PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has used the military to infringe on the rights of Zimbabwean citizens and the media, far more than his late predecessor, Robert Mugabe, a fresh report by the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) has revealed.
Mnangagwa, who rose to power after Mugabe was overthrown in a military coup in November 2017, has been under criticism globally for his overreliance on the military to thwart dissent, thereby compromising on democracy and the rule of law.
Having promised a clean break from the Mugabe regime — itself infamous for brutal crackdown on the opposition and tramping down civil liberties — Mnangagwa has failed to lead the country to the promised land. The military has become a permanent feature on the political landscape, making the country appear to be gravitating towards military rule.
Deployed soldiers have been accused of gross abuse of human rights — beating, torturing and even killing people.
For instance, on August 1, 2018, soldiers were fingered in the shooting and killing of six people. They were also accused of injuring 35 more in the post-presidential election protests, before being involved in the killing of a further 17 during the January 2019 uprisings, which left hundreds more injured.
A recent report released by the ZDI — a public policy think-tank — reveals that citizens view the military as an enemy of political transition and have lost trust in Mnangagwa’s administration, hence a recurrence of protests by civil servants, civic society groups and the general citizens.
The research also found that there is significant decline in popular support for Zanu PF, as was seen in the 2018 election, compared to the 2013 election — a signal of loss of trust and confidence in Mnangagwa’s new dispensation.
According to the study, 7 000 cases of beatings and torture involving the military have been recorded since Mnangagwa became President in 2017.
This is contrary to Mnangagwa’s pledge to uphold human rights and create democratic space for citizens in his inaugural speech.
Some 82% of the 500 people interviewed throughout the country’s 10 provinces during the ZDI research stated that the new dispensation had worsened use of brutal force on protestors, journalists, activists in the opposition parties and the general citizens.
“Human rights violations by the State using the military have worsened to the extent that citizens feel more frightened and deterred from participating in public protests in the post-Mugabe era than before. Political transition will not be possible or sustainable without the military either playing a leading role or being on the side that pushes for transition by choice,” the report reads.
The majority of research participants felt the military buttresses the ruling Zanu PF in its governance and military decisions are supreme.
The ZDI also noted that to stop citizens from exposing its unpreparedness on the Covid-19 pandemic, government deployed soldiers in the streets to silence the hungry citizens and thwart protests.
“President Mnangagwa did not change the attitude of the army towards democratic transition forces or the role played by the military during the Mugabe era. He just deployed the traditional infrastructure inherited from Mugabe,” said one interviewee.
Other interviewees, however, felt the military play a critical role in enhancing fairness and freeness in the electoral process.
Human Rights activist Dewa Mavhinga said findings by the ZDI were valid since the army has been openly involved in public affairs during the current dispensation, compared to what was happening under Mugabe rule.
“Mnangagwa frequently deploys the military to crush protests and the military has in the operations been implicated in gross human rights abuses and disregarding the rule of law,” Mavhinga said.
As part of its recommendations, the ZDI urged government to urgently set up an independent complaint mechanism to receive complaints from the public, so that security officers who abuse human rights face the law.
The ZDI recommended human right activists to redefine the democratic transition problem in a way that identifies the military as a primary and decisive power bloc in transition politics of Zimbabwe.
Western countries, notably the United States, have maintained sanctions on Mnangagwa and his cronies on account of rampant human rights abuses.