THE abduction and torture of opposition members by suspected state security agents last week indicates a return to former president Robert Mugabe’s brutal rule when kidnappings, beatings and extra-judicial killings were routinely conducted with impunity.
The depraved and dehumanising nature of the torture has left most people convinced that the government’s repeated claims of commitment to implementing political reforms are a charade. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s international re-engagement agenda has been shredded, much like the country’s economy whose deplorable state has compelled Finance minister Mthuli Ncube to extend a begging bowl to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In his infamous letter to the IMF, Ncube sought to sell the idea that the government needs the international community’s support in implementing a comprehensive political and economic reform agenda.
Barely two months after groveling to the IMF, opposition MDC-Alliance legislator Johanna Mamombe was abducted and tortured alongside fellow youth leaders Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova.
They claim they were punished for taking part in a flash demonstration in Harare’s Warren Park high-density suburb.Mnangagwa has been preaching peace and inclusivity, arguing that his government represents a “new dispensation” since rising to power in November 2017 on the back of a military coup.
All the goodwill that accompanied the euphoria surrounding Mugabe’s ouster has virtually come to naught. The brutality with which the government has quashed public protests, in particular the fatal shooting of unarmed civilians on August 1, 2018 and the vicious clampdown on protesters during the January 2019 demonstrations.
In his book Dismantling the System of Mugabeism, Nkosilathi Moyo argues that the savagery of Mnangagwa’s administration has all the hallmarks of the gross human rights abuses and state brutality which have dogged post-colonial Zimbabwe. It is the result of “an ideology which does not appreciate democracy, respect of the rule of law and human rights”.
He warns: “We can change presidents from one to another, but if this system (Mugabeism) is not totally dismantled, Zimbabwe will never stop bleeding.”
He realised many had bought into the seemingly new political currency that swept through Zimbabwe in 2017 although those who understood the real problem had rightly warned that it was too early to pop the champagne.
Oblivious of the tentacles of “the system”, many celebrated Mugabe’s fall which they misread as signaling the beginning of a new era.
Some newspapers called it the “End of an era”. Yes, it was Mugabe’s waterloo, but not the end of a repressive system he had nurtured and that has birthed all manner of power mongers.
With hindsight, the country is beginning to wake up to the reality of toxic politics. Some of the remnants of the system — abduction, forced disappearance, torture and other human rights violations — are beginning to worry the citizens of the “Second Republic”.
It is a list that keeps growing and, despite assurances from the government that the perpetrators will be brought to book, not much progress, if at all, has been made in dismantling the system and prosecuting the culprits.
The question is: if the security sector cannot account for perpetrators of such heinous acts involving whole legislators and popular political figures, how safe is the general populace?
The government has always blamed it on some invisible “third force”, “fifth column” and other such imaginary behemoths, but this is hardly enough explanation.
Political analyst Blessing Vava says the democratic space is shrinking and “it’s worrying that in a short space of time since the so-called new dispensation came into being we have witnessed an increase in human rights abuse, abductions, arrests and treason charges” preferred against the opposition and civil society activists.
Even those who are part of Mnangagwa’s advisory team are beginning to feel uneasy.Writing on Twitter, Busisa Moyo, a member of the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) asked for an end to “these bizarre abductions and inconclusive investigations”.
Prominent cleric, businessman and PAC member Shingi Munyeza has also weighed in, saying: “Abductions and torture must stop. I am totally disgusted and alarmed by an unprecedented trend of abductions in the country.”
The church, too, has received news of the abduction of the MDC-Alliance members with “shock and disbelief”.Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations in a statement released on Sunday said the abductions on the MDC-Alliance members is “appalling and disturbing as they come when the country has seen so many cases of abductions and torture in the last few months, most of which have not been conclusively investigated”.
But perhaps the most telling remark came from outspoken Zanu PF politburo member Tshinga Dube who said: “All these things don’t work well before the international community.”
The unmistakable writing on the wall is that Mugabeism as a system is still very much alive and functional.Interestingly, Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe issued a statement on Sunday directing “the commissioner-general of the police to institute full investigations into the matter”.
But as the police institute the process of ascertaining the truth, what assurance is there that these “thorough investigations” will yield results when many other such investigations into torture, abduction and state-sponsored violence — dating back to the Gukurahundi genocide have remained inconclusive?
Dube also argues that giving time for the police to investigate does not change the perception of the people who are fully alive to the brutality.
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission has also weighed in, saying since the violence was directed at women leaders, it could discourage women’s participation in politics and decision making processes.
Women’s rights groups have also expressed similar sentiments.The Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE), which seems to point a finger at the state, described torture as retrogressive.
“Such acts of brutality by state agents scare away women from freely, actively and fully participating in political leadership and decision making processes,” WALPE said.
The torture has drawn the attention of the diplomatic community which has urged the government to conduct thorough investigations into the matter.