Organised Violence and Torture in Dealing with Protests in Zimbabwe

The latest joint publication by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Research and Advocacy Unit, Veritas, Counselling Services Unit and Heal Zimbabwe navigates the intricacies of the use of organised violence and torture in dealing with protests by the state. The report lays bare how the use of draconian methods by the state to counter citizen demonstrations has resulted in citizen being afraid to exercise their rights. Read on for more.

This is the fourth in a series of reports on the history of Organised Violence and Torture (OVT) in Zimbabwe. Previous reports have dealt with the Liberation War, Elections and Displacements. The release of this present report comes at a time when the country is moving inexorably into election mode, and elections are always periods in which OVT is an ever- present threat, and, too frequently, an ever-present reality. It also comes at a time when the citizenry is facing increasing hardship because of the poorly functioning economy, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and there is the probability of increasing public protest, with the likelihood of these being dealt with by coercion rather than tolerance.

The right to protest in protected in several ways in the amended Zimbabwe Constitution, specifically in Chapter 4 (Part 2). This is expressed in several sections: Section 58 (Freedom of Assembly and Association) and Section 59 (Freedom to Demonstrate and Petition) both protect this, but, of course, there are other applicable sections that are related to the right to protest. Since 2000, these rights have been more denied than honoured by the government, and peaceful protest has been met with disproportionate violence, arbitrary arrest, and detention, and, too frequently with torture. This has not changed under the present regime, either before the election in 2018 or subsequently. The consequences of this denial, and the draconian methods for dealing with legitimate protest, have led to the situation in which citizens are afraid to participate in public affairs other than by voting. This is graphically shown by the findings of the Afrobarometer surveys since 1999: political fear is major reason for the lack of social capital, citizen agency, and, until recently, even for participating in elections.

Frequently described as apathy, political fear dominates the Zimbabwean political landscape, with the result that the most important aspect of citizen agency, participating in public life between elections, has all but disappeared. In the words of one political scientist, Zimbabweans have become “risk averse” and the extent of this risk aversion well-demonstrated by empirical research.

Many political scientists point out that political trust is a critical factor in states being able to govern, pass policies, and deliver services with the consent of the citizenry. Political trust, however, is produced by a reciprocity between state and citizen: it is not merely that citizens trust governments that deliver on their promises and are able to deliver public goods and services, but also depends on the extent to which governments themselves trust their own citizens.

In fact, political trust is a diminished property of the Zimbabweans citizenry since 1999. Bluntly, few Zimbabweans trust the government, and Organised Violence and Torture (OVT) is a major factor in causing this and creates sustained political fear. Previous reports have examined the effects of OVT on Elections and OVT and Displacements, as well as OVT during the Liberation War. but OVT is not merely seen during elections alone, but is a feature of times outside elections, and especially when citizens wish to express their views through peaceful protest. This is the focus of this report.

Read the full report here (421KB PDF)

Source: Research and Advocacy Unit



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