PRESSURE on President Emmerson Mnangagwa escalated yesterday, with politicians and rights groups from the southern African region flagging the deepening crisis in Zimbabwe and worsening rights abuses following a brutal crackdown on dissent in recent weeks.
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane started a campaign under the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter seeking to draw international attention to the crises on South Africa’s northern neighbour and was quickly joined by politicians, activists, sportsmen and other celebrities locally and in the region.
Last week, Mnangagwa’s government mobilised security forces on a scale unprecedented in peace time according to critics, shutting down major cities and towns to prevent anti-government marches called by activists over corruption and increasing economic hardships. Over a dozen activists fled into hiding after the police arrested journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume while several activists were reportedly abducted and tortured ahead of the planned protests last week.
The police also arrested author Tsitsi Dangarembgwa and MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere.
Posting on Twitter, Maimane said: “Eita @Trevornoah, can we find a way to bring global attention to the human rights abuses in Africa. The attacks on black lives in our neighbourhood which need global solidarity.
“A burning topic right now is the arrests of journalists and activists in Zimbabwe #ZimbabweanLivesMatter.”
Maimane also appealed to Trevor Noah, a South African comedian who hosts The Daily Show in the United States to help highlight the Zimbabwe human rights abuses to the global community.
South Africa’s former public protector Thuli Madonsela joined in the debate, and called on regional leaders to hold Mnangagwa to account.
“The Zimbabwe government needs to be called to account for the human rights violations,” she said.
“It is strange and unacceptable that a number of activists are arrested in Zimbabwe for voicing disagreements with the government. Emmerson Mnangagwa needs to explain his government actions to regional leaders.”
Retired Springbok legend and World Cup winner Tendai “The Beast” Mtawairira waded into the debate.
“My prayers this weekend have been with those that have been tortured and arrested in the intended peaceful protests back home. Constitutional rights should not be criminalised,” Mtawarira said.
Urban grooves musician Nox Guni added his voice, saying Mnangagwa must stop the brutality on citizens and allow normal freedom of expression.
Mnangagwa deployed soldiers to deal with the protests and several rights abuses were reported at the weekend.
Many opposition supporters have gone into hiding as Mnangagwa continued to target dissenting voices.
Journalist and online publication ZimLive editor Mduduzi Mathuthu is also one of those who went into hiding, but his nephew, 22-year-old Tawanda Muchehiwa, was abducted and tortured, only to be released after two days, heavily injured.
About 23 people have been killed by soldiers in Mnangagwa’s two-year rule, six killed during the post-election violence of August 1, 2018, and 17 killed during the January 14-16, 2019 anti-fuel price hike protests.
A commission of inquiry into the August 1 shootings recommended that the victims be compensated while the perpetrators are brought to book, but Mnangagwa is yet to implement them two years down the line.
Human rights groups have called on the government of Mnangagwa not to interfere with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), a constitutionally independent commission meant to investigate reports of human rights violations.
But Mnangagwa appointed new commissioners of his choice to take over the mandate of the ZHRC.
“An analysis of the steps taken by the government to implement the recommendations of the (Motlanthe) commission reveals substantial non-compliance. A year and half into the commission of inquiry’s findings and recommendations, no justice has been done for the victims and perpetrators remain at large,” a Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum report read.
“It leaves in question the government’s Band-Aid intention in establishing and appointing the commission of inquiry with whom it had no obligations to implement the recommendations.”
The report revealed that Mnangagwa had not fulfilled the recommendations and, instead, has sought to use the report more as a public relations document rather than a sincere quest for reform and nation-building.
“It is important for the government to seek dialogue first with its citizens and affected families before parading the report to foreign governments. Human rights are of the people of Zimbabwe. Anything else is secondary. Many believed the inquiry was wasted money and time.”
Zimbabwe Council of Churches secretary-general Kenneth Mtata yesterday called out government over the rights violations issue.
“The current abductions, torture, arrests and detentions, high levels of mistrust in the ruling party, failing economy and the ravaging effects of COVID-19 require change of course before it’s too late,” he said.
“Pragmatism leading to a comprehensive national settlement on the basis of a truly inclusive and broad-based national engagement is urgently needed.”
Contacted for comment, Zanu PF information director Tafadzwa Mugwadi said acting party spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa would issue a statement, but had not done so at the time of going to print last night.
Information permanent secretary Ndaviningi Mangwana posted on his Twitter handle: “Sanctions imposed against Zimbabwe have killed many. They have unintended consequences. We need every voice to be heard because, #ZimbabweanLivesMatter.”