As opposition mounts, Zimbabwe’s president lashes out

As opposition to his rule mounts, Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa is increasingly resorting to the use of the security forces to keep a restive population at bay and silence dissenting voices.

After the planned July 31 protests in Zimbabwe were crushed, a new social media campaign, #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, was born to highlight the alleged human rights abuses, corruption and misrule by Zimbabwean authorities.

The campaign, borrowing language from the Black Lives Matter movement, comes as Mnangagwa is fighting on many fronts to subdue journalists, labour and opposition leaders and citizens, using arrests and threats to do so.

Prominent Zimbabweans celebrities, as well as sports stars such as Zimbabwe-born Springbok rugby player Tendai Mtawarira, joined Ice Cube, AKA, Lecrae, Thandie Newton, Pearl Thusi and others to express support for the campaign.

Before the planned July 31 protests, journalist Hope Chin’ono and opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume were arrested, accused of planning to topple Mnangagwa’s regime. Chin’ono was denied bail on Thursday.

Award-winning Zimbabwean novelist author Tsitsi Dangarembga — whose novel This Mournable Body was longlisted for the Booker Prize last month — was also arrested in the crackdown carried out by the security forces.

The house of Mduduzi Mathuthu, the editor of the online publication ZimLive, was raided by police on the evening of July 30, forcing him into hiding. When police did not find him at home, they picked up his sister and his nephew, Tawanda Muchehiwa. She was later released but Muchehiwa was then abducted from police custody and tortured.

Mnangagwa appears to have been jolted by the increasing opposition to his rule.

On Tuesday, he delivered an unusual televised address to the nation in which he used strong language reminiscent of that of former president Robert Mugabe. Mnangagwa described the country’s opposition as terrorists and lashed out at “bad apples” who he accused of sabotaging his government.

He said that “a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors” were destabilising the country. “The dark forces, both inside and outside our borders, have tampered with our growth and prosperity for too long. They have thrived on dividing us.”

According to the president, his tenure in office had been marred by events outside of his control, including “the divisive politics of some opposition elements, the illegal economic sanctions, cyclones, droughts and, more recently, the deadly Covid-19 pandemic”.

The next day his cabinet issued a statement saying it had resolved to craft legislation that would criminalise “campaigning against one’s country” and a code of conduct to regulate the operations and behaviour of all political parties.

Mathuthu said he believes the state targeted him because they wanted to seize his electronic devices, and discover his sources for a recent investigation into Covid-19 procurement corruption that he published.

“I have had to go into hiding. My lawyers will shortly be challenging the warrant, which police used to storm my house, and hopefully when that warrant is exposed by a court for its unlawfulness, I can return home,” Mathuthu said. 

“Zimbabwe is currently on a knife edge. Public anger is rising against the government’s poor management of the economy and plummeting standards of living. The government, evidently out of ideas, has turned to its instruments of repression to defend its hold on power. Violence has its limits and I’m not convinced the situation is sustainable.”

His nephew was found on August 1 at about 11pm, after being “dropped off” at his place of residence by his abductors. The Media Institute of Southern Africa said Muchehiwa was “brutally tortured and has sustained serious injuries”. He is in a private hospital in Bulawayo.

Recent developments in Zimbabwe appear to be worrying its neighbours. On Thursday, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed former security minister Sydney Mufamadi and former National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete as special envoys to Zimbabwe “following recent reports of difficulties that the Republic of Zimbabwe is experiencing”. The special envoys are expected to have discussions with the government of Zimbabwe and other relevant people to identify possible ways in which South Africa can assist Zimbabwe.

This feature first appeared in The Continent, the new pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Get your free copy here.

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Kudzai Mashininga
Kudzai Mashininga

Mashininga is an experienced Zimbabwean journalist.

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