November 2020 marks three years after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as president, taking over from the late long-time ruler Robert Mugabe following a military coup.
By Zimbabwe Peace Project
At his swearing in ceremony on November 24 2017, thousands of Zimbabweans filled the National Sports Stadium — the biggest arena in the country, and diplomats, former presidents from other countries as well as opposition political party leaders like the late Morgan Tsvangirai were all part of this grand occasion.
The thousands of Zimbabweans in the stadium and those watching from home had expectations.
Taking over, Mnangagwa had the goodwill, and to back that up, he made a cocktail of promises to take Zimbabwe from the past, into a new, democratic future, characterized by the respect for civil, political and socio-economic rights as enshrined in the constitution and the adoption of security sector reform.
The pledges also included his government’s intention to end the widespread high level corruption and to ensure Zimbabwe took the path of reengagement with the international community following over two decades of isolation.
Three years later, we reflect.
The history of Zimbabwe’s state security services had always been tainted by its allegiance to the ruling party and how government used the state security apparatus to clamp down on dissent.
When Mnangagwa came in, he promised sweeping reforms.
“I intend to approach security issues from a broad human, physical and social perspective.
“All citizens must feel secure and enjoy a sense of belonging in the land.
“All activities that the national security institutions aim to achieve must be focused on overall human security from disease, hunger, unemployment, illiteracy and extreme poverty.”
However, on August 1 2018, soldiers shot and killed six people in the streets of Harare.
Mnangagwa denied responsibility and instituted the Motlanthe Commission.
But the same incidents were to be repeated in January 2019 when citizens protested against a fuel price hike.
For the past three years, the police and the army have publicly, and with impunity, abused citizens’ rights.
In 2020 alone, and for seven consecutive months, the ZPP documented the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the Army and other state agents as the chief perpetrators of human rights violations.
This falls flat in the face of Mnangagwa’s promise to reform the security sector.
In addition to that, the Motlanthe Commission’s recommendations that those responsible for abuses account for their actions and to compensate families of those killed and those who lost property, have not been implemented.
State security agents have continued to commit human rights abuses with impunity.
We have witnessed an increase in extrajudicial killings, and in April, during the first week of the lockdown, police shot to death a Bulawayo resident, Paul Munakopa for allegedly breaching Covid-19 regulations.
Throughout, ZPP has documented cases of extrajudicial killings and murder with impunity by state security agents, a worrying trend considering that the right to life is sacrosanct as enshrined in the founding values and the Bill of Rights of the Zimbabwean constitution
Based on the above, and considering that Mnangagwa promised to “work towards ensuring that the pillars of the state assuring democracy in our land are strengthened and respected”, it is worrying that his administration has already begun a process to amend the constitution to give the president more power over the legislature and the judiciary amid overt indications that the judiciary is no longer enjoying the independence it should have under the constitution.
For example, while section 165 (4) of the Zimbabwe constitution, states that members of the judiciary must not engage in any political activities, hold office in or be members of any political organisation, a Harare and Gweru magistrates recently revealed interest in standing for election in the ruling party’s Zanu PF district coordinating committee in Mt Darwin and Gweru respectively.
Another example is when Chief Justice Luke Malaba was forced to reverse a controversial directive that judges should first seek approval or have their judgements seen by their superiors before they are handed down.
In October, judges are reported to have written a letter to the president and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission though unsigned, outlining judicial capture as the major challenge affecting the Judiciary.
In the letter, dated October 26, 2020, judges claimed the Judiciary was under siege, with judges being captured thereby unable to independently execute their duties without interference from the executive and state agencies.
In light of this, ZPP calls on government to reflect on the three years Mnangagwa has been in power, to go back to the drawing board, and to commit to fulfilling the promises made, and to do this:
Government should institute investigations of all serious human rights abuses over the last three years and ensure that citizens get justice. State security agents who have acted outside their mandate should be brought to book without fear or favour.
All interventions should be done in line with national law and international standards. The government should also take urgent steps to reform the state security sector as spelt out in the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission, and as promised by President Mnangagwa in 2017. All those responsible for human rights abuses should be held to account. That way, it creates a culture of accountability and responsibility within the state security sector.
Zimbabwe’s constitution provides a basis for the enjoyment of all people’s and human rights and government should embrace a culture of Constitutionalism and ensure that all citizens get the benefit of all the socio-economic rights due to them.
The economy has become one of the major human rights issues and government should take the right steps to ensure that the labour force enjoys a living wage and the informal sector gets the necessary support and that those in need of social protection get the due protection.