BY RICHARD MUPONDE
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s democratic credentials have come under fresh scrutiny after the ruling Zanu PF revived its push for a law to punish “unpatriotic” Zimbabweans.
Zanu PF chief whip Pupurai Togarepi recently moved a motion in Parliament calling for the crafting of the so-called Patriotic Bill that will target people advocating for sanctions against the country, among other things.
Togarepi said the law must bar politicians that advocate for sanctions from taking part in future elections and he specifically mentioned former Finance minister Tendai Biti.
The motion sparked heated debate among Zimbabweans with most people saying if the ruling party went on to introduce the law, it would wipe out the gains the country has made in engendering democracy.
In 2017, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was witnessing a “new and unfolding democracy” after the military toppled long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in a coup.
Mnangagwa took over from Mugabe and the following year he won presidential elections under controversial circumstances.
Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said the proposed “patriotism” legislation would further damage Zimbabwe’s image.
“The proposed draconian law will severely damage Zimbabwe’s image globally because the country’s true colours of tin pot dictatorship will be exposed,” Mavhinga said.
“If Mnangagwa wants to salvage his legacy he must stop this fascist law and guarantee fundamental freedoms for all Zimbabweans as they are set out in the constitution.”
ZimRights director, Dzikamai Bere said the proposed law would stifle the work of human rights defenders as their activities would be criminalised.
“The Patriotic Bill is a very unpatriotic piece, because it seeks to stop the majority of Zimbabweans from participating openly and freely in issues of governance affecting the country,” Bere said.
“This in itself is an affront to the national objectives according to the constitution.
“If you look at Chapter 2 of the constitution it speaks to the fundamental human rights.
“The Patriotic Bill contradicts human rights.
“It then means human rights defenders whose mandate is to champion human rights professionally without being criminalised would be criminalised. Because of these things, the Bill is very unpatriotic.”
He said the Bill was against the spirit of the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) as no economic growth was feasible when there is conflict between the state and its citizens.
“If you look at the strategy especially on key sub sectors page 11, it outlines what’s going to be done,” Bere said.
“From those key sub-sectors they speak of local economic stability and this is linked to the Zimbabwe is open for business mantra.
“What the Bill is doing is to cement instability as the state is declaring war on its citizens because they think differently.”
“A state at war with its citizens can’t achieve macroeconomic stability. It’s also linked to the NDS1.
“Zimbabwe’s own development is built on the understanding that it’s with the people.
“For a country which has sent 4,5 million into the diaspora due to human rights abuses, it’s going to send more people into the diaspora as they can’t work under the conditions of the Bill.”
Musa Kika, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO forum director, said Mnangagwa’s regime was now showing its true colours through the onslaught against civic groups.
“After launching a sustained attack on the democratic opposition, the regime is now seeking to silence civil society as a collective as well,” Kika said.
“Through this Bill, the amendments to the Criminal Code, the proposed anti-sanctions law, and the attacks on the opposition, democratic and civic space is under threat.”
He said the plot by Zanu PF showed that Mnangagwa’s promises of opening up the democratic space were insincere.
Freedom of expression lobby organisation, MISA Zimbabwe, said the Patriotic Bill had the potential of curtailing the exercise of rights such as media freedom and freedom of expression, right to privacy, access to information, freedom of conscience, political rights, freedom to demonstrate and petition, and freedom of assembly and association.
“Of equal concern is that this law will potentially cripple the work and mandate of non-governmental organisations that also work with foreign governments, embassies or similar organisations in foreign countries, among others,” Misa Zimbabwe said.
Critics say Mnangagwa is proving to be worse than Mugabe when it comes to human rights violations with abductions, torture and arrests of opposition activists now a common feature.
On August 1, 2018, the army shot dead six activists after they demonstrated over the delay in announcing the presidential election results.
In January 2019, several people were also killed when the government unleased the military and police to brutally quell fuel price hike protests.
Despite international pressure to punish members of security forces behind the killings, Mnangagwa’s government is yet to act.
The European Union and the United States renewed their sanctions against targeted Zanu PF officials and members of the security forces while the United Kingdom introduced its own set of sanctions over the increased repression in Zimbabwe.