Noxolo Maphosa was abducted, sexually assaulted and badly beaten by men looking for her political activist uncle. She reported that she was blindfolded and driven to a house where she was interrogated on the whereabouts of Josphat “Mzaca” Ngulube, her uncle who was jailed for seven years in 2019 accused of burning a Zanu PF vehicle during fierce rioting over a government hike in fuel prices in January of that year. Ngulube is out on bail pending appeal against conviction and sentence. Maphosa fled to South Africa where she reported having been followed by state security agents.
Overall, government has used Covid-19 as an excuse and state security agents have harassed, intimidated, assaulted, abducted and arbitrarily detained citizens intending to express their right to free expression, movement and association. Notable cases include the abuse by police of two Bulawayo sisters, Nokuthula and Ntombizodwa Mpofu, during the first weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown.
On 24 November 2017, Mnangagwa promised to end corruption.
“Acts of corruption must stop forthwith. Where these occur, swift justice must be served to show each and all that crime and other acts of economic sabotage can only guarantee ruin to perpetrators. We have to aspire to be a clean nation, one sworn to high moral standards and deserved rewards”
However, the ghost of corruption continued to hound the country, with reports of high-level corrupt deals involving President Mnangagwa’s ally Kuda Tagwireyi, Delish Nguwaya, among others, including former Health Minister Obadiah Moyo.
On President Mnangagwa’s watch, powerful cartels have allegedly captured the government amid reports of corruptly-sealed deals for the purchase of public transport buses, and the procurement of Covid-19 personal protective equipment.
Cases of corruption against political heavyweights from the previous and current administrations have failed to hold, with no convictions of those who were accused of mismanagement of public funds, abuse of office, fraud and other corrupt activities.
Since November 2017, most of the court cases involving the political elite, including Ignatius Chombo and Prisca Mupfumira, arrested for alleged corruption and abuse of office, are yet to be concluded.
Ironically, in the run up to the 31 July protests, police arrested and detained journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition political party leader Jacob Ngarivhume, who were on a campaign to expose high-level corruption in Zimbabwe.
Ngarivhume had actively called for protests on 31 July to end corruption.
In what was a clear sign that tolerance for dissent and free expression was no longer in existence, President Mnangagwa, ahead of the 31 July protests, said: “I want to warn the organisers of this ill-fated demonstration that our security services will be vigilant and on high alert to appropriately respond to their shenanigans.”
And it came to pass as the demonstrations were met with heavy deployment of state security agents, arbitrary arrests, harassment, intimidation, abduction and torture of dozens of citizens and activists.
On 24 November 2017, President Mnangagwa promised to take the path of re-engagement to haul Zimbabwe out of its decades-long international isolation.
He said: “We fully reaffirm our membership to the family of nations, and express our commitment to playing our part in all regional, continental and international organisations and arrangements in order to make our modest contribution towards a prosperous and peaceful world order.”
Using a newly crafted slogan, “Zimbabwe is open for business,” President Mnangagwa invited the regional and international diplomats and businesspeople to engage with Zimbabwe, both at political diplomacy level and for investment.
“Today the Republic of Zimbabwe renews itself,” he said to a cheering crowd at his swearing in ceremony.
However, three years later, an acting spokesperson in President Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF party, Patrick Chinamasa, put the chances of re-engagement in jeopardy after calling the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols, a thug.
This follows long-standing accusations of the US and the West as having a “hand” in any anti-government initiatives.
Chinamasa said, in relation to Nichols, a “coterie of gangsters” should stop “mobilising and funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training insurgency. Our leadership will not hesitate to give him marching orders…diplomats should not behave like thugs, and Brian Nichols is a thug.”
Aside from that, the major reason for the continued international isolation of Zimbabwe is the country’s poor human rights record and the high levels of corruption, nepotism, lack of respect for property rights, a volatile and unpredictable economy and general economic mismanagement, which deter any potential investors from putting their money into the country.
These have remained in place, making President Mnangagwa’s promise of re-engagement nothing but just talk.
Among the key promises by President Mnangagwa was the attraction of foreign direct investment to fuel Zimbabwe’s economic growth.
“The bottom line is an economy which is back on its feet, and in which a variety of players make choices and fulfil roles without doubts and in an environment shorn of fickle policy shifts and unpredictability,” said Mnangagwa.
“Only that way can we recover this economy, create jobs for our youths and reduce poverty for all our people who must witness real, positive changes in their lives…”
With a good economy, social services would be accessible to everyone, President Mnangagwa promised.
“The physical and social infrastructure must be repaired and expanded to position our country in readiness for economic growth, employment creation, equity, freedom and democracy, and for the provision of vital social goods, principally health, shelter, clean water, education and other key social services.”
So key was the economy that President Mnangagwa mentioned it 10 times in his speech.
However, corruption, poor prioritisation and the lack of pro-poor policies have left more people vulnerable and in need of social protection. According to the World Food Programme, more than eight million people, about half of the population, are food insecure.
Added to that, inflation has eroded basic incomes and for the past three years. Civil servants—who form the basis of Zimbabwe’s labour force—have been on a sustained collision course with the government as they demand a living wage.
Government has not been adequately responsive to their demands, and job actions by teachers and healthcare workers have dominated President Mnangagwa’s time at the top.
In addition to this, health institutions have collapsed, and do not have the basic medication, leaving many to die of otherwise curable ailments.
Government has not been able to support the informal sector, whose operations have been hard hit by the currency crisis, inflation and, lately, the Covid-19 restrictions.
The history of Zimbabwe’s state security services had always been tainted by its allegiance to the ruling party and how government used the state security apparatus to clamp down on dissent.
When President Mnangagwa came in, he promised sweeping reforms.
“I intend to approach security issues from a broad human, physical and social perspective. All citizens must feel secure and enjoy a sense of belonging in the land. All activities that the national security institutions aim to achieve must be focused on overall human security from disease, hunger, unemployment, illiteracy and extreme poverty.”
However, on August 1 2018, soldiers shot and killed six people in the streets of Harare. President Mnangagwa denied responsibility and instituted the Motlanthe commission.
But the same incidents were to be repeated in January 2019 when citizens protested against a fuel price hike. For the past three years, the police and the army have publicly and, with impunity, abused citizens’ rights.
In 2020 alone and for seven consecutive months, the ZPP documented the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the army and other state agents as the chief perpetrators of human rights violations.
This falls flat in the face of President Mnangagwa’s promise to reform the security sector.
In addition to that, the Motlanthe Commission’s recommendations that those responsible for abuses account for their actions and to compensate families of those killed and those who lost property, have not been implemented. State security agents have continued to commit human rights abuses with impunity.
We have witnessed an increase in extrajudicial killings and, in April, during the first week of the lockdown, police shot to death a Bulawayo resident, Paul Munakopa, for allegedly breaching Covid-19 regulations.
Throughout, ZPP has documented cases of extrajudicial killings and murder with impunity by state security agents, a worrying trend, considering that the right to life is sacrosanct as enshrined in the founding values and the Bill of Rights of the Zimbabwe Constitution.
Based on the above, and considering that President Mnangagwa promised to “work towards ensuring that the pillars of the State assuring democracy in our land are strengthened and respected”, it is worrying that his administration has already begun a process to amend the Constitution to give the President more power over the legislature and the judiciary amid overt indications that the judiciary is no longer enjoying the independence it should have under the Constitution.
For example, while Section 165 (4) of the Zimbabwe constitution, states that members of the judiciary must not engage in any political activities, hold office in or be members of any political organisation, two magistrates in Harare and Gweru recently revealed interest in standing for election in the ruling party’s Zanu PF district coordinating committee in Mt Darwin and Gweru respectively.
Another example is when Chief Justice Luke Malaba was forced to reverse a controversial directive that judges should first seek approval or have their judgements seen by their superiors before they are handed down.
In October, judges are reported to have written a letter to the President and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, though unsigned, outlining judicial capture as the major challenge affecting the Judiciary.
In the letter, dated 26 October 2020, judges claimed the Judiciary was under siege, with judges being captured and therefore unable to independently execute their duties without interference from the executive and state agencies.
In light of this, ZPP calls on the government to reflect on the three years President Mnangagwa has been in power, to go back to the drawing board and to commit to fulfilling the promises made. To do this:
- Government should institute investigations of all serious human rights abuses over the last three years and ensure that citizens get justice. State security agents who have acted outside their mandate should be brought to book without fear or favour.
- All interventions should be done in line with national law and international standards. The government should also take urgent steps to reform the state security sector as spelt out in the recommendations of the Motlanthe commission, and as promised by President Mnangagwa in 2017. All those responsible for human rights abuses should be held to account. That way, it creates a culture of accountability and responsibility within the state security sector.
- Zimbabwe’s Constitution provides a basis for the enjoyment of all human rights and government should embrace a culture of constitutionalism and ensure that all citizens enjoy the benefit of all the socio-economic rights due to them.
- The economy has become one of the major human rights issues and government should take the right steps to ensure that the labour force enjoys a living wage and the informal sector gets the necessary support and that those in need of social protection get the due protection.
About the writer: The Zimbabwe Peace Project is an independent human rights advocacy organisation.