President ED Mnangagwa’s post-Mugabe Zimbabwe continues to persecute the opposition

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa initially came to power in November 2017 through a military coup that forced Robert Mugabe to resign after ruling the Southern African nation for 37 years. Photo credit: Wikipedia/(CC BY-SA 4.0)

By Obert Madondo |  | Sep 28, 2018

Zimbabwe’s first elections without Robert Mugabe on the ballot ended in allegations of vote rigging leveled against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), a parliamentary majority for the ruling Zanu PF party, a disputed narrow win for President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and fatal shootings by the members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces in Harare, the capital. After the historic harmonized elections, held July 30, 2018, the Mnangagwa regime prosecuted a campaign of violence that appears to be part of a pre-meditated plan to permanently silence the opposition.

The military-dominated ZEC initially withheld the results of the presidential contest, pitting Mnangagwa, 75, Nelson Chamisa, the opposition MDC Alliance candidate, and 21 other candidates, raising opposition fears that the commission was trying to manufacture victory for the incumbent. Opposition supporters took to the streets of Harare. The government unleashed soldiers, war tanks, helicopters, and live ammunition. The soldiers gunned down seven people. Video evidence posted to various social media platforms showed trigger-happy soldiers opening fire on, and beating up, unarmed protesters.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights recently labelled the killings “very disturbing and a threat to national peace.”

Mnangagwa initially grabbed power last November through a military coup that toppled Mugabe after 37 years of bloodstained rule. ZEC announced the results of the presidential election after the killings. According to the commission’s results, Mnangagwa took 50.08% of the vote, narrowly avoiding a run-off with Chamisa, who received 44.3%. Chamisa, 40, rejected Mnangagwa’s victory but lost his bid to overturn Mnangagwa’s “tarnished victory” in the Constitutional Court.

Post-election violence

Nearly two months after the elections and fatal killings, Mnangagwa’s supposedly post-Mugabe Zimbabwe is still persecuting the opposition. The UK-based Sky News recently found that hundreds of opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) activists and organisers are “hiding in Harare”. Sky News reports:

We discovered evidence of election-related intimidation and harassment when we met opposition members hiding in safe-houses and hostels in the capital.

They told us they had been forced to flee their homes in rural Zimbabwe by members of the ruling party.

As I blogged earlier, the Zimbabwe state’s terror campaign continued even after the ruling Zanu PF party, which has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, had secured power for five more years:

After the announcement of the results of the presidential vote, the military and Zanu PF activists engaged in what appears to be a terror campaign aimed at permanently silencing the opposition. Soldiers reportedly raided Harare’s high-density areas, which overwhelmingly voted for Chamisa. The crackdown forced dozens of opposition leaders, polling agents and supporters into hiding across the country.

Numerous media outlets around the world reported on Mnangagwa’s strange post-election campaign of terror.  For example, the Guardian (UK) reported:

Soldiers moved through suburbs of Harare, the capital, and satellite cities on Friday night and early on Saturday morning, beating supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), firing weapons outside the homes of its MPs and sealing off the homes of leaders’ families.

Check out this eye-opening list of “World news headlines on Mnangagwa’s post-election terror campaign against Zimbabwean opposition,” which I published earlier.

In a joint statement, the heads of missions in Zimbabwe of the European Union, Canada, Australia, and the United States stated that they were “deeply disturbed by continuing reports that opposition supporters are being targeted by members of the Zimbabwean security forces.”

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum recently documented (pdf) a total of 274 violations committed by the military, Zanu PF supporters, and traditional leaders between Aug 1 and Aug 30, 2018. The violations include abductions, arbitrary arrests and torture.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Republic Police arrested dozens of leading MDC politicians, polling officials, and activists on charges of inciting public violence during the post-election protests in Harare. Those arrested or harassed include Tendai Biti, an MDC Alliance principal and respected former Zimbabwe finance minister, and MDC-T deputy president Morgen Komichi.

In a damning statement, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, condemned the “violent government-sponsored attacks”.

Last week, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights reported that the authorities had intensified their crackdown on opposition party supporters who allegedly committed public violence during the post-election protests.

Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers arrested Wellington Mariga on Tuesday 18 September 2018 in central Harare and charged him with public violence as defined in section 36 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

He becomes the latest person to be charged with committing public violence during the elections protest following the arrest of more than 30 people including Tendai Biti, one of the MDC Alliance party leaders.

The government is criminalizing of the act of protesting here. The authorities have yet to crack down on Zanu PF supporters responsible for harassing opposition supporters. But that’s not at all surprising.

President Mnangagwa has joined the ranks of African leaders who prioritize foreign economic and strategic interests over the humanity of black Africans. Since assuming power through the November coup, he has steadfastly refused to acknowledge his confirmed role in state-sponsored atrocities committed against black Zimbabweans during the Mugabe era. Instead, he announced that his post-coup government would compensate white farmers who lost their farms to the Mugabe-era Zanu PF government. Since the announcement, the British government has reportedly been “banking on Mnangagwa rule.”

Commission of Inquiry

President Mnangagwa only instituted a Commission of Inquiry into the post-election killings by the military after intense international pressure. He swore the seven-member Commission, led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, into office last week.

Doubts over the Commission’s independence abound. It’s members include Professor Lovemore Madhuku, who contested the 2018 presidential election and has criticized the opposition for challenging the results of the July 30 elections, and Professor Charity Manyeruke, a confirmed Zanu PF supporter.

According to Amnesty International, doubts over the Commission’s independence “puts justice for post-election killings at risk”. In statement, Amnesty called on the Mnangagwa government to “bolster” the Commission’s mandate to ensure that the “victims’ families have any hope of obtaining truth, justice and reparations.”

“Zimbabweans deserve to know what happened in the bloody aftermath of the elections, including who shot six people dead, who gave the command to shoot and who was responsible for the deployment of soldiers. But as the Commission of Inquiry’s mandate stands right now, they may never know,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.

Mnangagwa is the commander-in-chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. He’s exonerated the military for the fatal shootings.

The president’s apologists have tried to pin the blame for the Harare killings on his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, the former Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander who led the coup against Mugabe.

The Commission’s findings will not erase the fact that this post-Mugabe Zimbabwe is mired in a violence that’s hard-wired into the DNA of Zanu PF and its leaders, including Mnangagwa.

“The Crocodile”

Zimbabwe’s new president, who served Mugabe for more than 50 years, earned his fear-inducing nickname, “The Crocodile”. Mnangagwa used “to bide his time before suddenly crunching Mr Mugabe’s enemies“. He’s one of the key architects of the numerous state-sponsored atrocities of the Mugabe era. He’s implicated in the Zimbabwe state’s 1980s Gukurahundi massacre of 20,000 members of the Ndebele-speaking minority in the Southern African country’s Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.

As national security minister between 1980 and 1988, Mnangagwa oversaw the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), Zimbabwe’s dreaded secret police.

2008 post-election violence

One of the victims interviewed by SkyNews, who fled from his village after “20 members of Zanu-PF turned up at his door and threatened to kill him”, experienced the state-sponsored violence that swept Zimbabwe after the 2008 presidential election. Then more than 200 opposition supporters were murdered after the late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had trounced Mugabe in the first round of the election.

Mnangagwa, then Mugabe’s election agent, teamed up with the security forces and sabotaged the runoff. The military threatened to unleash even more violence against the opposition. Fearing for the safety of his supporters, Tsvangirai pulled out of the runoff, allowing Mugabe to be controversially re-elected.

Diamond killings

Zimbabwe security forces’ human rights violations targeting the rural populace during the Mugabe era are widely documented. For example, in a 2009 report, Human Rights Watch accused the military of killing “more than 200 people” while seizing control of diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe in October 2008. The report implicated Chiwenga and Perence Shiri, the former commander of the Air Force of Zimbabwe. Shiri, who now serves Mnangagwa as agriculture minister, is implicated in the Gukurahundi killings. He commanded the Fifth Brigade, Mugabe’s killing machine.

The international community has considerable leverage over the Mnangagwa regime. Harare desperately needs international aid and foreign investment to stop a looming economic collapse. Harare needs help to reduce its $13 billion foreign debt. The new government recently failed in its much-hyped bid to secure a US$2,5 billion bailout package from China.

The international community can also count on the United States’ exemplary leadership. Since the military coup, Washington has steadfastly refused to blindly embrace Mnangagwa’s “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra. Instead, Washington has consistently called on the Mnangagwa regime to restore the rule of law and stop persecuting opponents.

In 2003, the U.S. placed 141 entities and individuals in Zimbabwe, including Mnangagwa, Mugabe, top military officials, and government-owned entities, under crippling sanctions. President Donald Trump renewed the sanctions when he signed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act (Zidera) of 2018 in to law in August.

Earlier this month, Manisha Singh, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, told a House of Representatives hearing that the U.S. expects the Mnangagwa regime to demonstrate that it’s “changing its ways” before the sanctions can be lifted.

“Our pressure on Zimbabwe remains in place,” said Singh. “We want to see fundamental changes in Zimbabwe and only then will we resume normal relations with them.”

This week, U.S. authorities pressured Harare to change some of the draconian laws impeding on Zimbabweans’ rights and freedoms, including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Rhodesia-era Public Order and Security Act, according to Reuters.

The United States’ consistent pressure is necessary. So far, Mnangagwa remains Mugabe 2.0. He still represents the continuation of Mugabe’s terrible legacy of state-sponsored brutality. He’s proposing a post-Mugabe economy that favours unfettered global capitalism while closing political space for the domestic opposition.

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He’s the founder and editor of these blogs: The Canadian ProgressiveZimbabwean Progressive, and Charity Files. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad

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