In the light of increased violence, Forum calls for action, collective responsibility
The Forum is a coalition of 22 human rights organisations with a mandate to address organised violence and torture (OVT). The Forum was formed in 1998 following the January food riots, which were met with state heavy-handedness. Since then, the Forum has stood side by side with over 2000 victims of OVT and handled over 7 000 civil cases and hundreds of criminal cases in local and international courts. When the Forum was formed, our hope and belief were to eradicate OVT by a day such as this. Developments of the last few days and weeks, however, are a painful reminder that we are a long way there. These developments are threatening to plunge the nation into darker days ahead, with the potential for degeneration if the situation is not addressed intently and with care, and with fidelity to the Constitution.
On 10 June 2022, members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) stormed into a peaceful prayer meeting held at Zimbabwe Divine Destiny offices in central Harare and proceeded to arrest 35 church congregants, including popular cleric Bishop Ancelimo Magaya, on charges of disturbing public order. Armed anti-riot police assaulted congregants with sjamboks and baton sticks without warning before escorting them to Harare Central Police Station. The arrests came following a police ban on the launch of the “Zimbabwe We Want Campaign” – a church-led nation-building initiative calling for peace and prosperity in a corruption-free constitutional democracy that the clerics and congregants intended to launch that day. Lawyers were denied access to the arrested upon arrival at the Harare Central Police Station. Bishop Magaya was subsequently released on the same day while 34 congregants remained in custody.
On the same day, the ZRP barred a candlelight commemoration of late academic Dr Alex Magaisa on allegations that the commemoration was in contravention of section 7(1)(a) of the Maintenance of Peace and Order [Chapter 11:23]. Notification of the gathering, which was submitted on 9 June 2022, was denied on the grounds that it was not given seven days before the date on which the commemoration was to be held. It is inconceivable that the notification to hold a memorial procession could have been given prior to or in anticipation of Dr Alex Magaisa’s death. The refusal by the police to sanction the candlelight procession in honour of Dr Alex Magaisa is a grave violation of section 58 of the Constitution on peaceful assembly.
Events in Chitungwiza have created a tense and charged atmosphere. On 11 June 2022, the body of the opposition political party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) activist Moreblessing Ali (46), who had been missing for two weeks, was found dumped in a well in Nyatsime in Chitungwiza. Moreblessing’s body was found mutilated with the top and bottom parts of her body severed into two separate parts while her intestines had been packed into a plastic bag, suggesting that she was tortured. There is every suggestion that this was a violent murder. According to a ZRP statement, the police are on the search for the perpetrator who is alleged to be a ZANU-PF member.
Politically motivated violence has since erupted in Nyatsime in the events following the discovery of Moreblessing’s body. CCC members assembled to mourn the death of Moreblessing at her residential place in Nyatsime, which resulted in ZANU-PF members led by their councillor, one Masimbi claiming that Moreblessing was a ZANU-PF member. The ZANU-PF supporters went on to threaten to take over the funeral, declaring Nyatsime as a ZANU-PF territory. The highly divisive public utterance and threats to take over the funeral triggered retaliatory behaviour from CCC activists, who then torched a house belonging to ZANU-PF branch chairperson George Murambatsvina. The Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Nick Mangwana took to Twitter castigating the destruction of Murambatsvina’s house and promising the “swift arm of the law” against the perpetrators. Worryingly, the government and the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services did not issue any formal statement relating to the death and mutilation of Moreblessing Ali.
After the destruction of Murambatsvina’s house, CCC members allegedly proceeded to Chibhanguza Shopping Centre in Nyatsime where they damaged four vehicles suspected to belong to ZANU-PF supporters. It is alleged that CCC members proceeded to destroy a number of shops. Following this, a heavy deployment of armed anti-riot police in armoured vehicles was observed in the Nyatsime area. That heavy police presence has since increased with police trucks numbering up to six.
In retaliation for the destruction of Murambatsvina’s house, CCC community leader Misheck Guzha’s house was torched by alleged ZANU-PF youths on 14 June in the evening. In the same breath, CCC member, Audious Makomatsi’s tuckshop was also torched by the same group of suspected ZANU-PF youths. On the same evening, police officers arrested Job Sikhala, CCC Member of Parliament and party Chairman who is also the legal representative of family members of Moreblessing Ali. Sikhala is presently detained at Harare Central Police Station. CCC Member of Parliament for Chitungwiza North, Godfrey Sithole was also arrested and is being held at the Harare Central Police Station. Sikhala and Sithole are being charged with inciting public violence.
Earlier on 14 June, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiCZ) spokesperson and President of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) Obert Masaraure had been arrested and charged with murder, in a case that the court ruled out foul play after an inquest inquiry. CiCZ has described Masaraure’s arrest as a case of political persecution to silence dissent.
In his 2017 inauguration speech, President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised sweeping reforms to advance the safety and security of all citizens. In his words “all citizens must feel secure.” However, organised violence and torture driven by political polarisation and impunity have continued to increase, with the country being in a state of insecurity. We have witnessed several cases of lawlessness and impunity which is breeding frustration and anarchy as citizens are bound to take the law into their hands. The charged political environment has the potential of degenerating into more widespread political violence with repercussions too dire to contemplate for our young democracy. These recent spates of violence are indicative of a deepening political crisis in the country that can only escalate as the country inches closer to the 2023 polls.
Given the precarious and potentially explosive situation we find ourselves in as a country, the Forum strongly believes it is time to summon our collective responsibility as Zimbabweans and to exercise responsibility to address organised violence which threatens our collective peace and safety. In particular, the Forum urges the following:
- Maintain calm and peace and guard against reaction to provocation.
- Maintain tolerance and mutual regard to the rights of others, including of persons and groups whose opinions differ from one’s own.
- Desist from criminal activity, including in the name of politics or political parties.
To the law enforcement and government authorities:
- Investigate, arrest and prosecute perpetrators of violence, irrespective of political affiliation.
- Ensure an end to impunity for both politically and criminally motivated violations of the law and human rights.
- Maintain law and order in human rights and constitutionally compliant manner and ensure the safety and security of all citizens.
To political parties:
- Call for calm and peace and desist from inciting members and supporters to commit acts of organised violence.
- Practice political tolerance in both words and deeds.
“Violence should be alien vile to our nature, culture and traditions as the Zimbabwean people.”
– President Emerson Mnangagwa, inauguration speech 25 August 2018
Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum