The 17th of November 2017 is significant in Zimbabwe’s political calendar as it marked the end of President Robert Mugabe’s 37-year reign through a military coup. As we reflect on the four years since the ouster of Mugabe and the ascendancy of Emmerson Mnangagwa as the country’s leader, we must discuss the progress we have made in addressing the challenges the country faced during the years that President Mugabe was in power.
For decades, post-independence in 1980, Zimbabwe’s political and economic environment kept regressing because of the ruling ZANU PF party’s misrule and bad governance. Under President Mugabe, Zimbabwe witnessed egregious human rights abuses mainly targeted at the opposition, the media and civil society activists. The opposition was labelled as enemies, while the exercise of freedoms and rights as guaranteed in the country’s constitution was gradually whittled and became a preserve to be enjoyed only by ruling party supporters. Various pieces of legislation were crafted mainly targeting the opposition, the media and civil society as the ruling government sought to limit democratic space. Laws like the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act were all enacted to target perceived opponents and silence dissent.
However, without belabouring too much on the performance of the government during Mugabe’s era, it is important to note that events happening in Zimbabwe currently are a sad reflection on the deceptive characters of the country’s leaders who are continuing in the path of Mugabe, if not worse. It is no longer in doubt that the country’s rulers are using the law as part of an agenda to create a one-party state where the opposition and civil society are outlawed. The ‘second republic’ has gone back to history to retrieve some archaic tactics of repression such as introducing obnoxious laws like the Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA) of 1960 which infringed on people’s freedom of association, assembly, movement and expression and the banning of political parties such as ZAPU and ZANU.
The reform promises that the coup plotters made in November 2017 ie; to restore constitutionalism and the rule of law, to end corruption and promote human rights and democracy in their imagined “Second Republic” have turned out to be a farfetched dream. The second republic has perfected the repressive apparatus under Robert Mugabe with ruthless determination. The autocracy is deepening faster making a mockery of the promises of November 2017. Already, the country has witnessed the decimation of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC Alliance) using the courts. The courts are being used to settle political battles and instead of the judiciary acting independently and impartial they have become subservient to the ruling party’s wishes painting a gloomy picture on the future of democracy in Zimbabwe.
Despite the country adopting a new constitution in 2013, the government of Zimbabwe has failed to align old laws to the new constitution. Instead of implementing the new constitution, the government opted to amend the constitution to concentrate power in the Executive. Whilst the same government promised to do away with some bad laws such as AIPPA, POSA to mention but a few, the reality on the ground proves otherwise. VERITAS, notes that laws such as the Public Order and Security Act [POSA] were replaced with the almost identical Maintenance of Peace and Order Act; AIPPA was repealed, but the new regulations seek to maintain some of its odious aspects. Veritas further noted that Bills have been presented in Parliament to remove checks and balances on judicial appointments and to centralise power in the President.
The government continues to pay lip service to the reform agenda they promised in 2017. The most worrying thing now is the continued shrinking of the democratic space and if anything, what we are witnessing in Zimbabwe is the suspension of the constitution. Apart from the many statutory instruments which the government are busy crafting, various laws are being put in place also to regulate the operations of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and civic work in general. This should be a worrying development for citizens as the government seems determined to muzzle the freedoms of its citizens. According to an analysis by the International Center for Non-Profit Law the proposed Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill, 2021 states that The Minister has broad discretion to replace a PVO’s executive committee with provisional members, which allows the Minister to interfere with a PVO’s internal affairs. The Minister has broad discretion to require trusts registered with the High Court to stop collecting public contributions, including from outside the country, and to register under the PVO Act. This imposes double registration and restricts funding, which both violate best practices. This law threatens the existence of civil society and is a step backwards for the country’s democracy and that is the very reason why citizens must resist the re-energised approaches of dealing with those perceived to be critical of the government.
These laws are coming with a focus on the impending elections in 2023. After ZANU PF orchestrated commotion in the opposition, it is now determined to ensure that civil society is crippled. The winds of change that blew in Malawi and Zambia have left the ruling ZANU PF party in a panic mode and thus determined not to leave anything to chance.
Looking back to four years ago when Mnangagwa delivered his inauguration speech on the 24th of November 2017 at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, one would be left wondering how quickly the tide has changed as all the commitments and promises made have proved to be empty rhetoric. Mnangagwa had started on a good note, and quoting his speech he said: “.. we must, however, appreciate the fact that over the years, our domestic politics had become poisoned, rancorous and polarising. My goal is to preside over a polity and run an administration that recognises strength in our diversity as a people, hoping that this position and well-meant stance will be reciprocated and radiated to cover all our groups, organisation and communities.’’ A helicopter analysis today tells a completely different story.
In conclusion, the “second republic” tenure is proving that Zimbabwe is well entrenched on the same trajectory it was going under President Mugabe. The only difference is that now it is an overt military state. With the level of determination and callousness the state is dealing with the opposition and dissenting voice (particularly the broader democratic movement) the 2023 election has to be a cause for concern to Zimbabweans, the region and the international community. It is, therefore, crucial to mobilise and organise citizens to resist this dangerous trajectory the ZANU PF leadership has placed the country on. There is a need to reawaken the citizens’ agency with urgency, and the mobilisation of communities to stop the government of Zimbabwe from imposing such dangerous pieces of legislation that seek to create a one-party state. The civil society and all pro-democratic forces need to join hands and create a formidable alliance of resistance to safeguard the little that is left for the citizens to enjoy their fundamental freedoms and rights as enshrined in the constitution. It is also in the interest of regional bodies like SADC, the AU and the UN to bring to check the actions of the government of Zimbabwe which has declared war on its citizens. The laws being introduced in Zimbabwe are a clear violation of the many protocols and international statutes that Zimbabwe is a signatory to. Mnangagwa’s deceit must be exposed as he is proving to be even worse than former president Mugabe.
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