The Deteriorating Situation in Zimbabwe Demands Inclusive and Broad-Based Dialogue

The socio-economic and political situation in Zimbabwe remains marred by a myriad of conflicts, largely stemming from a perpetual culture of elite exclusionary politics and intolerance within, between and among political actors. The Covid-19 pandemic which saw the country declaring a national disaster on the 17 March 2020 and enforcing a national lockdown since 29 March 2020, has seen the current administration taking advantage of the health crisis to perpetually stifle freedoms to include but not limited to, assembly and association, movement and demonstration and petitioning, expression and freedom of media, all enshrined in Sections 58, 66, 59, 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, Amendment No. 20 of 2013, respectively.

Zimbabwe continues to experience overt and covert violence, sexual abuse, arbitrary arrests and abductions mainly targeted at opposition political activists and human rights defenders, and largely perpetrated by the security agencies to include the police and military. The country is burdened with domestic and international debt, policy uncertainty and inconsistency, a surrogate currency whose purchasing power continues to depreciate, fiscal indiscipline and corruption, narrowing tax base and rising expenditure, high levels of unemployment, dilapidated infrastructure and dysfunctional social services to include health, education and transportation. The working conditions of civil servants are worrisome, especially the frontline workers who are carrying their work in the Covid-19 context while the informal sector remains largely closed and without social safety nets. The World Food Programme estimates that by December 2020, 8,6 million Zimbabweans will be food insecure, a figure which represents about 60% of the country’s population, largely the rural populace given the drought experienced.

Between April and June 2020, many activists were abducted, harassed and/or arbitrarily arrested. These include but are not limited to the MDC Alliance trio, Cecelia Chimbiri, Johanna Mamombe and Netsai Marova who were abducted and exposed to physical and sexual abuse in the hands of state security agents, health personnel who were arrested while peacefully protesting for better wages and working conditions across the country, two (2) female residents of Cowdry park in Bulawayo who suffered abuse in the hands of police officers, media practioners, students, labour representatives and lawyers who were arrested across the country among others.

In light of the worsening situation, the country witnessed increased calls for protests by opposition leaders, civil society, social movements and activists. Many encouraged Zimbabweans to demonstrate and petition the government against corruption and state failure, announcing the 31st of July 2020 as the date of protest. Before the 31st of July, the government went on a heightened crackdown of activists across the civil, media and political divide. These included but are not limited to; MDC Alliance’s Youth Organising Secretary and Councillor for Masvingo Urban Ward 4, Godfrey Kurauone who was arrested on the 7th of July 2020 and charged with undermining the authority of the President; Former Zanu Pf Youth League Commissar, Godfrey Tsenengamu who reported that 3 armed men had visited his house in Bindura at midnight on the 12th of July 2020 and pounced on his children, interrogating them for an hour regarding his whereabouts before leaving; Namatai Kwekweza and two others who were arrested in Harare while peacefully protesting against the proposed Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill No. 2 of 2019; Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of Transform Zimbabwe, together with Hopewell Chin’ono, an investigative journalist who exposed a US$60 million Covid-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) procurement graft, who were subsequently arrested on the 20th of July and charged with allegations of inciting public violence. Two (2) weeks post the 31st of July 2020, the duo and Godfrey Kurauone among others, remain placed on custodial remand amid concerns of continued victimisation while in prison, following denial of bail by the state. On the 21st of July 2020, suspected armed state security agents were captured on video footage following a night raid on Obert Masaraure’s, (President of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ)), place of residence.

On the 21st of July 2020, President Mnangagwa in a televised press conference, among other measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, imposed an indefinite 12 hour  curfew, restricting the freedom of movement between 6pm and 6am. While the purported justification centered on the need to curb the spread of Covid-19, the timing proved calculated to further suppress the 31 July planned protests, especially given the systematic violent threats by ZANU PF leaders ahead of the protest. Between 21 and 30 July 2020, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), quoting other security arms went on an overdrive, issuing at least four (4) press statements, warning citizens against participating in “illegal demonstrations”, posting “sensitive” statements on social media and breaching the lockdown regulations, a move citizens saw as tantamount to subtle intimidation ahead of 31 July 2020, however disguised as enforcement of Covid-19 regulations.

Furthermore, the ZRP went on to publish a list of wanted persons, which largely featured political activists and human rights defenders, encouraging the public to hand them in for interviewing. The published list, coupled by reports of night raids conducted by the security services and compounded by the growing fears of abductions, resulted in an increased number of activists being internally and externally displaced as they left their places of residence for safer hide outs in unknown destinations.

The last week of July 2020 saw the current administration going in full throttle, activating its security apparatus, especially the military command element, to thwart any efforts by citizens, aimed at exercising their constitutional rights to assemble, associate, demonstrate and petition and expression. During that time, Mashonaland Central, East, West, Midlands, Masvingo, Manicaland and Matabeleland North, South provinces, similar to Harare and Bulawayo provinces, witnessed an increase in the number of mounted roadblocks, manned by the police and military personnel, along the highways and in particular on entry points to provincial towns. There was an increase in the number of armed military personnel patrolling the town and the local communities and police trucks were observed roaming around, even in rural areas, in light of reports that the protests would be decentralised. Military and police drills were also observed, with the security forces running around the towns and rural centres, clad in uniforms and chanting “provocative songs”, all aimed at instilling fear and sending a warning to would be protesters whom they deemed as offenders

A few days before the 31st of July 2020, the security forces tightened implementation of the lockdown regulations and in the process violated the rights of citizens by implementing a blanket restriction to freedom of movement on citizens, especially those traveling into towns. Videos and photos of security personnel physically assaulting citizens went viral, a situation which saw citizens living in extreme fear of being victimised for exercising their constitutional rights.

On the 31st of July 2020, shopping centres, towns, local communities and major cities were largely deserted, with huge numbers of armed security forces patrolling the streets. However, a number of citizens went ahead to protest, in small groups and observing the Covid-19 precautionary measures in line with the country’s regulations. The MDC Alliance’s Spokesperson, Fadzayi Mahere, award winning author, gender and cultural activist, Tsitsi Dangarembga were among those that were arrested and charged with violating the lock down regulations. ZLHR Lawyer, Obey Shava was also arrested while taking Netsai Marova, Cecelia Chimbiri and Joana Mamombe, survivors of state abduction who are facing charges of participating in an illegal protest and violating lockdown regulations, for their routine bail reporting requirement, and in the process the security forces physically assaulted and sexually harassed Cecelia Chimbiri. All this is happening in a context in which the government has not fully implemented the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry which if fully implemented would address some of the challenges bedevilling the country.

Despite the heavy handed response to the July 31 2020 protests the government and the continued crackdown on human rights defenders and political activists to include Heather Mpambwa, a  student leader who was recently arrested in Kariba and the unwarranted attack by the government on the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishop’s Conference pastoral letter calling for peacebuilding and national healing, among others , there has been concerted calls and efforts aimed at situating and responding to the crisis in Zimbabwe, under the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, a space that brought together many voices to speak on the need for an inclusive and broad-based dialogue to sustainably resolve the perpetual conflicts in Zimbabwe. The Alliance of Community Based Organisations (ACBOs) welcomes such local, national, regional and international solidarity from individuals, political parties, governments, regional bodies, Civil Society Organisations, business and churches among other institutions.

We take this opportunity to remind all that, a national-level action-based research conducted by the ACBOs in 2019 through its Community Based Organisations (CBOs) membership working and spread across the country’s 8 provinces of Mashonaland Central, East, West, Midlands, Masvingo, Manicaland and Matabeleland North, South provinces revealed that;

  • The socio-economic and political crisis has led to a worsening and debilitating socio-politico-economic environment, hitting most hard on people’s access to livelihoods and basic social services. The ordinary citizen in Zimbabwe is barely surviving, living between a rock and hard place.
  • There is consensus within the Zimbabwean society that dialogue is the preferred route to solve the political impasse and resultant crisis in the country.
  • In as much as the nature of crisis is perceived to be political, communities anticipate the dialogue to go beyond the political question and address the socio-economic questions of access to basic services and livelihood opportunities.
  • Whilst political parties are crucial actors, communities are of the view that there is need to broaden any dialogue to include other societal actors, such as civil society, churches and business. It should also be nuanced enough to be inclusive of other socially marginalised groups including people living with disability, women and the youth.
  • The communities believe that the dialogue should be convened locally, with a significant majority proposing this to be convened by the church, whilst there is also the possibility of co-chairing.
  • It is important for the communities that the dialogue achieves the following: Stabilisation of economy; Unity and consensus, Political tolerance and Respect and community healing.

We reiterate that;

  • All parties interested in the resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis should actively seek the route of dialogue.
  • The current dialogue initiatives need to be expanded beyond the political question to include the social and economic questions. The stabilisation of the economy should form a key component of seeking sustainable dialogue solutions.
  • Civil society needs to initiate a process of gathering the views of citizens and ensure that these find their way onto the national dialogue agenda.
  • For the advocates of dialogue, there is need to bring the main parties, ZANU PF and MDC Alliance, to the table but at the same time create room for other key societal stakeholders such as civil society organisations, church and business.

Source: Alliance of Community Based Organisations (ACBOs)