Editorial:Transformation of the Zimbabwe crisis - Change and continuity of repression and oppression
When Mnangagwa was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s new leader following the November 2017 coup, he promised a return to constitutionalism and the rule of law.
The people of Zimbabwe hoped for an immediate end to the impunity and systematic human rights abuses that had become institutionalised during the time of the late long time ruler, Robert Mugabe.
However, barely a year later, and in sharp contrast to the promise of a peaceful, free and fair election that would ‘enhance the state’s credibility and strengthen the country’s prospects for economic recovery,’ the Mnangagwa administration presided over a fraudulent and ultimately disputed presidential election in July 2018. This precipitated mass protests that ended with uniformed soldiers indiscriminately firing live ammunition at civilians who were protesting against electoral fraud in August 2018.
The security forces killed six people while an estimated 35 people sustained serious injuries. Recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry that was established to look into the incident remain unimplemented.
Instead, since the 2018 post-election violence, Zimbabwe has recorded widespread reports of harassment, assault, torture, abductions and arbitrary arrests of opposition activists, independent journalists and civil society activists.
The government has also abused COVID-19 regulations to stifle dissent and active citizen participation in democratic processes. It has gone on to enact restrictive laws such as the Cyber Security and Data Protection Act, and proposed new laws such as the Patriotic Bill and amendments to the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act and Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act aimed at further shrinking the remaining democratic space and criminalising human rights work.
There is a clear indication that the current government is perfecting the art of oppression witnessed during the Mugabe era.
Like all repressive regimes, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) has employed various tactics and strategies to maintain its stranglehold on state power including but not limited to internal party purges; populism; decimating bona fide opposition whilst creating and/or propping up ‘loyal’ opposition; regional charm offensive and diplomatic manoeuvres.
The economy continues on a free fall with the World Bank reporting that the number of Zimbabweans in extreme poverty had reached 7.9 million in 2021, forcing poor households to forgo formal health care and education.
The Mnangagwa administration, has failed to not only revive the economy but to put in place tangible steps that demonstrate a commitment to constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law.
It is against this background that we bring you this edition of The Zimbabwe Briefing in a bid to:
Reflect on continued shrinking of civic space and the criminalisation of human rights work.
Highlight how Zimbabwe once again finds itself at the center of attention due to escalation of human rights violations in the post-Mugabe era.
Assess progress on electoral reforms as recommended by the 2018 election observer reports ahead of the impending by-elections and the 2023 harmonised elections.
Analyse the new forms of repression that continue to engender and entrench a toxic culture of bad governance.
Whilst the democratic and civil space has continued to shrink under the new administration, it is important to understand the new and old ways, and means by which this is being achieved and sustained.