By Tawanda Mutasah
The 31 July arrest by Mnangagwa’s regime of internationally acclaimed author Tsitsi Dangarembga, lawyer Fadzayi Mahere, and other peaceful, socially-distancing protesters, some of them even standing alone or walking near their homes holding mild-mannered protest placards, rounded off a febrile month of citizen discontent and state confusion.
It was a month in which Zimbabwe’s callous regime showed its true colors often and vividly, including in how the case of Hopewell Chin’ono and Mduduzi Mathuthu unmasked the regime’s posturing to the international community about fighting corruption.
Today, as Chin’ono, arrested on 20 July, clocks two weeks in pretrial detention after being denied bail, while Obadiah Moyo, the Mnangagwa ally whose graft Chin’ono exposed, sleeps in the comfort of his own bed, Mnangagwa finds himself unable to fend off the international opprobrium that this new low has attracted.
Despite investments to burnish the government’s image in international society, Mnangagwa can no longer convince any rational observer that his gross violations of the human rights of his own people are somehow an act of righteous resistance against the West – the favorite bogeyman of his regime.
That corruption-busting journalists Chin’ono and Mduduzi Mathuthu – the latter now being sought by Mnangagwa’s security forces who thought nothing of abducting his non-journalist relatives and even brutally torturing his nephew Tawanda Muchehiwa to ransom Mathuthu into surrendering himself – are being punished through the blatant abuse of police powers, bail and pretrial detention, has ultimately confirmed to the world what Mnangagwa’s regime is actually about – in spite of its rhetoric.
It will be recalled that, formally during some periods, and informally during others, Mnangagwa had been Mugabe’s trusted special security affairs assistant for all of forty years, from 1977 during the liberation struggle against white minority rule, up to November 2017 when the former took over following the military coup that forcibly retired his mentor and father figure.
When Mnangagwa began his “reign” – as he unabashedly calls it at his ZANU PF rallies – an international community exhausted from years of Mugabe’s villainy hankered after the opportunity for rapprochement and partnership. International investors imagined the dawning of a new era of predictable rules, cleaning up of pervasive corruption, and reigning in of rent-seeking officialdom.
Mnangagwa himself played along, adopting the mantra, “Zimbabwe is (now) open for business”, and, as he took to the perennial donning of a scarf in the national colors, serving as a moving billboard of the country’s supposed new standing in the community of nations.
Yet it has taken a mere two years for Mnangagwa’s awkward pretense to collapse totally, and irretrievably. Matching Mugabe in cruelty and entitlement, but bereft of his erstwhile mentor’s eloquence and intelligence, Mnangagwa has promptly cut himself out as a buffoon, pitiably clueless in statecraft, and possessing a cartoonish sense of his own invincibility.
The world has now seen what discerning Zimbabweans always knew: that Mnangagwa was in fact Mugabe’s water carrier and enforcer, and that November 2017 was neither state epiphany nor ruling party self-renewal, but simply the impatience of a son awaiting the inheritance of his own turn to maim, kill and steal.
Because, what open-for-business rhetoric can remain standing after the vindictive arrest of Hopewell Chin’ono, who has been leading exposé after exposé of serious corruption in government, some of it implicating Mnangagwa or his family?
What “second republic” and “new dispensation” bombast can sound meaningful after the recent abduction of, and shocking sexual violence against, three young female opposition party organizers – who included a member of the National Assembly – and the subsequent traumatization of the same women through their arrest for supposedly faking their own abduction?
What claims about reforming politically and fighting corruption can be sustained after a two-year period in which peaceful demonstrators have been gunned down in cold blood, elections have been manipulated, big political fish remain untouched in spite of clear evidence that they are looting the public purse, and crimes under international law such as abductions and systematic torture continue precisely from where Mugabe left off?
Now, the regime in Harare will say that Hopewell was not arrested for being a journalist. The actual allegations against him are “incitement to participate in public violence”, this for having tweeted to the effect that Zimbabweans must not tolerate corruption, and that they have constitutional rights of assembly and expression.
The regime knows that the substantive allegations against him are legal hot air, and so clearly the idea is to effectively punish Hopewell through pretrial travesties. As senior Mnangagwa ally Patrick Chinamasa had previously expressed his discomfort that Hopewell’s anti-corruption journalism was embarrassing Mnangagwa’s family, the regime’s animus against Hopewell is obvious.
Still, to understand why the arrest and arraignment are absurd, how they amount to the use of police powers and prosecution process as persecution of (perceived) opponents, and, as Amnesty International Regional Director Deprose Muchena has observed, how they seek to inspire fear in critics, international observers need two contexts: context on the way Mnangagwa’s regime operates; and context on the alleged crime itself.
A few most recent examples illustrate the dynamics.
Last month, Zimbabwe’s Chief Justice issued directives to judges, requiring that, before they are issued, their judgments are to be “seen and approved” by their superiors – a patently unconstitutional instruction to judges that are supposed to be independent.
Although the Chief Justice tried to walk back the order the following day by dropping the word “approved” to leave the requirement that the judgments be “seen” – whatever that means – and although it was further claimed that he had later withdrawn the entire directive, the whole purpose was and remains clear.
In the same troubled month, lawyer and academic Alex Magaisa exposed the extensive looting by senior regime figures and their friends of an agricultural mechanization scheme under Mugabe, a heist that resulted in a massive public debt burden on the back of taxpayers.
Against the backdrop of the recent investigative revelations by Hopewell, Mathuthu, and other journalists, of the Covid-19 supplies scandal; concerns by legislators such as Tendai Biti at the Public Accounts Committee about billions of dollars that have been diverted from another agricultural scheme, this time under Mnangagwa, styled “command agriculture”; strikes by nurses amidst a now totally collapsed healthcare system; and a festering of desperation in a hungry populace some of whom said they wanted to see mass demonstrations against the regime, throughout July Mnangagwa operated in panic mode.
On 21 July, Mnangagwa announced enhanced Covid-19 lockdown measures for an indefinite period, making no reference to any calibration of levels of government measures as previously done. Under the new measures, in addition to everyone being under curfew from 6 pm to 6 am, during the day all “non-working” Zimbabweans are required to stay home except when looking for essentials, a measure that is immensely complicated by the fact that formal unemployment in the country is at over 90 percent.
Even against the background of a genuinely worsening Covid-19 situation, still the draconian nature of Mnangagwa’s measures raised the eyebrows of the United Nations. And the insincerity of these measures became all too clear as one recalled how, since the onset of the pandemic, Mnangagwa himself had continued to convene several non-socially-distanced ruling party events, and, just prior to his 21 July announcement, it had not been unusual to see mask-less, sardine-packed police officers sitting in the beds of huge police trucks, patrolling for lockdown compliance.
Lawyers have recently been arrested on charges that have stood clearly to the legal profession in the country and to international human rights organizations as the blatant persecution that they represent.
And in the regime’s discombobulated response to Magaisa’s agricultural mechanization exposé, even Rhodesia was invoked as supposed good practice in its having passed onto black and white taxpayers the burden of odious debts generated from racist state spending on its minority white population.
It is in this context that on Monday 20 July, about eight police officers broke a glass partition to force their way into Chin’ono’s home, seizing him without due process, and later turning him up at a Harare police station.
It is in this context that on the following Tuesday, after Chin’ono had spent a night in police cells, Magistrate Judith Taruvinga signed a vague and overbroad warrant for the police to search Chin’ono’s house for “illegal documents and other articles kept at the house”.
It is in this context that about 30 armed riot police later that day raided Chin’ono’s home to seize his camera – as if a tweet would reside in a camera – and this after having acquired a second purported warrant that specified his “cameras”.
It is also in this context that no such raids or searches were performed against Obadiah Moyo, the former government minister whose corruption Chin’ono exposed so irrefutably that a protective, reluctant Mnangagwa had to fire him when the pressure became unbearable; an Obadiah Moyo who then appeared at court unhandcuffed, while Hopewell, the whistleblower against him, was handcuffed for his punitively drawn-out appearances at bail court.
And no arrests have been effected against those implicated in the diversion of funds from so-called command agriculture.
So, it is a context in which Mnangagwa’s regime thrives on lies, on smoke and mirrors, using the law and institutions of justice not as the testaments they should be to any people’s vision of belonging, fairness and dignity, but as knobkerries and carrots at the beck and call of a temperamental emperor.
Such lies used to fool some, for some time. But they have now created an environment of lawlessness and injustice – an environment that, sadly, has made responsible investors think twice about bringing capital to Zimbabwe. When a regime shoots itself in the foot as Mnangagwa’s is doing, the foreign investment that comes to its country is, typically, crudely extractive: blood contracts, in effect, cynically calculated to hollow out a nation’s natural resources in exchange for supporting its rulers with military tanks, guns and ammunition, other apparatuses of political and social repression, and fat personal bank accounts.
Tawanda Mutasah is an international lawyer and a recipient of the International Bar Association’s International Rule of Law Award.