The year 2020 was, by all accounts, a very difficult year for Zimbabwe. The global Covid-19 pandemic went beyond being just a health issue and the Zimbabwean government conveniently used the outbreak as an excuse to clamp down on human rights in Zimbabwe. For most of the year, state security agents were the major perpetrators of human rights violations and this was largely under the guise of the enforcement of Covid-19 lockdown regulations. As the year 2020 ground to its end in December, the trend continued, with little prospects of a better situation in 2021. In December, the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) recorded 181 cases of human rights violations and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) contributed to 27,57% of the perpetrators of these. The ruling Zanu PF party contributed 22,61%, while the municipal police were at 16,54% and the Zimbabwe National Army, 7,9%. Machete gangs, who operate mostly in mining areas, contributed 2,39% of the violations. The affiliation of 15,26% of perpetrators was unknown.
In December, ZPP recorded 91 cases of harassment and intimidation, and 31 cases of discrimination during aid distribution, 21 cases of assault, two killings and two cases of torture. Harare topped the list with 44 incidents of human rights violations, followed by Manicaland at 28, Mashonaland Central at 26 and Mashonaland East, 25. During the month, ZPP recorded five cases of political intra-party violence within Zanu PF and three cases within the MDC-T and one case within the MDC Alliance. For the MDC-T and Zanu PF parties, this was mainly due to the internal electoral processes within the two political outfits. In light of this, there is no doubt that Zimbabwe, in 2020 degenerated into worsened autocracy, characterised by covert and overt attacks on the people’s civic and political rights. As 2021 takes shape, the human rights situation in Zimbabwe remains dire and the start of the year provides a chance for renewed advocacy for the return to constitutionalism and democracy so that the citizens who have been silenced find their voice again.
On December 11, in Chegutu’s ward 22, violence broke out during a Zanu PF district coordinating committee (DCC) elections process. The violence, which involved Chegutu West legislator Dexter Nduna, was over the transparency or lack of it, of the internal voting process for candidates to represent the party at district level. This was not an isolated event, as countrywide, intra-Zanu PF violence was witnessed during the party’s DCC election processes. For example, in Mbire district, Mashonaland Central province, there was marked violence during the Zanu PF DCC elections held on December 5. Some party members alleged there was rigging and inclusion of dead people and others who had relocated from the district on the voters’ roll. This triggered violent clashes. In addition to the violence, the Zanu PF DCC elections also resulted in partisan distribution of government inputs. One example is when Masvingo North, ward 1 councillor Kudakwashe Murambiwa distributed 5kg of Pfumvudza maize seed only to those who had voted in Zanu PF DCC elections. Across the political divide, as recorded by ZPP, there were incidents of intra-party and inter-party violence as the MDC-T — an offshoot from the MDC Alliance — prepared for its December 27 congress. In Mudzi North, ward 10, MDC Alliance and MDC-T supporters clashed on December 21 during a meeting presided over by the MDC Alliance Mudzi district organising secretary Paddington Sirivha. The meeting ended up violent clashes with the party’s former district chairperson Peter Chabveka being accused of having joined the offshoot MDC-T. The clashes were reported countrywide and they peaked at the MDC-T extraordinary congress held on December 27 in Harare. In some of the scenes of the MDC-T violence, which have since gone viral on the internet, some of the congress delegates can be seen physically and verbally assaulting one of the MDC-T presidential contestants, Thokozani Khupe, and her supporters in what is a deliberate and open attack on women’s participation in politics as a whole. A case of inter-party violence was recorded in Mamina where Zanu PF youths led by David Maburutse were kicked to the ground, and pots of food that was being prepared by MDC Alliance youths who were canvassing for support to embark on a one-million man march in the area. Although the police were present, they could not intervene resulting in food (meat stew) being soiled on the ground. No arrests were made and this act disturbed the proceedings of the campaign. All these incidents recorded by the ZPP point to a growing culture of political intolerance, which goes against the civil and political rights that are guaranteed in the Zimbabwe Constitution.
A grade one pupil at Tafara Primary School in Chipinge East ward 18 drowned after being swept away by a flooded river as she walked home from school.
Zimbabwe’s rainy season often comes with flooding and other disasters in some areas and each year, government is never fully prepared, and never undertakes adequate measures to prevent the loss of life, property and the internal displacement of people. In Binga’s Lusulu area, heavy rains left over 200 people homeless after the rains destroyed over 30 homes. While the government’s Civil Protection Unit (CPU) responded by distributing maize to the victims, this was not enough as the victims required more social services and support. It is, however encouraging that before Cyclone Chalane hit Manicaland during the last week of December, government, learning from its poor preparedness for Cyclone Idai in March 2019, initiated an evacuation process for those likely to be affected. More than 700 people were evacuated in Chipinge and Chimanimani, and this helped save lives. Fortunately, when the cyclone hit, it caused minimal damage and no lives were lost.
ZPP recommends that government strengthens its early warning systems and accords adequate resources to the CPU to be able to evacuate and manage floods and other disasters before they happen. Government should also strengthen its post-disaster short and long-term response mechanisms. This includes expending resources to cover all the arising humanitarian issues as well as towards the rebuilding of destroyed infrastructure. Currently, some people affected by Cyclone Idai in 2019 are still living in tents and government should expedite the rebuilding of housing infrastructure for these and many other victims of disasters across the country. In addition, government should consider relocation of citizens from areas such as some parts of Binga where floods hit every year.
December 10 was International Human Rights Day, and just seven days before the day, over 100 families in Budiriro were left without a roof over their heads.
This was after their homes, built on purported undesignated land, were demolished. The City of Harare, with the help of the police, and armed with court orders, demolished 143 houses, leaving an estimated 715 people homeless. The demolitions, which were the most severe in 2020, follow several such incidents and in all these, families were left internally displaced and vulnerable. Sadly demolitions, like the Budiriro one, have been a result of corrupt and illegal land sales as well as political contestation. Ultimately, the human rights of the citizens will continue to be violated while the corrupt keep getting away without being punished. Because of the huge housing backlog, desperate citizens are falling prey to land barons, most of whom are politically connected. Ironically, Tembwe Housing Cooperative, part of which was demolished, secured land in Budiriro in 2010 through council officials, and obtained certificate of incorporation as a housing cooperative. According to the Harare Residents Trust, they allocated land to their members. “However, in 2014, town planner identified as Priscilla Charumbira allegedly demanded that they pay US$45 000 in order to have their housing stands regularised. Council allegedly wrote their names down, and assured the stand owners that their stands would be regularised. However, things changed after they refused to pay the US$45 000. Charumbira allegedly initiated through identified proxies to establish Events Housing Cooperative and offered it the same land as Tembwe Housing Cooperative.” It must be noted that shelter is a social right that every citizen should access and enjoy.
Opening of borders
Starting December, Zimbabwe opened land borders to the public. The process was marred by reports of the use of fake Covid-19 certificates. As the festive season approached, the main border between Zimbabwe and South Africa, Beitbridge, was congested and people spent days waiting to cross. Five people reportedly died in separate incidents due to unclear circumstances as they waited to cross the border. The mass movement across the borders for the festive season appeared to have triggered a spike in Covid-19 cases amid reports there was widespread corruption at the ports of entry, and some used fake letters or simply paid immigration officials for entry into the country. This was made worse by the non-existence of a clear policy on Covid-19 certification standards.
On December 31, Information secretary Nick Mangwana tweeted that Zimbabwe’s public Covid-19 centres were overwhelmed as cases continued to rise. With the private facilities charging up to US$2 500 for a ventilator, and the cases of Covid-19 continuing to take an upward spiral, the poor have been left on their own, unable to access not just Covid-19 services, but general health facilities. Lived realities by citizens have shown that sick individuals are struggling to get admitted in hospital or access ventilators due to the increase in numbers. This exposes government’s ill preparedness to fully fight the virus and ensure citizens who contract the virus access medical care. ZPP continues to urge government to prioritise the health sector and decentralise the management of Covid-19 as well as to ensure that health facilities are adequately equipped to deal with all health needs.
Water sanitation and prison conditions
In the November Covid-19 accountability tracker, there was a positive High Court of Zimbabwe order that inmates of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison must get a daily supply of 60 litres of water per inmate. The order was granted to ensure the measures are enforced, as per an urgent chamber application was filed by serving prisoner Taurai Dodzo and Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum concerned about water shortages and diarrhea outbreak in the prison. ZPP continued monitoring the situation and is concerned to report that there is no adherence to this court order and inmates still suffer from lack of access to water. In addition, inmates are still crowded in cells, risking their health as Covid-19 cases spike. ZPP implores government and the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service to implement the High Court ruling and to ensure that inmates are not crowded in cells and to improve the living conditions of inmates.
Selective application of lockdown rules
ZPP has noted with concern the continued selective enforcement of Covid-19 regulations, especially concerning gatherings. On December 23 the President held a rally in Chivi where thousands were gathered despite the maximum number of persons at gatherings being 100. On December 27, the MDC-T held their extra ordinary congress in Harare where hundreds were in attendance, with no physical distancing in place (even resulting in one of the presidential hopefuls, Khupe testing positive to Covid-19). This being the case there have not been any visible steps to contact trace all those who were delegates at the Congress. Throughout the months of November and December, the Zanu PF DCC elections were taking place despite Health minister having suspended all by-elections under the pretext of preventing the spread of Covid-19. On December 31, there were reports of celebratory gatherings in Mbare and an event allegedly organised by business mogul Kuda Tagwirei. Earlier on, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa had hosted a birthday bash, and visuals showed there was no social distancing and adherence to Covid-19 protocols.