One Year On: Shattered Hopes and Promises
August 26 marked the anniversary of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s inauguration into office.
Zimbabweans had very high hopes for his administration, buttressed by his election promises that living conditions for many will improve to much better levels than those experienced during President Robert Mugabe’s 38 year rule. One year on and Zimbabweans have found themselves in a worse situation than before.
August has particularly been characterised by a drastic upsurge in human rights violations largely brought on by the call for demonstrations by Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leadership in some of the major cities of the country. The period leading up to the planned demonstrations was characterised by a sharp increase of violations such as intimidation, abductions, torture and assault of mostly MDC, civil society activists and artists.
Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) has, over the past few months, reiterated the need for progressive and open dialogue by leading political and other actors as well as all segments of society in a bid to avoid conflict.
Challenging living conditions such as the increasingly difficult economic conditions, severe power cuts, skyrocketing prices of basic commodities were noted as triggers likely to lead to widespread clashes. Sadly, this has come to pass and there are strong indications that this volatility will increase going forward. On the other hand the state has countered criticism with persecution of perceived critics.
This was particularly apparent in the month of August. MDC called for demonstrations in Harare (August 16), Bulawayo (August 18) Gweru and Mutare on August 19 and 20 respectively. Days leading up to the demonstrations were characterised by a sharp increase in abductions, torture and assaults. The state prohibited demonstrations planned for Harare through an order on the 15th of August, asserting that there were indications that the planned demonstrations would be violent. MDC reacted by filing an urgent chamber application seeking to quash the ban, but Justice Joseph Musakwa ruled against them stating that they should have lodged their appeal at the Magistrate’s Court. The citizens who had responded to the call for a demonstration in Harare waited patiently for the High Court to deliver its decision on the matter. When the ruling of the court eventually filtered, police descended heavily on the protesters most of whom were still seating waiting for the way forward. Several protesters were injured while many more were arrested when riot police violently dispersed them. Most of those arrested have been denied bail since their detention.
The demonstration calls also triggered the police to mount road blocks that are a reminder of the situation prior to November 2017 during former president Robert Mugabe’s era. For several weeks travelers have been harassed at check points. They have been subjected to searches and those without Identification documents have been detained. The situation with the police and the upsurge in abductions, torture and assaults are a reminder of how promises made in the aftermath of November 2017 and the run up to the July 30 elections have all become a pipe dream.
Depressed economic conditions continue unabated. Minister of Finance and Economic Development Mthulisi Ncube announced his Mid-Term Budget Review on the 1st of August which sadly did not bring much joy for most Zimbabweans. He announced that the economy is forecasted to contract, reviewed upwards the fuel import tax from 16-40% for diesel and 19-45% for petrol, increased toll gate fees, route authority and operators’ license fees among other issues. These price reviews will add a further squeeze on Zimbabweans, the majority of whom have not received salary increments in a long time, and this has particularly riled civil servants and other workers in the private sector.
This was notable when Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) organised a demonstration dubbed “Pay Day Funeral” at the Ministry of Finance Offices to protest the meagre salaries that they earn. The group intended to hand over a petition to the Ministry to express their grievances but were forcefully removed from the premises and charged with ‘Criminal Nuisance’.1 people were abducted during the month of August while from its own monitors ZPP had picked 14 abductions, a sharp increase from the total of four such violations which were recorded during the months of March to July 2019. Harare Metropolitan Province recorded the highest number of abductions and torture with 9 violations followed by Bulawayo with 4 and 1 in Midlands.
In Bulawayo tensions were high due to the planned MDC demonstrations which failed to take off after police issued a prohibition order. The city also faced a potentially volatile situation when Chief Felix Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in Khami Prison on charges of destruction of property of one of his subjects. Police were heavily deployed in the city in anticipation of protests, with helicopters continuously hovering over the city.