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Clampdown on govt critics in run-up to general elections sparked outcry, and Constitutional Court rejected bid to postpone vote now scheduled for 23 August.
Conviction of high-profile opposition figure sparked outcry. Court in capital Harare 3 May sentenced prominent lawmaker from main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), Job Sikhala, to pay $600 fine for obstruction of justice or else serve six months in prison; Sikhala remained in custody awaiting trial on other charges, including inciting violence. CCC leader Nelson Chamisa next day condemned “unjust and unfair” verdict, demanded immediate release of Sikhala and “all political prisoners”. European Union delegation in Zimbabwe 3 May called on country’s judiciary to protect fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and NGO Amnesty International also next day said sentence was “further evidence of an escalating crackdown on peaceful dissent”. In response, ruling party Zanu-PF around 7 May said Zimbabwe’s judicial system is free of political interference.
Election preparations went ahead despite challenges from opposition. Constitutional Court 8 May dismissed application by Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai opposition party leader Douglas Mwonzora seeking postponement of general elections on grounds that electoral commission’s constituency delimitation report is null and void; Mwonzora same day decried ruling as politically motivated. After electoral commission 27-31 May made voter roll available for public inspection, CCC signalled “serious anomalies” including registered voters missing or misplaced in list. President Mnangagwa 31 May scheduled presidential and parliamentary elections for 23 August.
Calls for postponement of upcoming general elections persisted, and authorities continued to criminalise dissent.
Controversy over constituency delimitation report cast doubt on 2023 vote. Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) party leader Douglas Mwonzora (opposition) 3 April said electoral commission’s constituency delimitation report would produce “unfair and un-credible elections”; statement comes after MDC-T in March filed Constitutional Court application seeking postponement of general elections scheduled for summer. Local advocacy group Election Resource Centre 12 April said suspending elections would threaten country’s democracy, and constitution provides that old boundaries apply if new delimitation report is completed less than six months before elections or deemed unconstitutional. President Mnangagwa 19 April vowed to proclaim election date in late May. Ruling party Zanu-PF second secretary Kembo Mohadi 20 April said party had reached agreements with traditional leaders to secure votes. Main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) deputy spokesperson Gift “Ostallos” Siziba few days later expressed concern about vote buying and exploitation of traditional leaders.
Opposition continued to face judicial harassment. Court 5 April sentenced CCC lawmaker and spokesperson, Fadzayi Mahere, to pay fine on charges of “communicating falsehoods”; however acquitted her of “promoting and inciting public violence”. NGO Amnesty International next day said sentence showed “escalating assault on freedom of expression”, 18 April lamented “rapidly shrinking civic space”, including criminalisation of dissent and targeting of political activists and human rights defenders. Mahere 26 April filed appeal. Court in Harare 28 April sentenced Transform Zimbabwe opposition party activist Jacob Ngarivhume to four years in prison (including one suspended) for “inciting public violence” in 2020.
Ahead of general elections due this summer, courts dismissed legal challenges to electoral process and paved the way for high-profile trial of opposition leader.
Courts dismissed cases over electronic voters’ roll, constituency delimitation report. Harare High Court 7 March dismissed main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) legislator Allan Markham’s case demanding release of electronic voters’ roll to the public ahead of general elections due in July or August; Markham later in month filed appeal at Supreme Court. Civil society group Team Pachedu in March repeatedly warned of possible mayhem in next elections due to irregularities in electoral commission’s constituency delimitation report, notably erroneous demarcation of wards. Constitutional Court 20 March dismissed application by ruling party Zanu-PF member Tonderai Chidawa to nullify constituency delimitation report. Political party Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) late March also filed Constitutional Court application seeking postponement of elections by six months to make time for revision of delimitation report. Voter registration concluded 26 March.
Ruling party held chaotic primary elections. Zanu-PF 25 March held primaries to select members who will represent party in upcoming general elections; voting extended to 26 March as some candidates’ names were missing from registers, while ballots were not delivered in some areas. In run-up to vote, skirmishes between supporters of rival candidates 20 March left several Zanu-PF activists injured in Chegutu West constituency, Mashonaland West province.
Prominent opposition lawmaker remained behind bars. Court in capital Harare 16 March refused to dismiss case against prominent CCC lawmaker, Job Sikhala, paving the way for high-profile trial in run-up to general elections; Sikhala has been held in custody since June 2022 on accusations of inciting public violence.
Political tensions remained high ahead of general elections, as new boundaries for constituencies and wards faced backlash.
Politically motivated violence continued to run high. Members of main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) and ruling Zanu-PF party 12 Feb clashed at CCC rallies in towns of Gokwe (Midlands province) and Chivi (Masvingo province); both sides traded blame for violence. Authorities 18 Feb arrested CCC councillor in Masvingo city (Masvingo province) for holding unauthorised meeting at his house. CCC leader Nelson Chamisa 26 Feb called out President Mnangagwa over banned rallies and continued persecution of party activists.
Mnangagwa gazetted constituency delimitation report despite opposition. Electoral commission 3 Feb presented final delimitation report to Mnangagwa, with commission president saying constituency and ward boundaries had been redrawn following feedback received in Jan. Opposition and civil society however said new delimitation of constituencies and wards tilts electoral playing field in favour of Zanu-PF. Notably, opposition Movement for Democratic Change 6 Feb said elections may be null and void because of massive defects in delimitation exercise, while CCC around 17 Feb said Zanu-PF was resorting to “their usual dirty tactics of violating the Constitution, political violence and electoral malpractices”. Mnangagwa 20 Feb gazetted delimitation report, setting stage for general elections in July-Aug.
Senate passed controversial amendment to Private Voluntary Organisations Act. Senate 1 Feb approved amendment bill to Private Voluntary Organisations Act meant to counter terrorism and money laundering by giving govt greater control of NGOs and other non-profits. CCC VP Tendai Biti next day warned of “unprecedented attack on human rights defenders”, while UN experts 14 Feb urged Mnangagwa to refrain from enacting bill, warning it would “severely restrict civic space and the right to freedom of association”. Mnangagwa 19 Feb said bill will protect country from “foreign interests” and vowed to sign it into law.
Harassment of opposition supporters continued months away from general elections, and constituency delimitation report faced fierce criticism.
Main opposition party members faced violence and arrests. Mob 7 Jan assaulted members of main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) during party meeting in Murehwa town, north east of capital Harare, reportedly leaving seven injured; CCC accused ruling ZANU-PF party of unleashing vigilantes ahead of general elections slated for mid-2023. Police 14 Jan stormed CCC legislator’s home in Budiriro, Harare suburb, detained 26 party activists over accusations of holding illegal gathering. NGO Amnesty International 17 Jan called for their immediate release, condemned “escalating crackdown against freedom of association and assembly” in run-up to elections. All activists granted bail 27 Jan.
Report on delimitation of constituencies criticised across party lines. Govt 6 Jan presented electoral commission’s preliminary report on delimitation of constituencies to both houses of parliament. Ad-hoc committee of 13 legislators charged with examining report 13 Jan criticised document, saying electoral commission must use final census results and ensure equal number of voters in all constituencies as provided for by constitution. NGO Zimbabwe Democracy Institute 13 Jan said preliminary report showed capture of electoral system “through gerrymandering, calculated to disorient the main opposition and benefit the ruling party”, and civil society platform Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition around 20 Jan said delimitation process fraught with irregularities and part of broader scheme to rig elections in favour of ZANU-PF. Meanwhile, opposition People’s Unity Party late Jan vowed to hold nationwide demonstrations on 25 March in attempt to stop elections.
Political atmosphere remained tense months away from general elections, and NGOs expressed concern that new anti-money-laundering bill could further shrink space for civil society.
Political tensions remained high ahead of general elections. Police 10 Dec reportedly detained two members of main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) who were assaulted late Nov by suspected ruling Zanu-FP party supporters in Gutu district; mid-Dec banned two CCC rallies in capital Harare. Zanu-PF senior officials late Dec rejected electoral commission’s recent report on delimitation of electoral boundaries, saying it favours opposition, and vowed to have it nullified in court. Opposition party People’s Unity Party 30 Dec called on all opposition parties to boycott general elections scheduled for July-August, citing fears polls will further divide country.
Parliament’s lower house adopted bill which could further restrict civic space. National Assembly 16 Dec passed Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill granting govt unfettered access to NGOs and other voluntary organisations’ operations, including budgets, plans and funding sources, and power to delist or enlist them; govt said bill, which still needs Senate’s approval before President Mnangagwa signs it into law, is necessary to combat money laundering. Opposition lawmakers immediately requested further debate, saying bill had been passed without their knowledge, while civil society platform Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition around 18 Dec said text, if passed in its current form, would lead to closure of several NGOs, further restricting civil society space.
U.S. sanctioned president’s son for corruption and human rights abuses. U.S. Treasury Dept 12 Dec announced new sanctions on four individuals and two Zimbabwean entities for corruption and human rights abuses, including Emmerson Mnangagwa Jr., son of President Mnangagwa.
Ahead of 2023 general elections, relations between govt and opposition remained tense.
Authorities continued to stifle dissent. About 30 alleged supporters of ruling ZANU-PF party 8 Nov disrupted press conference by main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) in capital Harare despite police presence, seizing party banners and other materials. National housing and social amenities minister and ZANU-PF’s Mashonaland East provincial chairperson, Daniel Garwe, 12 Nov told supporters that “courts, military and police belong to ZANU-PF” and that party was preparing whip to “fight back” against those who insult President Mnangagwa. Meanwhile, Magistrates Court in Harare 9 Nov granted bail to CCC parliament member Godfrey Sithole, who was arrested in June alongside his colleague Job Sikhala on charges of inciting violence following killing of CCC activist Moreblessing Ali; Sikhala remained in custody after ninth attempt to secure bail late Nov failed. In move widely interpreted as clampdown on govt critics, govt 22 Nov adopted new legislation that will criminalise behaviour deemed as undermining “national interests and sovereignty”.
Opposition pressured authorities to create conditions for competitive polls. Opposition parties, including CCC, mid-Nov urged govt to expedite establishment of Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission to investigate acts of misconduct by members of security forces. Two civil society organisations – Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Election Resource Centre – 6 Nov announced legal complaint against electoral commission over $187,000 fee that commission requires to provide voters list.
Attacks on opposition supporters continued as political temperature heated up ahead of 2023 general elections.
Campaign for 22 Oct local govt by-elections marred by violence. Alleged ruling party Zanu-PF supporters 16 Oct stoned convoy carrying main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) lawmaker in Matobo district, Matabeleland South province, leaving several women injured; group was campaigning for 22 Oct by-elections in Matobo. Assailants next day reportedly attacked CCC lawmaker Jasmine Toffa and other party members campaigning for 22 Oct by-elections in Insiza district, also Matabeleland South, injuring at least seven; CCC accused Zanu-PF supporters, and CCC candidate in Insiza by-election Augustine Gumede went into hiding in following days. Cases of violence and intimidation reported in at least two other by-election sites. NGO Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and others 18 Oct urged police to investigate all cases of political violence. Electoral commission 20 Oct set general elections for July-Aug 2023. Lawmakers around 27 Oct passed law to establish new institution intended to monitor and investigate allegations of security forces brutality; legislation inspired by recommendations made by commission that investigated post-election violence in 2018.
Clampdown on journalists intensified. Security personnel 8 Oct reportedly assaulted and detained Voice of America journalist Godwin Mangudya as he was covering Zanu-PF party meeting in capital Harare’s Kuwadzana suburb; party officials reportedly seized his cell phones and deleted content. NGO Committee to Protect Journalists 13 Oct reported five journalists “assaulted, harassed, and blocked from covering events” in country 6-10 Oct.
In other important developments. Zanu-PF elective congress late Oct re-elected President Mnangagwa as party’s first secretary, endorsed him as sole party candidate for 2023 presidential election.
In lead-up to 2023 elections, political opposition continued to accuse authorities of harassment; food security crisis loomed large amid runaway inflation.Political tensions continued ahead of 2023 elections. Main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) 11 Sept claimed explosive device same day targeted party leader Nelson Chamisa as he arrived to address rally in Chinhoyi city (Mashonaland West province). CCC denounced “state-sponsored violence” without providing evidence. NGO Amnesty International 21 Sept denounced “continued arbitrary detention” of CCC legislators Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole, who were arrested in June on charges of “inciting violence”, urged Harare to release them “immediately and unconditionally” and “stop criminalizing dissent”. Court 29 Sept sentenced prominent novelist and activist, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and journalist Julie Barnes to six-month suspended prison term on charges of inciting violence during protests in 2020; International NGO Amnesty International next day denounced “travesty of justice”.Report warned of rising food insecurity amid persistent economic crisis. In World Bank food security report published 15 Sept, Zimbabwe (along with Lebanon) topped list of countries worst affected by domestic food price inflation, with real food inflation at 68% on year-on-year basis.
Political tensions heated up months away from 2023 general elections as nomination fees sparked resistance, while ruling party supporters unleashed violence on political opposition. Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) around 19 Aug imposed hefty nomination fees to contesting candidates in 2023 general elections, with presidential candidates called to part with $20,000 each, up from $1,000 paid in 2018. ZEC also introduced exorbitant fees to access voters’ roll. Main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) lawmaker, Tendai Biti, 20 Aug accused elections management body of working in cahoots with ruling party Zanu-PF to shut democratic space ahead of elections, called for street protests to demand reversal of exclusionary tariffs. Suspected Zanu-PF supporters around 23-24 Aug unleashed violence on CCC members, reportedly abducting one of them, in Mashonaland East province’s Wedza and Seke districts as part of efforts to prevent CCC leader, Nelson Chamisa, from addressing his supporters. Ahead of 27 Aug parliamentary by-election for Gokwe-Kabuyuni parliamentary seat (Midlands province), alleged Zanu-PF supporters 25 Aug attacked CCC team during campaign rally in Gokwe area, wounding 13; also assaulted and seriously injured four journalists covering CCC campaign rally. CCC Deputy Chairman and lawmaker Job Sikhala denied bail 30 Aug for fifth time since being detained in June on charges of inciting violence.
Political tensions remained high, and authorities took steps to address soaring inflation. Skirmishes 11 July erupted between ruling ZANU-PF party members during election of Mutare district coordinating committee’s new secretary for youth. Opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change Deputy Chairman Job Sikhala and lawmaker Godfrey Sithole in July remained in detention as courts denied them bail following mid-June arrest on charges of instigating violence. Sikhala around 12 July faced new charges of obstructing or defeating course of justice. Zimbabwe’s Catholic bishops 18 July called for “meaningful, inclusive dialogue” to address “growing political volatility brought about by the impending 2023 general elections”. Central Bank 4 July said it will start issuing gold coins as legal tender in effort to tame inflation, and rekindle faith in local currency; over 2,000 gold coins had been issued by late July. Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency 29 July said annual inflation surged to over 250% in July.
Deadly attacks against opposition activists stoked tensions ahead of potentially divisive elections set for 2023. Main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) 8 June said party member Langelihle Zonda Dube had died following same-day attack by armed gang at his home in Bulawayo city. Body of CCC activist Moreblessing Ali, who had been missing since 24 May, found 11 June on outskirts of capital Harare; CCC supporters in following days denounced political killing, which police denied. Violence between CCC and ruling ZANU-PF party supporters 12-13 June disrupted Moreblessing Ali’s funeral in Nyatsime area outside Harare; authorities 14 June arrested CCC lawmakers Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole on charges of inciting violence. Armed individuals 14 June allegedly killed CCC member Edison Chinembiri in Chitungwiza town. CCC 18 June said suspected ZANU-PF activists previous day attacked CCC VP Tendai Biti, and several other party members in Mashonaland Central province, denounced “assassination attempt”. Meanwhile, Bulawayo Court 14 June gave freelance reporter for The New York Times Jeffrey Moyo two-year suspended prison sentence on charges of breaching country’s immigration laws in 2021; Moyo immediately vowed to appeal verdict. Teachers’ union President Obert Masaraure, who has led multiple strikes in recent months, arrested 14 June over alleged involvement in 2o16 murder; High Court 29 June granted him bail.
Ruling party continued to use inflammatory rhetoric against opposition ahead of 2023 general elections; amid hyperinflation, freeze on bank lending prompted harsh opposition, forcing govt to backpedal. Opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa 1 May denied being in talks with President Mnangagwa with view to forming govt of national unity; statement came days after top presidential aide George Charamba claimed Chamisa wanted to defer elections currently scheduled for 2023 and join hands with “cross-party elites” in “pact of dictatorship”. Ruling party ZANU-PF Finance Secretary Patrick Chinamasa 16 May accused CCC leaders of working with U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, warned voting for CCC in 2023 elections would bring “war and instability”. CCC 7 May won seven of eight local council by-elections against ZANU-PF. Head of EU electoral mission in Zimbabwe, Elmar Brok, 20 May called for “genuine” electoral reforms ahead of 2023 poll to level electoral playing field. Meanwhile, Mnangagwa 7 May ordered banks to suspend lending services indefinitely in effort to curb speculation against rapidly devaluing local currency. Stakeholders in business sector, including Chamber of Commerce and Industry 9 May, harshly criticised move, warned it would encourage development of parallel banking system and jeopardise economic recovery. Central bank 10 May said bank lending freeze was temporary measure, 17 May lifted ban.
Authorities continued to harass political opposition, and Central Bank raised interest rate amid hyperinflation. Following March legislative by-elections, new MPs sworn in 5 April. Opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa same day urged party’s incoming legislators to prioritise electoral reforms to level electoral playing field ahead of 2023 general elections. Tensions ran high ahead of several local council by-elections scheduled for 7 May: authorities 16 April reportedly detained 14 CCC activists during rally in Mutare city, Manicaland province; residents of Chitungwiza town’s Zengeza West Ward 7 in Harare province mid-month accused ruling party ZANU-PF candidate for by-elections of intimidating electorate during door-to-door campaigns. CCC VP Tendai Biti claimed ZANU-PF representatives 18 April attempted to “kidnap” party activist Makomborero Haruzivishe, denounced President Mnangagwa’s “incorrigible regime with no respect of human rights”. State media stepped up campaign against prominent anti-corruption activist and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono. Notably, state broadcaster ZBC late-April claimed Chin’ono acquired goats from govt as part of controversial Command Agriculture scheme, prompting threats from well-known ZANU-PF activist that they would invade Chin’ono’s property in Mukarakate village (Murewa district) to seize his goats; villagers and CCC supporters 30 April reportedly gathered to protect Chin’ono’s estate. Meanwhile, ZANU-PF provincial youth league elections suspended 24 April in Mashonaland West province as party youths traded blows and threatened to kill each other. Amid currency slide and food and fuel price pressures exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine, Central Bank 4 April raised main interest rate from 60% to record-high 80%, citing escalation in annual inflation to 72.7% in March.
Following tense electoral campaign, main opposition party emerged as major winner in legislative and municipal by-elections. Nelson Chamisa’s newly established Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) won 19 National Assembly seats in 26 March by-elections to fill 28 vacant seats following recalls, deaths and dismissals over last two years; ruling ZANU-PF party won remainder, including two seats previously controlled by opposition, and retains two-thirds majority in parliament. CCC also claimed winning 61% of seats in local govt by-elections. Voter turnout low at 35%. Run-up to elections marred by tensions and violence. Police repeatedly blocked CCC rallies, notably in Marondera city 12 March. CCC next day said Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and police biased in favour of ZANU-PF party, noting ruling party rallies have gone unhindered. Police 17 March allegedly assaulted CCC supporter Muleya Mwananyanda in Harare Central District; NGO Amnesty International next day denounced “brutal and vicious assault”, raised alarm about “partisan policing and torture”. Masvingo High Court 19 March authorised CCC to hold major rally in Masvingo city next day, after CCC filed urgent chamber application seeking reprieve over police ban on rally; brawls erupted between party youths during rally.
Deadly political violence erupted as political parties geared up for March elections; situation could escalate around voting day. President Mnangagwa 12 Feb launched ruling party ZANU-PF’s campaign for long-delayed legislative and municipal by-elections scheduled for 26 March, addressing thousands of supporters at rally near capital Harare. Throughout Feb, main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) and civil society organisations denounced raft of attacks against CCC supporters by ruling party members or police. CCC accused ZANU-PF supporters of beating up CCC members with iron bars during campaign rally of opposition party’s VP Tendai Biti in Harare East constituency 16 Feb; ZANU-PF same day denounced unfounded allegations. Video of policemen allegedly assaulting CCC supporters in Harare 18 Feb surfaced on social media; church leaders same day urged govt institutions to conduct peaceful polls and called on security forces to avoid misconduct. CCC said police 19 Feb detained at least 80 opposition supporters who were campaigning in Masvingo city (Masvingo province). Police 20 Feb mounted roadblocks on major axes in Harare in alleged attempt to disrupt CCC’s star rally; addressing thousands of supporters, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa same day accused electoral commission of attempting to rig by-elections by manipulating electoral roll. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum 24 Feb denounced increase in politically motivated violence over past month. Suspected ZANU-PF supporters 27 Feb attacked CCC rally in Kwekwe city (Midlands province), reportedly leaving two dead and over 20 wounded; police arrested 16 people suspected of involvement in violence.
Authorities scheduled long-delayed by-elections for March, and main opposition party changed name. Zimbabwe Electoral Commission 6 Jan announced by-elections to fill 28 vacant parliamentary seats and 105 local govt positions will take place 26 March; by-elections, which govt had banned in Oct 2020 citing COVID-19 pandemic, are seen as mini-general elections ahead of 2023 harmonised polls (which cover local, parliamentary and presidential contests). Youth Coalition on Electoral Reforms 21 Jan expressed “concern over the increasing threat of political violence”, said “young people being coerced to attend political party meetings against their will”. Main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa 24 Jan announced he had registered new party called Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), de facto dropping contested Movement for Democratic Change name and sidestepping factional squabbles and legal disputes. On registration day for by-election candidates, CCC 26 Jan submitted more than one candidate in a handful of wards to contest in municipal elections in Bulawayo and Masvingo cities, risking to divide votes; party Spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere 27 Jan blamed “technical glitch”. Mnangagwa 10 Jan fired controversial State Security Minister Owen Ncube for “conduct unbecoming of a minister”; Ncube, who was implicated in violent factional clashes relating to recent provincial elections, has been on U.S. and UK sanctions lists for several years in connection with human rights violations. Trial of freelance journalist Jeffrey Moyo 12 Jan kicked off at Bulawayo magistrates’ court, two days later adjourned to 14 Feb; Moyo faces accusations of helping two New York Times journalists enter Zimbabwe last year using fake accreditation documents.
Political tensions ran high as country gears up for 2023 general elections; series of criminal incidents involved security forces members. Violent outbursts marred ruling party Zanu-PF provincial elections – which will determine delegate composition to 2022 elective congress, where President Mnangagwa’s 2023 presidential bid is expected to be endorsed – in Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Manicaland and Midlands provinces. Notably, police 28 Dec fired warning shots following clashes between supporters of Home Affairs Minister Kazeme Kazembe and businessman Tafadzwa Musarara in Centenary town, Mashonaland Central; riot police 29 Dec also intervened in capital Harare to quell violent scuffles between rival Zanu-PF factions over allegations of vote rigging. Meanwhile, suspected Zanu-PF youths 15 Dec stormed meeting of civil society platform Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition in Bulawayo city, assaulting participants and reportedly wounding several others. Infighting persisted within opposition ranks. MDC-T party VP Thokozani Khupe mid-Dec filed urgent chamber application at Bulawayo High Court challenging alleged late-Nov decision by party leadership to recall her from parliament. Reports emerged of involvement of security service personnel in series of armed robberies and deadly shootouts; notably, armed assailants including former and serving members of security forces 6 Dec stormed house of former police Detective Joseph Nemaisa in alleged robbery attempt in Harare; suspected soldier 25 Dec shot dead four people in shopping mall in Kadoma district, Mashonaland West. Mnangagwa 22 Dec threatened shoot-to-kill policy to deal with “upsurge in gun-related crimes”. Meanwhile, High Court in Harare 6 Dec dropped charges of inciting public violence brought against prominent investigative journalist and govt critic Hopewell Chin’ono.
President Mnangagwa announced likely by-elections in early 2022, raising prospect of tense political standoffs; police and ruling party militants continued to harass opposition. In unexpected move, Mnangagwa 10 Nov said parliamentary and local council by-elections, to fill 40 and 80 seats respectively, vacant after near two-year moratorium on by-elections officially due to COVID-19 pandemic, will likely be conducted in early 2022; move follows pressure to lift moratorium after 20-month delay, may exacerbate splits in opposition MDC party and internal tensions in ruling ZANU-PF party. Meanwhile, attacks on main opposition party and its leader Nelson Chamisa persisted, as ruling party militants attempted to block Chamisa’s movements during his country tour. Notably, police 11 Nov used teargas in attempt to disrupt Chamisa’s speech at opposition rally in Charumbira communal lands, Masvingo province; ruling party youths later same day reportedly attacked rally.
Political tensions ran high as string of attacks against main opposition party and its leader left dozens injured and infighting within ruling party continued. MDC-A faction of main opposition party accused supporters of ruling ZANU-PF party of torpedoing MDC-A leader Nelson Chamisa’s countrywide tour. Notably, in Masvingo province, suspected ZANU-PF supporters 11 Oct reportedly attacked Chamisa’s convoy in Charumbira area, leaving at least five injured, and 14 Oct allegedly beat and kidnapped six MDC-A members in Gutu district on their way back from meeting addressed by Chamisa. In Manicaland province, anti-riot police 19 Oct raided and dispersed MDC-A meeting and suspected ZANU-PF youths later same day shot at MDC-A convoy on outskirts of Mutare city, hitting Chamisa’s vehicle; MDC-A next day denounced “assassination attempt” on Chamisa. In Mashonaland East province, suspected ZANU-PF 24 Oct reportedly attacked MDC-A members in Goromonzi district, injuring four. In Mashonaland West province, MDC-A members 30 Oct reportedly clashed with ZANU-PF members attempting to block Chamisa from addressing villagers in Zvimba district, leaving scores injured. Infighting continued within ZANU-PF, with President Mnangagwa’s legitimacy contested. Notably, rival factions 10 Oct clashed during ZANU-PF meeting in Manicaland province; police next day arrested 20 for alleged involvement in violence. ZANU-PF member Sybeth Musengezi 20 Oct filed application to Bulawayo High Court challenging legality of Nov 2017 election of Mnangagwa as party leader. Meanwhile, MDC-T faction of main opposition party throughout month reiterated call for suspension of 2023 general elections and formation of govt of national unity; notably, MDC-T leader Douglas Mwonzora 8 Oct threatened to boycott elections unless govt implements electoral reforms. Following ten-day visit to Zimbabwe to assess impact of sanctions on human rights situation, UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan 28 Oct called for lifting of sanctions.
Ruling-party elections revealed internal rifts and deep-rooted factionalism, and Constitutional Court decision marked win for President Mnangagwa. ZANU-PF district elections 25-26 Sept marred by violent intra-party altercations in several provinces including Manicaland, Mashonaland West and Midlands, as well as in capital Harare’s suburb of Epworth; incidents pitted factions aligned to Mnangagwa against those aligned with his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, as each camp sought to secure key positions likely to determine outcome of ZANU-PF’s provincial elections, now scheduled for early 2022. Meanwhile, Nelson Chamisa-led faction (MDC-A) of main opposition party 4 Sept fired 15 councillors for reportedly attending meeting of rival Douglas Mwonzora-led faction (MDC-T) day before. National Prosecuting Authority 1 Sept announced intention to bar Jacob Mafume, prominent MDC-A official who was in Dec 2020 suspended as mayor of capital Harare, from entering Harare city headquarters, citing risk he could interfere with witnesses as he faces two criminal charges; Local Govt Minister July Moyo 14 Sept suspended Mafume as city councillor. High Court 17 Sept suspended Harare provincial authorities’ July directive requiring NGOs to submit workplans or cease operating; also prohibited authorities from “interfering with, suspending or stopping operations of NGOs” until final ruling on case. Constitutional Court 22 Sept quashed High Court ruling that Chief Justice Luke Malaba’s term extension was unconstitutional; Mnangagwa had extended Malaba’s term by five years in May in move critics decried as attempt to consolidate control over judiciary.
Authorities continued to intimidate and threaten opposition and civil society. In reference to Harare provincial authorities’ directive, issued in July, requiring NGOs to submit workplans or cease operations, ruling party ZANU-PF Secretary for Administration Obert Mpofu 4 Aug backed “blitz” on NGOs, saying sector aims at “demonising” govt; High Court 13 Aug reserved judgement in case challenging directive. As govt pushes for controversial Patriotic Bill which seeks to criminalise support for U.S. sanctions on Zimbabwe, National Security Minister Owen Ncube mid-Aug said parliament would soon punish “misguided elements who campaign for sanctions and punishment…under the guise of human rights narrative”. Cabinet 31 Aug approved changes to law governing private voluntary organisations, notably prohibiting them from getting involved in politics, citing need to curb money laundering and financing of terrorism. Nelson Chamisa led-faction (MDC-A) of main opposition party 15 Aug congratulated Zambian president-elect, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, for winning 12 Aug election, praised “triumph for democracy in light of growing authoritarian consolidation” in region; Chamisa next day expressed hope that Zambia’s transition of power would “inspire” Zimbabwe ahead of 2023 general elections. In response, ruling ZANU-PF party days later accused MDC-A of “cardinal political immaturity”. President Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba 18 Aug said military would not allow Chamisa to “just rule”, suggesting ZANU-PF would not peacefully hand over power if electorally defeated. Meanwhile, govt 21 Aug said it will open talks about compensation for victims of Gukurahundi massacres in 1980s, during which security forces killed some 20,000 people, mostly ethnic Ndebele, as part of violent crackdown in Matabeleland region.
Legal battle over chief justice position continued as authorities sought to restrict space for NGOs. Constitutional Court 16 July reserved judgment in case that challenges High Court ruling invalidating President Mnangagwa’s five-year extension of Chief Justice Luke Malaba’s term. Mnangagwa 25 July appointed Justice Mary Zimba-Dube as judge president, responsible for overseeing High Court; Zimba-Dube’s predecessor was removed after justice minister accused him of assigning hostile judges to case in which govt was being sued. Harare High Court 14 July granted bail to Makomborero Haruzivishe, member of main opposition party faction led by Nelson Chamisa; Haruzivishe was sentenced to 14 months in prison in April for allegedly “inciting violence” and “resisting arrest”. After ruling party ZANU-PF’s Acting National Political Commissioner Patrick Chinamasa late June said party would not surrender its “unbreakable” bond with armed forces, Chamisa 4 July reproached ZANU-PF for treating military as party’s armed wing in violation of constitution. UK govt 22 July imposed asset freeze and travel ban on businessman and presidential adviser Kudakwashe Tagwirei for alleged corruption; sanctions also apply to any entity Tagwirei owns or controls. After Harare provincial authorities 29 July said all NGOs that failed to submit workplans by 30 June had to cease operations, two human rights NGOs 30 July filed High Court application seeking to overturn decision.
Legal battles around chief justice position continued and infighting persisted within main opposition party. High Court 10 June dismissed contempt of court application filed in May against Chief Justice Luke Malaba for returning to work despite earlier ruling – which has been appealed – invalidating President Mnangagwa’s extension of his term. Seven former MPs from Nelson Chamisa-led faction (MDC-A) of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change 4 June challenged their removal from National Assembly in 2020 – following their recall by rival MDC-T faction – before High Court. Douglas Mwonzora, leader of MDC-T faction, 11 June reportedly requested Mnangagwa to call off “divisive” by-elections for local councils and parliament – with seats left vacant after recalls of MDC-A officials in 2020; also reportedly proposed creation of “Parliamentary Dialogue Forum” platform between MDC-T and ruling ZANU-PF party. MDC-A 21 June said Mwonzora was “afraid of an election” and trying “to prolong his illegitimate union with ZANU-PF”. Bulawayo High Court mid-June granted bail to freelance journalist Jeffrey Moyo, who was detained in May following accusations of misrepresenting media accreditations of two foreign journalists to immigration authorities.
Standoff emerged between High Court and President Mnangagwa, and intra-party violence erupted within both ruling party and opposition. Following constitutional amendments passed by parliament in April, Mnangagwa 11 May extended term of Chief Justice Luke Malaba, who was scheduled to retire mid-May, by five years. High Court 15 May ruled extension invalid, saying incumbent judges cannot benefit from term extension under Zimbabwe’s constitution. Govt 17 May appealed ruling before Supreme Court, and Malaba 23 May returned to work, saying appeal suspended High Court order; human rights lawyers 25 May filed High Court application seeking Malaba’s arrest on charges of contempt of court. Meanwhile, rival factions of ruling party ZANU-PF 8 May clashed in Makonde district, Mashonaland West province; police subsequently arrested four, who were granted bail 13 May. Violence next day erupted during meeting of Douglas Mwonzora-led faction of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) in capital Harare; MDC-T 10 May said supporters of rival faction, Nelson Chamisa-led MDC-A, had stabbed and injured five MDC-T members, which MDC-A denied. Meanwhile, High Court 5 May granted bail to MDC-A MP Joana Mamombe and youth leader Cecilia Chimbiri; both women under detention since March on charges of violating COVID-19 restrictions.
Authorities continued to clamp down on opposition and civil society and parliament voted on controversial constitutional amendments consolidating President Mnangagwa’s hold on power. Magistrate Court in capital Harare 6 April sentenced Makomborero Haruzivishe, member of Nelson Chamisa-led faction (MDC-A) of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change, to 14 months in prison for allegedly “inciting violence” and “resisting arrest” during anti-govt protest in Feb 2020; police same day reportedly disrupted MDC-A press conference and lashed out at people gathered outside court, leaving one journalist injured and five people arrested. Harare Magistrate Court 13 April denied MDC-A MP Joana Mamombe and MDC-A youth leader Cecilia Chimbiri bail for third time since they were detained in early March on charges of violating COVID-19 regulations; trial set for 5 May. Authorities 26 April arrested MDC-A Youth Assembly Chairperson Obey Sithole on allegations of “criminal nuisance” for allegedly participating in demonstration earlier in month. High Court 28 April quashed charges of “communicating false information prejudicial to the state” levelled against investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, saying law used to arrest him in Jan no longer existed. Meanwhile, High Court 14 April nullified March expulsion of six MDC-A MPs from Parliament, ruling that competing MDC faction MP who initiated procedure did not have authority to do so. Mnangagwa throughout month pushed through Parliament raft of constitutional amendments paving way for him to handpick his vice presidents and senior judges including chief justice, deputy chief justice and judge president of the High Court; move comes as position of second VP currently left vacant following resignation of VP Kembo Mohadi last month. Chamisa 21 April denounced “dictatorial amendment to the constitution”. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 15 April urged Mnangagwa to implement reforms to advance constitutional rights and freedoms, and to “embrace inclusive national dialogue” to resolve country’s socio-economic and political crises.
Govt continued to harass opposition and civil society, and infighting between main opposition party factions reached new heights. In capital Harare, authorities 5 March arrested three female members of Nelson Chamisa-led faction (MDC-A) of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for third time in less than a year on charges of breaching COVID-19 regulations; one granted bail 10 March. In second largest city Bulawayo, security forces 10 March arrested nine members of opposition Mthwakazi Republic Party who were protesting police raid on home of party leader Mqondiso Moyo previous night. In Raffingora town, authorities 27 March arrested three MDC-A members for allegedly violating COVID-19 regulations; court 29 March granted them bail. After Chamisa 12 March accused President Mnangagwa of “rising authoritarianism”, ruling party ZANU-PF next day said Chamisa was making “veiled attempts to unseat a constitutionally elected government”. ZANU-PF 24 March removed its political commissar Victor Matemadanda over alleged mishandling of district coordinating committee elections in Dec 2020 and “reckless” remarks after Matemadanda said ZANU-PF was responsible for crippling MDC-A. Meanwhile, infighting between two competing factions of opposition MDC party intensified. Parliament 17 March expelled six MDC-A MPs, including MDC-A VP Tendai Biti, after competing faction of MDC claimed they no longer belonged to party; move came after High Court 11 March ruled that joining MDC-A translated to “self-expulsion” from party. U.S. 23 March said it is following events “closely” and accused ZANU-PF of “misusing the levers of government to silence critics and entrench its political power”. U.S. 3 March renewed sanctions against Mnangagwa and other top officials for one year, citing security services’ violent repression of citizens throughout 2020 and lack of reforms needed “to ensure the rule of law, democratic governance and the protection of human rights”. VP Kembo Mohadi 1 March resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Authorities continued to repress opposition and civil society. In capital Harare, authorities 1 Feb arrested MP Joana Mamombe, a member of Nelson Chamisa-led faction of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-A), and two female MDC-A youth leaders, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, during anti-govt protest; Mamombe and Chimbiri later charged with “obstructing or hindering police officer performing duty during [COVID-19] lockdown”, while Marova was released without charge; High Court 9 Feb granted Mamombe and Chimbiri bail.High Court 1 Feb granted bail to Job Sikhala, MDC-A vice chairman who was arrested in Jan on charges of “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state”; 19 Feb granted bail to student activist Allan Moyo, who was arrested in Dec 2020 for allegedly inciting violence. Authorities 20 Feb arrested 12 MDC-A members at gunpoint for allegedly breaching COVID-19 regulations in Chinhoyi city, Mashonaland West province; all 12 released on bail 22 Feb.Meanwhile, MDC-A 6 Feb called on armed forces to “rein in some of its rogue elements” amid allegations that soldiers killed civilian and assaulted many others for allegedly violating COVID-19 regulations in Midlands province in recent weeks. UN Human Rights Office 12 Feb expressed “concern” after NGO Human Right Watch previous day accused govt of using COVID-19 to crack down on journalists and opposition. UK 1 Feb imposed sanctions, including travel ban and asset freeze, on four security chiefs over allegations of human rights violations, notably crackdown on anti-govt protesters and opposition, since 2017. EU 19 Feb renewed arms embargo against Zimbabwe and asset freeze against state-owned company Zimbabwe Defence Industries for one year, citing “need to investigate the role of security force actors in human rights abuses”.
Authorities continued crackdown on opposition and civil society through legal system. Authorities 8-11 Jan arrested investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and two senior officials of Nelson Chamisa-led faction of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-A), Job Sikhala and Fadzayi Mahere, on charges of “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state” which carry maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment; in messages posted online, all three had accused police officer of killing baby in capital Harare 5 Jan. NGO Amnesty International 13 Jan called for “immediate release” of all three, condemned “growing crackdown on […] critical voices”. EU delegation in Zimbabwe same day expressed concern over pre-trial detentions “without serious charges” and warned about high risk of COVID-19 infection in jails. After Harare Magistrate’s Court 14 Jan denied Chin’ono bail, High Court 27 Jan granted him bail; Harare Magistrate’s Court 15 Jan denied Sikhala bail, 18 Jan granted Mahere bail. Mahere 20 Jan announced testing positive for COVID-19, denounced “deplorable” prison conditions. High Court 15 Jan granted bail to Harare mayor and prominent MDC-A official Jacob Mafume; Mafume was arrested in Dec on charges of witness tampering. Three ministers, including FM Sibusiso Busi Moyo (retired senior military official and public face of Oct 2017 coup against then-President Mugabe), died of COVID-19 in Jan amid soaring cases in country.
Authorities continued to harass govt critics and opposition, and political parties held contested internal elections. Police 4 Dec detained Tendai Biti, VP of Nelson Chamisa’s faction of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-A), on charges of assault; Biti released on bail next day; opening of trial set for 18 Jan. Authorities 14 Dec arrested mayor of capital Harare and prominent MDC-A official Jacob Mafume on allegations of witness tampering; court 17 Dec denied him bail; Mafume was previously arrested 25 Nov on corruption charges and granted bail 8 Dec. Govt 28 Dec suspended Mafume, deputy mayor Luckson Mukunguma and four other councillors on allegations of incompetence and misconduct of duty. High Court 15 Dec overturned magistrate’s Aug ruling barring prominent human rights lawyer from representing investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono. Security forces 24 Dec arrested National Patriotic Front member and former pro-ruling party ZANU-PF Chipangano gang leader Jim Kunaka in Harare over allegations of inciting violence in run-up to 31 July anti-corruption protests; judge 29 Dec denied him bail. In Thokozani Khupe’s faction of MDC (MDC-T) extraordinary congress in Harare 27 Dec, Douglas Mwonzora was elected MDC-T leader; Khupe immediately alleged fraud,threatening to file Supreme Court application seeking annulment of results. Tensions subsided after Mwonzora 29-30 Dec appointed Khupe and other rival candidates Morgan Komichi and Elias Mudzuri to senior executive positions. ZANU-PF 5-6 Dec held district coordinating committee (DCC) elections in eight provinces; DCCs had been dissolved in 2012. ZANU-PF elections reportedly marred by fraud and violence, prompting several reruns; notably, riots erupted in Mutare city as party members burned ballot boxes amid allegations of vote-rigging and buying.
Authorities continued to harass govt critics through legal means. In capital Harare, police 3 Nov arrested prominent investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on charges of “contempt of court” and “obstruction of justice”; “contempt of court” charges later dropped; move followed Chin’ono’s late Oct corruption allegations against National Prosecution Authority in case of Henrietta Rushwaya, Zimbabwe Mines Federation president, who was caught smuggling 6kg of gold; in following days, Western embassies, rights groups and press freedom watchdogs expressed concern over Chino’no’s arrest; High Court 20 Nov released him on bail, after Harare Magistrate’s Court refused to do so 12 Nov. President Mnangagwa 5 Nov suspended High Court judge Erica Ndewere and appointed tribunal to investigate her for alleged misconduct after she recently granted bail to two prominent politicians accused of inciting violence – including vice chairman of Nelson Chamisa-led faction of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Job Sikhala. Amid struggle between Chamisa and MDC rival faction leader Thokozani Khupe, ruling party ZANU-PF 17 Nov described Khupe’s faction as “honourable opposition” and Chamisa’s as “treasonous”. Federation of trade unions Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) 2 Nov threatened to launch nationwide strike to demand govt pay public sector wages in U.S. dollars; after several previous rejections, other civil servant representative bodies 16 Nov agreed to govt’s offer to raise civil servants’ salaries by 41%. Amid escalating Islamist insurgency in neighbouring Mozambique (see Mozambique), Mnangagwa 27 Nov attended summit of Southern Africa regional bloc SADC in Botswana’s capital Gaborone; SADC’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation called for “comprehensive regional response” to insurgency and urgent support to Mozambique.
Govt continued to suppress faction of main opposition party amid intra-party power struggle. Leaders of two factions of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Nelson Chamisa (MDC-A) and Thokozani Khupe (MDC-T) continued to vie for control of party. At request of MDC-T, parliament 1 Oct expelled ten Chamisa-aligned MPs, including MDC-A faction VP Lynette Karenyi-Kore. Govt, citing COVID-19 concerns, next day suspended Dec by-elections to fill MDC-A parliamentary and municipal seats vacated amid leadership dispute, sparking widespread criticism. In following days, at least five citizens and two civil society organisations filed High Court application challenging suspension; MDC-A 7 Oct decried it as “unconstitutional” and called for its reversal; meanwhile, Khupe and 14 other MDC-T officials same day were sworn in as MPs to replace MDC-A MPs. In capital Harare, students 15 Oct demonstrated to call for release of student union president Takudzwa Ngadziore, arrested in Sept on charges of inciting violence; High Court next day granted him bail, but imposed stringent conditions including prohibiting him from participating in any public gatherings. In state of nation address to parliament, President Mnangagwa 22 Oct vowed to crack down on NGOs critical of govt’s human rights record, said parliament would soon discuss bill to “revamp the administration” of NGOs and “correct the current anomalies”. Cabinet 27 Oct approved legislation to criminalise “unsubstantiated claims” of human rights violations, anti-govt protests that could draw international attention and “unauthorised communication or negotiation” with foreign govts. Authorities 12 Oct requested South Africa to extradite Saviour Kasukuwere, former Mugabe administration minister, over corruption allegations. Mozambique President Nyusi, chairman of regional bloc Southern African Development Community (SADC), and African Union (AU) Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat 25 Oct called for removal of all international sanctions on Zimbabwe. Ruling party ZANU-PF 28 Oct called on SADC and AU to intervene against Islamist insurgency in neighbouring Mozambique (see Mozambique).
Authorities continued to use judicial process to harass opposition and civil society, while main opposition party remained divided over leadership dispute. High Court 2 Sept granted bail to prominent investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume, both arrested in July on charges of inciting public violence, but barred them from posting on Twitter. Dozens of lawyers later same day staged silent demonstration outside High Court in capital Harare to protest alleged rights abuses by authorities. Police 10 Sept detained student union president Takudzwa Ngadziore for taking part in unauthorised protest in Harare 8 Sept; court released him on bail 14 Sept and police same day arrested nine other students at bail hearing; unidentified individuals 18 Sept assaulted Ngadziore and several journalists at press conference in Harare, and police same day re-arrested Ngadziore on charges of inciting violence; court 21 Sept denied him bail. Ruling party ZANU-PF 11 Sept accused Nelson Chamisa, leader of faction of opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), of providing military training to opposition supporters and planning to destabilise country through acts of sabotage; State Security Minister Owen Ncube 28 Sept accused “rogue” opposition elements backed by “hostile Western govts” of smuggling weapons into country and plotting coup. MDC leaders Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe continued to vie for control of party. Khupe’s faction (MDC-T) 19 Sept declared itself Zimbabwe’s official opposition party and said it would rename itself MDC Alliance, drawing protest from Chamisa whose faction carries same name; 26 Sept requested that parliament speaker recall six Chamisa-aligned MPs, including VP of Chamisa’s faction Lynette Karenyi-Kore. Two gunmen, including one former soldier, 5 Sept killed soldiers at police station in Chivhu town, Mashonaland East province; security forces next day killed assailants outside Chivhu.
President Mnangagwa stepped up hostile rhetoric against opposition and civil society as crackdown on dissent continued unabated. After security forces forcefully thwarted planned anti-govt protest in capital Harare 31 July, Mnangagwa in national address 4 Aug condemned “machinations” of “terrorist opposition groupings” backed by “foreign detractors”, and threatened to “flush out … bad apples”. South African President Ramaphosa 6 Aug appointed two special envoys to Zimbabwe to “engage” parties and “identify possible ways in which South Africa can assist Zimbabwe”; special envoys 10 Aug met Mnangagwa in Harare, same day cancelled meeting with Nelson Chamisa’s faction of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-A), reportedly at govt’s request. MDC-A 10 Aug said at least 30 senior party figures had fled their homes since thwarted protest, citing “fears of being abducted, tortured or detained” by police. Zimbabwe’s Catholic bishops 16 Aug condemned govt’s corruption and human rights abuses; govt immediately denounced “evil message” intended to stoke “genocide”. MDC-A next day called on regional bloc Southern African Development Community to “urgently intervene” to resolve “governance and legitimacy crisis”. Courts denied bail to prominent investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono 6 and 24 Aug, and to opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume 21 Aug, both arrested ahead of protest on charges of inciting violence; court 18 Aug barred prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from further representing Chin’ono and called for lawyer to be charged with contempt of court over accusations that she commented on court case. Police 21 Aug arrested MDC-A vice-chairman and MP Job Sikhala, who went into hiding late July, on accusations of inciting violence. In joint statement, seven countries including U.S., UK and Germany 28 Aug warned govt against using COVID-19 to crack down on dissent, expressed concern over deteriorating political, economic and health situation. U.S. 5 Aug imposed financial sanctions on prominent businessman and Mnangagwa ally Kudakwashe Regimond Tagwirei and his energy company over corruption allegations.
Amid COVID-19 concerns and deepening economic crisis, authorities stepped up crackdown on opposition and civil society, arresting dozens ahead of planned anti-govt protest. Following calls spearheaded by opposition party Transform Zimbabwe to protest corruption and worsening economic crisis in capital Harare 31 July, Deputy Defence Minister Victor Matemadanda 8 July alleged foreign actors were funding unrest and planning to spread COVID-19 through tear gas. Police 20 July arrested Transform Zimbabwe leader Ngarivhume and prominent investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who in June reported alleged corruption in govt procurement of COVID-19 medical equipment worth $60mn, on charges of inciting public violence; court denied bail to Ngarivhume 23 July and Chin’ono 24 July. After govt 22 July tightened COVID-19 lockdown and imposed night-time curfew, UN Human Rights Office 24 July said govt should not use coronavirus “to clamp down on fundamental freedoms”. Ruling party 27 July called on supporters to “face down” protesters and accused U.S. ambassador of “funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training fighters” in Zimbabwe. Security forces 31 July locked down Harare, thwarting planned protest, and arrested at least 60 people late July, including opposition and civil society leaders, while a dozen others reportedly went into hiding. Meanwhile, authorities 4 July requested Kenya to extradite govt critic and former Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo over corruption allegations and accusations of plotting “mass uprising” against govt. Main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaders Nelson Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe continued to vie for control of party; de facto interim leader Khupe 1 July sidelined eight Chamisa-aligned MPs from parliament. Parliament 27 July said it would suspend its activities after two MPs tested positive for coronavirus. Perrance Shiri, agriculture minister and former commander of notorious army brigade suspected of massacres in 1980s, died 29 July reportedly of COVID-19; family and others claimed he was poisoned.
Authorities continued to use judicial process to suppress main opposition party, which remained divided over dispute for leadership. Amid rumours on social media of impending military coup against President Mnangagwa early June, which govt denied, National Security Council 10 June accused allies of deceased former President Mugabe and some opposition figures of stirring unrest. Meanwhile, main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaders Nelson Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe continued to vie for control of party. Supporters of faction led by Khupe with support from security forces 4 June seized party’s offices in capital Harare; police next day cordoned off building, arrested Chamisa’s faction VP Tendai Biti and four other MDC officials who attempted to enter premises. Law Society of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights 8 June expressed concern over recent arrest of seven lawyers on charges of defeating or obstructing course of justice. Police 10 June arrested MDC MP Joana Mamombe and two MDC female youth leaders for allegedly “fabricating evidence” of their reported abduction and sexual assault by security forces in May; Mnangagwa same day accused women of taking part in coordinated foreign-backed plan to spark unrest; High Court 26 June granted them bail. Amid growing COVID-19 outbreak, security forces 2 June tightened COVID-19 lockdown in Harare; police 4-5 June arrested over 1,300 people countrywide for reportedly violating COVID-19 restrictions. Police 19 June also arrested Health Minister Obadiah Moyo over allegations of corruption in govt procurement of COVID-19 tests and equipment; court next day released Moyo on bail.
Amid growing discontent over govt’s handling of COVID-19 crisis and food shortages, authorities targeted opposition figures and journalists, while rift within opposition widened. Opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) alleged security forces 13 May abducted MDC politician and MP Joana Mamombe and two other MDC female youth leaders who were protesting in capital Harare against govt’s failure to provide food and other assistance to those in need during COVID-19 lockdown, and later sexually assaulted them; Justice Minister Ziyambi 19 May said women were lying about abduction. Authorities 27 May charged Mamombe and MDC youth leaders for participating in protest despite COVID-19 ban on public gatherings and allegedly inciting “public violence”; court 28 May released them on bail. Police 22 May arrested journalists Frank Chikowore and Samuel Takawira, who were investigating MDC members’ abduction, for allegedly breaching COVID-19 social distancing rules; court 26 May released journalists on bail. Govt 16 May extended COVID-19 lockdown indefinitely. After Supreme Court late March declared Nelson Chamisa’s leadership of MDC illegitimate and appointed party’s former Deputy President Thokozani Khupe interim leader, Chamisa and Khupe continued to vie for control of party. Following request by MDC faction led by Khupe, parliament speaker 5 May expelled four Chamisa-aligned MPs from parliament, prompting Chamisa’s faction to suspend participation in parliament 7 May; High Court 29 May dismissed Chamisa’s appeal against speaker’s decision. Govt 5 May denied reports it had deployed troops to fight Islamist insurgency in neighbouring Mozambique (see Mozambique).
Civil society challenged govt’s handling of COVID-19 crisis in court. High Court in capital Harare 14 April ordered govt to provide protective equipment for medical personnel handling COVID-19 patients, after doctors’ association early April filed complaint arguing state was putting them at risk; same day ruled security forces must respect human rights while enforcing COVID-19 lockdown, after lawyers’ association early April filed urgent petition over alleged abuses by security forces; 20 April ordered police to stop harassing journalists covering lockdown following petition by journalist and NGO. President Mnangagwa 19 April extended nationwide COVID-19 lockdown by two weeks. After Supreme Court late-March declared Nelson Chamisa’s leadership of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change illegitimate and directed party’s former Deputy President Thokozani Khupe to organise new leadership elections within three months, Chamisa’s camp early April rejected ruling and denounced alleged attempt by govt to usurp party.
Authorities continued to suppress opposition, which called off protests after govt introduced restrictions amid COVID-19 outbreak. Court 2 March held hearing for fifteen supporters of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) charged for inciting violence over alleged clashes with police in Chitungwiza, 30km south of capital Harare, in Feb. President Mnangagwa 17 March declared COVID-19 outbreak “national disaster”, banning public gatherings of more than 100 people; authorities 23 March closed borders and 30 March imposed 21-day nationwide lockdown. MDC leader Nelson Chamisa 22 March suspended calls for anti-govt protests. Following months-long strike over wages, partially called off in Jan, nurses’ union and doctors’ association went on strike 25 March after govt failed to provide training and protective equipment for handling COVID-19 patients. South Africa 19 March said it would erect 40km fence at border with Zimbabwe within one month to stem irregular migration and spread of coronavirus. U.S. 2 March renewed sanctions against Zimbabwe for one year, 11 March froze assets of state security minister Owen Ncube and former presidential guard commander and current ambassador to Tanzania Anselem Sanyatwe and prohibited U.S.-based companies and individuals from transacting with them over alleged human rights violations during 2018 post-electoral demonstrations.