The reality that little has changed in Zimbabwe is becoming starker with the approaching general election. The nation is in dire need of a new constitution and judicial reform but his is elusive. President Emmerson Mnangagwa known as ‘the crocodile’ is tightening his grip. The opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) was dealt an unfortunate set back in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, one of its key support bases.1 The court there nullified the candidature of 12 of its parliamentary contestants ahead of the general election.2 Bulawayo is known as being a stronghold of the opposition and this court ruling is seen as giving Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF Party a walkover.3 In the last election of 2018 the opposition – then known as the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – lost one constituency in Bulawayo after they fielded two candidates, resulted in a split vote, which handed Zanu-PF’s Ranji Modi the constituency.4 The latest ruling by the Bulawayo court seems to be based on the influence of the Zanu PF regime.5
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Over the past five years, the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly have been relentlessly suppressed. Amid a sustained crackdown against those who have demanded accountability from the government or organized protests against allegations of corruption, journalists, members of the political opposition and human rights activists have all been targeted for criticizing the government. Almost a fortnight ago, President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed into law the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill, 2022, commonly referred to as the “Patriotic Bill”, further criminalizing dissent for among others, “upsetting” a constitutionally elected government. Health workers who protested poor working conditions and salaries have also not been spared either. They were criminalized for demanding their rights. For example, the then acting president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), Peter Magombeyi was abducted and tortured in September 2019 for being vocal about health workers’ plights. He was freed after few days of his ordeal. “What we have seen in Zimbabwe over the past five years amounts to a brutal crackdown on human rights, especially the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Respect for socio-economic rights has also declined dramatically, leaving many people in abject poverty with no means to put food on the table,” said Khanyo Farisè, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa. “The Zimbabwean authorities have revealed their brazen contempt for basic freedoms and shown that there is no space for dissent in the so-called ‘second republic’. (Zimbabwe: Elections in the context of systematic human rights violations and criminalization of state critics)
The above certainly shows that all is now well in Zimbabwe. There is still a strong police state in the ‘second republic’. Mnangagwa has shown no aptitude to change the course of the Zimbabwean state. At a time when the country needs to take a more Liberal and democratic path they seem to be heading further down the spiral of oppression and centralization that been common place since the era of late President Robert Mugabe, Mnangagwa’s predecessor. Any form of dissent displayed by the opposition or dissidents is met with harsh force. Mnangagwa intends to rule with a firmer iron fist than his predecessor Mugabe. This means the so-called patriotic bill which imposes harsher restrictions on the freedoms of speech and expression. It is up to the international community to step up and tell Mnangagwa if he wants sanctions to be lifted, he should not pass this law and relax existing restrictions on individual freedoms. South Africa under President Cyril Ramaphosa should severe diplomatic ties with Zimbabwe and persuade the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to suspend the Mnangagwa regime from participating in their summits and meetings. With the upcoming general elections this is as good an opportunity as any to bring an end to Zanu-PF’s repression. However the AU and SADC are rubber toothed bodies and it will take the collective clout of the continent’s civil society to lobby for effective sanctions. Abductions and torture by the authorities are clear abuses of power. It should be enough to rile any one to call for an end to the political tyranny of Zanu PF. The pressure for change will mount with time.