Political temperatures in Zimbabwe are heating up as the country’s 2023 general elections draw closer.
Serious electioneering is ongoing across the country, but opposition activists are bearing the brunt of politicised State security and the Judiciary as President Emmerson Mnangagwa seeks re-election.
The opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) led by Nelson Chamisa has suffered the most and the pressure on its activists seem not to be relenting.
There are over 20 activists in prison for charges that range from inciting public violence to obstruction of the course of justice.
Most prominent among the CCC leadership in prison or on bail include legislators Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole who are remanded at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison just outside the capital, Harare.
The duo have now clocked over 80 days in detention and their trial is only slated for November 21, 2022.
Another outspoken legislator and former Finance minister Tendai Biti is on bail on allegations of assaulting a Russian investor at the courts in Harare. CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere is also out on bail on two charges — participating in an illegal demonstration during the COVID-19 lock down and communicating falsehoods.
There is another group of 13 activists from the populous Chitungwiza, a dormitory town of Harare, in remand prison on charges of public violence.
Most worryingly is the fact that opposition activists on average spend 30 days in custody before they get bail, while activists from Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF are immediately allowed to post bail on their initial remand hearing at the courts.
Last week, after nearly 60 days in custody, Harare magistrate Feresi Chakanyuka dismissed Sikhala and Sithole’s fresh bail applications on changed circumstances.
In denying the duo bail, Chakanyuka ruled that nothing had been placed before the court to prove that the basis upon which they had been denied bail during the initial remand had been addressed. She added that the passage of time on its own was not enough to grant bail.
This denial of bail to activists has a chilling effect. It dampens their spirits and dissuades them from protesting against the government or organising in their members.
Chamisa (@nelsonchamisa) in response to the denial of bail tweeted: “I’ve just been at the Magistrates Court since 2pm for the #FreeWiwa bail ruling. Bail denied again. This is pure abuse & weaponising of the law. The #Nyatsime15 detention is oppressive and despotic. The Zimbabwean supreme law makes bail a constitutional right.”
What makes the situation worse is Zimbabwe has general elections next year. The ruling party, Zanu PF, enjoys incumbency and its members are not restricted from organising rallies like opposition players.
The actions of the police and the courts are now seen as partial towards Zanu PF. These institutions are now seen as aiding and abetting the regime to retain power.
There have been cases of Zanu PF supporters that have been captured on video threatening to kill opposition leader Chamisa, but no arrests have been made to date.
In the past week, Zanu PF members beat up opposition member is in Gokwe, Midlands province. So far, no arrests have been made and it seems like any would be made soon.
These scenes of violence and the bellicose statements from the ruling regime are similar to what has become the norm during general elections in Zimbabwe since 2000.
Most vicious polls were in 2000, 2002 and 2008. Many opposition activists have been killed or maimed and this spurred a great trek to South Africa and Botswana by locals fleeing violence and the deteriorating economy.
In a Twitter Space discussion on the incarceration of Sikhala, Sithole and 13 CCC activists from Nyatsime, hosted by NewsDay recently, British-Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam, who joined the Zengeza North MP’s legal team did not hold back in his criticism of Zimbabwe’s legal system.
“I believe in Zimbabwe today only members of Zanu PF are citizens of the country and I think that is the perspective, unfortunately not only of the ruling party, but of many people in control of the courts and the police and, of course, the intelligence units. And I believe that the violence that’s been meted out,” he said.
“Throughout the country really since the inception of self-government since 1980 and even before that, the history of Zanu PF in its brutality in the camps before independence just demonstrates a complete disregard for rule of law. In talking about justice in Zimbabwe, we need to not call a spade a shovel and simply say that justice does not exist for those whose political beliefs and party membership differ from Zanu PF.
“It is important that we understand that the reason that Sikhala is still in jail is that he was representing the family of a murdered member of the opposition. And I don’t mean murdered, I mean brutalised and tortured and if this was a one-off case. It would be one thing, but this is a consistent pattern.
“It is the application of the law that determines the system of the law and when the structure has failed, and when murders of opposition leaders and tortures and rapes go on a consistent daily, weekly, monthly basis, these facts cry out for justice. And as far as I’m concerned, yes, there may well be cases, individual cases of justice in Zimbabwe, but what I have seen in over a dozen years of involvement in Zimbabwe is the consistent deprivation of the rights of those who are members of the opposition.”
In concluding, it is becoming increasingly clear that Zimbabwe will have another disputed general election marred by violence, arrests and detentions of opposition activists.
The only way the country can salvage the situation is having impartial police and courts, allowing opposition to freely campaign within the law and create a fair electoral playing field.