- About this briefing
Today marks five years since seven people tragically lost their lives while 35 others were injured after the 2018 post-election violence that was witnessed in the country. In 2018, Zimbabwe held its first election post the Mugabe era, and many hoped that the election would mark the beginning of a new chapter in Zimbabwe’s history where elections would not be synonymous with violence. However, leading up to the elections, the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG) warned of impending violence and called for action to curb it. Regrettably, these calls were ignored, and on 1 August, violent protests erupted in Harare following delays in the release of the results of the presidential election. The police, assisted by the army, were deployed to quell the violence. They proceeded to use live ammunition on protesters and unarmed bystanders, resulting in deaths, injuries, and property damage.
Following this tragedy, President Mnangagwa appointed a Commission of Inquiry led by former South African President, Kgalema Motlanthe to investigate what transpired and make recommendations to ensure non-recurrence. Among the findings of the Motlanthe Commission was that the deaths and injuries were attributable to the military and the police. The Motlanthe Commission made various recommendations, including the payment of compensation, the need for electoral reforms, accountability in respect of the alleged perpetrators, enforcement of law and order to ensure non-recurrence, national healing, and reconciliation. Although the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) has claimed otherwise, to date these recommendations have not been implemented especially those relating to compensation and accountability.
Today the NTJWG remembers those that lost their lives on 1 August 2018 and calls on the GoZ to honour them by holding those responsible for their deaths accountable and compensating their families. Furthermore, the NTJWG stands in solidarity with those who were injured and implores the GoZ to provide them with any support they may need to recover fully. In remembrance of the tragedy that befell the nation on 1 August 2018, the NTJWG also reflects on the fast-approaching 2023 elections.
- Increase in cases of violence and intimidation
In 22 days, Zimbabweans head for the polls for the second time in the “new dispensation.” Through Statutory Instrument 85 of 2023, President Emerson Mnangagwa proclaimed 23 August 2023 the polling day for the 2023 harmonised elections. The proclamation set in motion accelerated election campaigns from all political players. As such, political tensions augmented by intolerance for divergent political views have been rising.
Cases of violence against citizens have exponentially increased since the pronouncement of the election date, despite growing calls from civic organisations and the international community. According to findings published in the Afrobarometer in July 2023, “about six in ten 59% express fear of becoming victims of political violence during elections.” Through state security apparatus, the state was implicated in over 73% of the 1 280 human rights violations documented by the Forum between January to June 2023. Fuelled by impunity, security forces continued to commit arbitrary arrests, violent assaults, abductions, and torture against opposition politicians, perceived dissenting voices, and human rights activists. An illustration is the assault of Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) Budiriro legislator Costa Machingauta and his family by police officers before arresting an additional 25 CCC supporters on frivolous charges of violating Section 37 of the Criminal Law (Codification And Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23] (MOPA). These incidents, including the assault and torture of CCC supporters in Murewa by suspected ZANU-PF youths, remain unresolved with no institution being held accountable such as in the cases of the abduction and torture of rural teachers’ union president Obert Masaraure, comedian Samantha Kureya (known as “Gonyeti”), activist Tatenda Mombeyarara, and students Tawanda Muchehiwa and Takudzwa Ngadziore.
When we consider that Zimbabwe has suffered deeply from election-related violence and that the trauma is still to heal, we see a return to a violent past as witnessed in 2008, where over 200 people were killed in the run-up to the election run-off, as was the case in 2000 and 2002. The increase in cases of violence and intimidation reported across the country flies in the face of a constitutional commitment to heal the nation.
How do we begin the process of healing when the violence has not stopped and perpetrators are not brought to justice?
- Attacks on democratic space
With the increase in violence and intimidation, democratic space has shrunk considerably. Over the past year, the state has deliberately undermined democratic principles of freedom of association and freedom of speech. The role and work of civil society organisations as the last organised civic groupings have seen the gazetting of the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill (PVO Bill) and its subsequent amendments, which seek to not only stop civic organisations from operating but also to criminalise freedom of speech and expression. The recent ascension to the amendment to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23] (the patriotic provisions) is proof positive of the government’s urge to constrict citizens from speaking out against injustices. High-ranking government officials also denigrate well-meaning civic groups, labelling them as regime change agents, “evil society organisations” and “axis of evil.” Such sentiments have resulted in attacks against human rights defenders by ruling party supporters and security forces. An illustration of this is the assault of human rights lawyers Obey Shava and Chamunorwa Chingwe by suspected state security operatives while providing legal assistance to clients in July 2023. As a result of the assault, the duo sustained serious injuries, which required hospitalisation.
The manner in which this happened is reminiscent of the assault of human rights lawyer Kudzai Kadzere in January 2023 before he was further charged with escaping from lawful custody and criminal nuisance. Police from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in Masvingo on 19 January 2023 arrested The Mirror Editor Garikai Mafirakureva for publishing a story which they claim would damage the image of ZRP and senior Masvingo CID officers. Mafirakureva was charged with contravening Section 31 (a) (iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, publishing or communicating false information prejudicial to the State. This development is a clear violation of the freedom of expression and the media.
On 14 July 2023, the President assented to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Act being gazetted with the inclusion of a new clause (Section 22A) which criminalises “campaigning” against the country. The law is calculated to criminalise speaking against Government misconduct and to target civil society organisations from demanding state accountability. The regulation of patriotism for one’s country through this Act is nothing short of over-regulation and duplication, as the same is already captured in the preamble of Zimbabwe’s Constitution. To borrow the words of Winston Churchill, “If you have 10 000 regulations, you destroy all respect for the law.”
- Escalating language of violence and intolerance
Zimbabwe remains a country with deep-rooted political intolerance, which is fomented by hate speech. The most recent example of this intolerance is the politically motivated violence that erupted in Matobo and Insiza in October 2022 ahead of the planned by-elections. Examples of intolerance preceding violence in Zimbabwe can be traced back to the 1980s resulting in Gukurahundi, the 2008 political violence and the 1 August 2018 post-election shootings. In this regard, the cost of intolerance measured against human rights and preserving the sanctity of life remains exceptionally high in Zimbabwe. Recently, intolerance of divergent political views has increased political tensions in the country, mainly through harassment and bullying that is now commonplace on social media platforms between supporters of political parties. Of concern is the lack of accountability for those who perpetuate hate speech. Abton ‘Bhito’ Mashayanyika, who called for the killing of CCC leader Nelson Chamisa and his family during a ZANU-PF rally in Mberengwa on 12 July 2022, is yet to be arrested despite the existence of video footage that went viral.
- The collapse of confidence in institutions
There is growing suspicion between citizens and the state. This suspicion has resulted in a general lack of confidence in institutions such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). The lack of confidence builds from decades of perceived capture of these institutions by politicians, which compromises the discharge of their mandates. The current debacle on the draft delimitation report produced by ZEC and the inaction of the NPRC in critical transitional justice matters signify the capture of these institutions through a clear departure from their constitutional mandates. In turn, no effort has been put in building the confidence of citizens in the capacity of ZEC, the NPRC, and the ZRP to deliver a free, fair, credible and uncontested election. This has set the stage for confrontation, making the 2023 elections a rich arena for violence.
In the same vein, citizens, especially victims of past violations, do not believe the judiciary is independent. Again, the clear capture of the judiciary, through weaponising it to settle political scores, is a significant determinant of citizens’ lack of confidence in the judiciary. Since the start of the “new dispensation” through a military coup in 2017, Zimbabwe has set regional records for the number of days arrested persons have spent in pre-trial detention. The worrying trend of prolonged pre-trial incarceration of political detainees is characterised by arbitrary arrests based on frivolous charges, followed by repeated denial of bail on flimsy grounds. Such has been the case for CCC Member of Parliament Job Sikhala, who has been languishing in prison without being convicted for more than 205 days on allegations of inciting violence. Other examples include Allan Moyo (he spent 72 days in remand), Takudzwa Ngadziore (40 days), Jacob Ngarivhume (43 days), Hopewell Chin’ono (45 days) and Godfrey Kurauone (46 days). The continued weaponisation of the judiciary seriously threatens democracy as it violates the dignity of the arrested persons. Being the adjudicator for disputes, the judiciary should remain impartial and regain the confidence of the people to avoid social disruptions when the judiciary is called upon to settle social contract matters, as witnessed through the constitutional court hearing on elections in 2018.
- Urgent call for action
Having identified these, among many other issues, we see a dangerous situation developing in Zimbabwe. Thus, we call upon the government and leadership of political parties to respect the Constitution and work towards safeguarding the fundamental human rights of citizens. We recommend the setting up of a high-level inclusive multi-sectoral mediation initiative to assist ZEC in addressing the current situation and ensure all contested issues are ironed out in a way that restores the people’s confidence in the process. The initiative must then shepherd Zimbabwe through the election into post-election reconciliation. The Zimbabwe Republic Police must take swift action against all people responsible for the ongoing violence and intimidation in the communities. Political leaders from across the political divide must make a commitment, after all the issues are resolved, to accept the outcome of the elections. If they dispute the outcome, they must commit to resorting to peaceful means of resolving disputes and avoid any methods that may lead to violence. The judiciary, as with law enforcement agencies, should be impartial and refuse to be used as weapons of political parties.
 QPVR, January to June 2023, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (unpublished)
 See for example: NewsDay, ED guns for NGOs, 19 July 2022; https://www.newsday.co.zw/local-news/article/16523/ed-guns-for-ngos