THE take-over of the headquarters of the opposition MDC-Alliance by the MDC-T faction led by Thokozani Khupe with the aid of soldiers and police officers, as well as the dramatic arrest of the MDC-Alliance leaders, has once again shone the spotlight on the government’s democracy deficit, putting paid to international re-engagement efforts.
Last week on Thursday, with the help of the security forces, the MDC-T took over Morgan Tsvangirai House, formerly known as Harvest House, in central Harare. Attempts by the leadership of the MDC-Alliance, among them vice-presidents Tendai Biti and Lynette Karenyi Kore, to gain entry into the building the following day, resulted in their arrest. They were charged for violating the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown imposed by the government on March 30 to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
The MDC-Alliance alleges that the military helped Khupe’s faction to forcibly take over the building. The army has, however, denied being involved in the take-over. The MDC-Alliance also revealed that youth activist Womberaishe Nhende was badly beaten by police during the hostile take-over of the MDC-Alliance headquarters.
The involvement of the police and army has drawn criticism both at home and abroad.
Western governments — which President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government were keen on engaging from day one in office — were quick to express concern over the use of state security agents in political party disputes.
It did not help either that high-level corruption involving the first family and their associates was exposed in the media and social media in the procurement of Zupco buses and Covid-19 test kits and masks.
As the crackdown on the opposition continued, the government arrested lawyers, including opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s attorney Advocate Thabani Mpofu, while Zanu PF acting spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa threatened journalists for exposing the first family’s association with Drax International frontman Delish Nguwaya, who was awarded a US$60 million tender to supply drugs and Covid-19 material without going to tender and at grossly inflated prices.
“This week’s events in Zimbabwe show a lack of respect for rule of law, due process and constitutional rights: partisan deployment of security forces, arrests, disrespect of property rights, partial investigations, corruption and threats against journalists,” the European Union wrote on its Twitter handle.
European Union (EU) ambassador to Zimbabwe Timo Olkkonen added his voice in condemning the use of the security forces in an opposition parties’ dispute.
“Security forces involved in private property dispute. Opposition harassed. Political party threatens journalist. Questions on investigative bias and impunity of human rights violations. Not a good week for Zimbabwe,” Olkkonen tweeted.
The Dutch Embassy in Harare simply tweeted the hashtag #NoZimpunity, while the United States embassy in Harare also added to the global chorus of condemnation.
“We are dismayed by the politicised use of security forces to take over the headquarters of an opposition party and arrest its members. A healthy democracy requires healthy opposition parties,” the US embassy wrote on its Twitter handle.
Amid the fiasco, Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Busi Moyo held a virtual meeting with British minister for Africa James Duddridge this week. After the meeting, Duddridge revealed on Twitter that he had told Moyo of his country’s concerns over human rights violations.
“Spoke to Foreign Minister SB Moyo today on a range of issues, including CV-19 response. I underlined our deep concerns regarding human rights violations and need for proper investigations. Urge Zimbabwe to seek international re-engagement through economic and humanitarian reform,” Duddridge said.
The latest developments are a major blow to government’s re-engagement efforts, according to political analyst Eldred Masunungure.
“The militarisation of politics undermines the integrity of the military and undermines President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s efforts to re-engage,” Masunungure said.
“I do not think that the Americans are still interested in re-engagement and will deal with the government through sanctions and other measures in their toolbox. The door has slammed on re-engagement with the United States. It is dead in the water.”
Masunungure, however, believes that “the window is still open” on dialogue between Zimbabwe and the EU.This is not the first time that government has fallen out with Western countries over failure to adhere to the constitution since Mnangagwa took power in 2017 on the back of a military coup.
Mnangagwa’s promise to end the country’s pariah status through re-engagement has been derailed since the extra-judicial killing of citizens by the security forces on August 1, 2018, after protests broke out over the delay in the announcement of the 2018 general election results. Tension between Harare and Western capitals was aggravated by the killing of unarmed citizens in January last year during protests over the 150% hike in fuel as well the arrests and indiscriminate beating of citizens by security forces in the aftermath of the protests. This drew widespread condemnation globally.
Zimbabweans are still waiting for Mnangagwa to implement the recommendations of the commission of inquiry led by former South Africa president Kgalema Motlanthe appointed by the septuagenarian leader to investigate the August 1 killings.
In a joint statement, the heads of mission of the delegation of the EU, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom and the heads of mission of Australia, Canada and the US slated government over the clampdown.
“Intimidation, harassment and physical attacks on human rights defenders, trade union and civil society representatives, and opposition politicians—prior to, during and following the demonstration in Harare on 16 August(last year) are cause of great concern,” they said.
Last week’s take-over of the MDC-Alliance headquarters undermined not only the government’s re-engagement efforts, but also constitutionalism, according to analyst Tawanda Zinyama.