The year 2018 was significantly influenced by the new political dispensation that began in November 2017. It was the first year in the post-Mugabe era, following the rise of Emmerson Mnangagwa through the November 2017 military coup. Within the opposition ranks, Morgan Tsvangirai passed on in February 2018 paving way for Nelson Chamisa’s rise to lead the main opposition MDC Alliance party. For the first time since independence in 1980, a presidential election was held without Robert Mugabe on the ballot, and the two top contenders from ZANU-PF and the main opposition MDC Alliance were first-time runners for the Presidency. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission declared that President Emmerson Mnangagwa had narrowly won a closely contested race, which victory was endorsed by the Constitutional Court after the opposition had challenged the result. Election observers generally concluded that while elections were largely peaceful, they did not meet the benchmarks of a credible election.
Civil and political rights abuses were especially pronounced, in sharp contrast with the pronouncements by the government of opening democratic space under a new dispensation. For the first time in years, soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians in the streets on 1 August 2018 and killed at least six people.President Mnangagwa set up a Commission of Inquiry, led by South Africa’s former President Kgalema Motlanthe, to investigate the 1 August protests and subsequent post-election violence. Arrests for allegedly insulting the President were at an all-time high in 2018. Arbitrary arrests of opposition activists and leaders continued unabated. Police banned protests, and several protestors were arrested, some injured in clashes with the police, including students at the University of Zimbabwe, National University of Science and Technology, and the Great Zimbabwe University. Collective job action was frowned upon by government which attempted to fire thousands of protesting nurses from public hospitals. Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) officials were detained at their offices in Harare and were rounded up in Mutare and Gweru, thwarting collective action by the labour union.
On the socio-economic front, forced evictions were recorded, and abuse of workers’ rights by companies. Nurses and doctors’ strikes affected health delivery, and from October onwards, a crippling cholera and typhoid outbreak resulted in 6,000 cases and 50 recorded deaths. Access to clean water, especially for major cities, was constrained, with some major cities resorting to water rationing. Commendably, electricity supply was somewhat steady during 2018.
The government took limited steps towards security sector reforms, as with law and institutional reform generally. The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) only started operating in 2018, five years after its constitutional establishment. The Constitutional Court Act is yet to be passed, and an Independent Complaints Mechanism for violation of human rights by the security services as required by section 210 of the Constitution is yet to be operationalised. Independent Constitutional Commissions were severely underfunded, but the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission performed significantly well above general expectations.
While important strides were made, the 2018 human rights violations paint a dark picture, with the government significantly implicated in human rights violations.
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Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum