An outspoken street preacher and prominent critic of Zimbabwe’s government, Apostle Talent Chiwenga, has fled his house following heightened surveillance of his church and home in Harare by people in unmarked vehicles.
Yesterday, Chiwenga told me by phone that he believes the Zimbabwean authorities have dispatched a team of state agents known as the “Ferret team” to kill him for his activism, following several failed attempts over the last two years. Apostle Chiwenga has regularly used street sermons in Harare and social media platforms to openly rebuke Zimbabwe’s government for its gross human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, abductions, and torture of activists, rights defenders, and journalists.
In two audio messages widely circulated on social media in September, unnamed persons, both of whom claimed to be members of the ruling ZANU-PF party and Zimbabwe liberation war veterans, labelled Chiwenga an “enemy.” One of them urged other veterans to hunt Chiwenga down because he is “Satan who preaches politics to inspire people to revolt against ZANU-PF.” Four confidential sources in the security sector separately told me last week that the authorities are unhappy with Chiwenga and view him as a security threat that should be “neutralized.” Three security officers described the ongoing surveillance of Chiwenga’s Harare church and home by people in unmarked vehicles.
In June 2020, Zimbabwe’s home affairs minister, Kazembe Kazembe, publicly labeled Chiwenga and others as part of an “illegal and subversive bandwagon under the control of certain diplomatic missions.” On two occasions, Chiwenga was involved in car accidents days after publicly raising concerns about threats to his life by security agents, including a July 2020 accident in Norton, near Harare, and a horrific road accident in June 2019 that killed his wife and two other people.
The Zimbabwean authorities should take steps to ensure the security and protection of Apostle Chiwenga and other critics of the government. Human rights advocates like Chiwenga should not live in fear for exercising their fundamental rights to free speech.