Zimbabwe has never been a free state
By Fanuel Chinowaita
Torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is what Mugabe and ZANU PF always use as a weapon to refuse to accept its electoral defeat and to cling to power. It has effectively declared war on the opposition and its supporters.
Robert Mugabe, the military, police, and security sector have abridged the human rights of the Zimbabwean people with impunity. Those who challenge Mugabe’s directives are routinely branded “enemies of the state” and “agents of regime change.”
These arbitrary labels have allowed authorities to arrest individuals and initiate often baseless criminal actions to stifle peaceful assembly, association, and freedom of expression. The criminalization of human rights defenders and democracy activists throughout the country has coincided with disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and murder to deter legitimate or otherwise legal democratic activities.
Only six months after achieving independence, Mugabe tasked Zimbabwe’s Fifth Brigade to murder and execute an estimated 20,000 civilians in the predominantly Ndebele regions of Zimbabwe during the run up to the 1985 parliamentary elections.
The Gukurahundi massacre officially ended in 1987 after the signing of a unity accord that established the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) as Zimbabwe’s de facto ruling party. No official investigation into the mass killing has ever been conducted, thereby precluding the national unity that Mugabe spoke so eloquently of on the eve of Zimbabwe’s independence.
During the late 1990s, at a time of staggering unemployment and inflation, as well as an overall increase of authoritarianism, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai – an alliance of youth, civic, and labor leaders, was formed and challenged Mugabe’s grip on national political power.
Despite the emergence of an increasingly vibrant political opposition, Mugabe and ZANU-PF exercised nearly unchecked political power throughout the 2000’s, altering the constitution over a dozen times, ultimately vesting more power in the office of the President and employing state sponsored violence to systematically intimidate opponents.
It was for these reasons that the 2002 elections were condemned as fraudulent by a range of countries and international observer missions. It was also during this time period when the Mugabe government implemented a number of highly repressive pieces of legislation that curtailed the legitimate work of independent journalists, media practitioners, and civil society.
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), and amendments made to the Private Voluntary Organization (PVO) Act constrained an already compromised democratic space.
In June 2005, Zimbabwe was again rocked by an outburst of state-sponsored violence. Operation Murambatsvina, which means “drive out the trash” in the Shona language, was publicly billed by Mugabe and its ZANU-PF overseers as a “slum clearance operation,” though many analysts concluded it was a retributive attack against perceived MDC supporters. Indeed, at the time most of the MDC’s 41 parliamentary seats were located in constituencies targeted by the operation.
According to a prominent civic group, the “clean-up effort” displaced between 300,000–1 million people, causing hundreds of thousands more to lose their earnings in the informal sector. To date, the perpetrators have not been held accountable.
In 2007, public demonstrations were banned in some parts of the country, leading to massive demonstrations organized by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign. A March prayer rally resulted in nearly 50 arrests and the use of force against leaders of both the MDC and civil society, seriously injured.
In March 2008 elections took place at a time when economic conditions for ordinary people were quite appalling. Nonetheless ZANU PF still believed it commanded considerable popular support and did not think it necessary to engage in widespread violent intimidation to force people to vote for it.
The results of the March 2008 election came as a complete shock to the ruling party. When the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) finally released the election results in May 2008 – nearly five weeks after polls had officially closed – it revealed that Tsvangirai had outpolled Mugabe, 47.9% to 43.2%, thereby necessitating a presidential runoff. The MDC also won a majority of elected seats in parliament, picking up 73 seats in the lower House of Assembly and 24 in the Senate.
The prospect of ZANU-PF ruling in perpetuity was seriously challenged for the first time. A widespread campaign of terror was then set loose during which ZANU-PF militias – under the guidance of some 200 senior army officers – battered the political opposition and civil society under the banner of CIBD, which stood for: Coercion, Intimidation, Beating. Displacement.
The country wide terror campaign has been directed mainly against rural people suspected of having voted for the MDC in the election. The operation has been dubbed Operation Mavhoterapapi (Where you put your ‘X’ i.e. how you voted in the election.)
People have been killed and hundreds of people were beaten. Many of those beaten were severely injured and some had broken bones as a result of the beatings. The perpetrators were attacking the homes of MDC activists, and assaulting them and their family members. They often burn down the homes of these persons. They were also driving
This terror campaign was intended to ensure that in the event of a run-off in the Presidential Election people will be too frightened to vote for the opposition and ZANU PF will therefore win the election. Many MDC party officials were displaced from their own areas so that they will not be able to organize party support in these areas. Party supporters have been driven out of the areas in which they are registered to vote.
Overall, the violence in the months leading to the June 2008 presidential runoff resulted in approximately 300 deaths and 5,000 cases of torture, with more than 10,000 individuals requiring medical treatment.
A major civic group at the time documented additional 4,000 human rights violations. Morgan Tsvangirai; who ultimately sought refuge in the Dutch embassy for fear of his life – withdrew from the contest, allowing Mugabe to sail to a convincing victory.
Operation Hakudzokwi, or “You will not return,” was also launched by the government in 2008 which was meant to secure the discovered Marange diamond fields. Human Rights Watch, among other international and domestic watchdog groups, have documented grave and repeated instances of state-sponsored violence and rights abuses, including forced child labor and an estimated 200 murders.
As Zimbabwe moved towards elections in 2013, political fear was at an all-time high. Nearly 9 out of 10 people feel that political competition in the country “often” or “always” leads to violent conflict. Furthermore, 6 out of 10 fears becoming a victim of intimidation or violence.
According to Amnesty International, 300 people were injured as a result of politically motivated acts of torture or other violence in calendar year 2012 and at least eight people died in police custody under circumstances that suggest that they were tortured or summarily executed.
Early this year, the War liberation heroes were teargased by Riot Police at city sports in Harare.
And now, the continuing disappearance of prominent human rights activist Paul Chizuze, the abduction of Itai Dzamara and also the 4th, 5th, and the 6th of July this year’s attack of peaceful demonstrators in Mabvuku, Epworth, Zimre-Park, Dzivarasekwa, Chitungwiza, Bulawayo and Beitbridge also provide naked information to all Zimbabweans that we are not free.