Zimbabwe election aftermath sees human rights defenders and opposition supporters under siege

Screenshot from YouTube video,’Zimbabweans Living in South Africa Protest Election Outcome‘ on VOA Africa. Fair use.

By Njabulo Ncube  

Zimbabwe has re-elected President Emmerson Mnangagwa in yet another disputed presidential election, the aftermath of which has sparked claims of state retribution against perceived opponents. 

Critics say the ongoing post-election retribution is reminiscent of the reign of Mnangagwa’s former leader, the late president, Robert Mugabe, who after failing to gain the majority vote in the 2008 presidential election resorted to violence targeting supporters of the opposition leader Morgan Tavangirai‘s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Tsvangirai had allegedly outpolled Mugabe's  Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) . Mugabe then turned to state security agents, the military and veterans of Zimbabwe's war of liberation who unleashed untold violence against opposition supporters

An estimated 500 opposition supporters are said to have been killed, forcing the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to broker a power-sharing deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Through this deal, Mugabe remained as president, Tsvangirai became prime minister, their parties shared control of the state police (MDC) and army (ZANU-PF) and the breakaway MDC-M's leader became deputy prime minister.

Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe in a military-assisted coup in November 2017 and then, controversially, went on to win the presidential election against Nelson Chamisa of the coalition of parties then called the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance in July 2018.

However, just 72 hours following an underwhelming inauguration on September 4, attended by only a few heads of state, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission contentiously declared Mnangagwa the winner over Chamisa of the newly named Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). Soon after, reports of violence against human rights defenders, lawyers, and opposition supporters began surfacing in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital.

Human rights defenders immediately called on the international community to speak out on the violence being carried out in towns and rural areas where people perceived to have voted against Mnangagwa and the ZANU-PF were being targeted. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) roundly condemned the alleged retribution.

The ZLHR named Wimberaiishe Nhende, CCC councillor-elect in Harare and Sanele Mukuhlani, an opposition supporter, as the two latest victims of the ZANU-PF campaign of violence. The pair have been left hospitalized after they were tortured by some as yet unidentified people, who abducted them on September 2, two days before Mnangagwa’s inauguration. 

According to the ZLHR’s statement, Nhende, the councillor-elect for Ward 26 in the Glen Norah suburb, and Mukuhlani, were abducted from the Milton Park suburb in the capital, Harare. The men were bundled out of their vehicle by armed assailants who smashed their vehicle windows before taking them to a location in Mapinga in Mashonaland West province, about 70 km (43 miles) from Harare, where they were later dumped.

“Along the way, the duo, which was handcuffed, was tasered by their assailants in a bid to incapacitate them. They were also tortured by being whipped with sjamboks all over their body and were also beaten with truncheons,” said ZLHR in a statement soon after the incident, adding that the attackers also injected an unknown substance into Nhende and Mukuhlani before they dumped them about 100 metres from the Gwebi River.

Their mobile phones, clothes, shoes and watches were taken during the ordeal, according to Tonderai Bhatasara of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights who is assisting Nhende and Mukuhlani. 

Chamisa, the leader of the CCC who is disputing Mnangagwa’s victory, visited the two badly injured supporters at a private hospital on Monday while the ZANU-PF leader attended his choreographed inauguration in front of thousands of bussed supporters mainly from rural areas, Zanu-PF’s perceived strongholds.

Chamisa told a local independent daily newspaper soon after emerging from visiting the men at a private hospital, that his supporters were, indeed, under siege. He claimed that Zanu-PF and state security agents were harassing his supporters and demanding to know what he was planning after disputing the election results, adding: 

We are going to take this matter up with the relevant authorities, the police, to make sure that investigations are done and we are going to raise the issue internationally and with the region to say this is unacceptable.

Chamisa has refused to go to court to challenge the presidential outcome, adamant the Zimbabwe judicial system is compromised. A statement by CCC accused Mnaganga of bribing the judges with houses and loans of USD 500,000 on the eve of the elections.   

Douglas Coltart and Tapiwa Muchinepiri, lawyers representing Nhende and Mukuhlani, were also arrested on Mnangagwa’s inauguration day after they reportedly objected to their clients being interviewed by police.  

David Coltart, the father of Douglas Colart, told Global Voices that his son and his colleague, Muchinepiri, were arrested on spurious charges of obstructing justice after informing the police that because of the current mental and physical condition of the victims they were in no fit state to record a statement, a position the former cabinet minister said was backed by doctors in attendance:   

Doug and his fellow lawyer Tapiwa were called out to help two CCC members who were abducted on Saturday night and badly tortured — and hospitalized. One gave an interview from his hospital bed Monday morning which revealed shocking injuries. The police arrived at their hospital to “interview” them in the evening which led to Doug being called. Doug told the police his clients were in no condition to be interviewed, a position backed by doctors and nurses. The police then got aggressive and detained Doug and his colleague for “obstructing justice.” They are currently held in the “Law and Order” section, the political wing of the police. 

He added:

Of greater concern are reports of widespread threats and abductions of low-ranking CCC members countrywide. A human rights doctor told me this morning they have 200 cases of abuse and there is a marked rise in incidents. Regrettably, this follows a familiar pattern — whenever ZANU loses an election they do this. The last time it happened in 2008 we had over 40 youth leaders assassinated. I fear Mnangagwa is in such a corner that he will engage in similar retribution. Violence has always been Zanu PF’s default, despite what they actually say. 

Coltart senior, who is due to be installed as the CCC mayor in Bulawayo after winning the local government elections in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, said the international community has a duty to protect innocent people and to speak out against this abuse.

“Certain regional leaders, particularly South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, who back the Zanu-PF regime, are in danger of being held responsible for these serious abuses of human rights taking place under their noses,” he said.

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