THE hard-hitting report by United Nations special rapporteur Clement Nyaletsossi Voule on human rights pointing out that citizens’ hope for a new dawn under President Emmerson Mnangagwa is fast fading, is a damning indictment on the tenure of the septuagenarian leader whose tenure has seen an increase in the brutal crackdown on civil liberties.
Voule met with top government and opposition officials, civil society groups as well as victims of rights abuses during his 10-day fact-finding mission at the invitation of government.
“There is a serious deterioration of the political, economic and social environment since August 2018 resulting in fear, frustration and anxiety among a large number of Zimbabweans,” Voule said. “I believe that the long-awaited hopes are fading.”
He cited “numerous cases of arbitrary detentions, cases of injury, torture and even the loss of innocent lives”.The adverse report by the global body is a far cry from the promises made by Mnangagwa who grabbed power from the late former president Robert Mugabe through a military coup.
“Today the Republic of Zimbabwe renews itself. My government will work towards ensuring that the pillars of the state assuring democracy in our land are strengthened and respected,” Mnangagwa said during his inauguration as president on November 24 2017.
However, the reality on the ground paints a gloomy picture from the promise he made in his inauguration speech as several events have since shown.
In August last year, soon after the general elections, six civilians were shot in Harare’s central business district in broad daylight by soldiers during a protest over the delayed announcement of the results.
The killings, which occurred in the full glare of international election observers and media resulted in global condemnation, and set the Mnangagwa government on the wrong path.
Under pressure, Mnangagwa set up a commission of inquiry into the shootings headed by former South African president Kgalema Mothlanthe. The commission found that the army was responsible for the killings.
The commission also proffered a number of recommendations to help Zimbabwe spruce up its soiled human rights record.
Despite an undertaking by Mnangagwa to implement the findings of the commission, there has been nothing substantive that has been done in that regard 14 months after the killings.
Before the ink had dried on the Commission’s findings, more than a dozen civilians were killed in January this year by security forces during a protest against the 150% in fuel increase announced by Mnangagwa on live television. Scores of people were beaten up in a brutal crackdown by soldiers with allegations that several women had been raped during the period. Dozens were also arrested.
This resulted in a fresh global outcry and condemnation of the Mnangagwa administration.To compound the killings of civilians, there have been widespread abductions of civil society and opposition activists since the beginning of the year.
Even comedians like Samantha Kureya, better known by her stage name Gonyeti, have not been spared. She was abducted, beaten up and made to drink sewage before being dumped naked the next day. An estimated 50 people have been abducted since the beginning of the year.
According to rights group Amnesty International, they are victims of a “systematic and brutal crackdown on human rights” by the government. Probably the most prominent of these is the abduction of the acting president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association Peter Magombeyi, which sparked an uproar that escalated the demonstrations by doctors who vowed not to go back to work until he was found.
It brought yet more global condemnation on the beleaguered Mnangagwa administration. Magombeyi was eventually found in Nyabira amid reports that he had been tortured.
Government found itself in the headlines for the wrong reasons after riot police barricaded a local hospital in an effort to stop Magombeyi from going to South Africa for medical treatment. It took a court order to enable him to travel to South Africa.
The government has, however, denied carrying out the abductions as it vacillated between calling it stage managed and accusing a “third force” of carrying out the kidnappings.
The UN report confirms what Zimbabweans have been saying according to political analyst, Eldred Masunungure.“I do not see the report as unravelling anything new. It just reaffirms what we already know and what has been revealed in independent and objective reports. It is very instructive without it breaking new ground,” he said.
“He (Voule) has confirmed what has been the case, which is human rights breaches with impunity. Most fair-minded readers and observers will agree with the key message in the report.”
Masunungure said government should adopt the report and implement substantive reforms including “the low hanging fruits of aligning the laws to the constitution”.
He, however, pointed out that it is difficult for government to implement these reforms due to polarisation in the country. Masunungure said research think-tank Afrobarometer had found that Zimbabwe is the most polarised out of 36 countries it had surveyed.
The polarisation was evident in the demonstrations, which were planned by the MDC recently and were crushed by police.
The demonstrations were being held to protest the deteriorating standards of living characterised by escalating prices of basic commodities amid eroding salaries and acute power outages which lasts up to 18 hours daily.
The crushing of the protests, which involved the indiscriminate beating of protestors among them elderly women raised eyebrows on government’s failure to observe the tenets of human rights and democracy and which undoubtedly formed part of the observations by Voule.
Government should take the report by Voule seriously if its re-engagement drive is to bear fruit according to political analyst Tawanda Zinyama.
“Sometimes you have to call a spade, a spade. Government should accept the observations of the report if they are serious about re-engagement,” Zinyama said.