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After Mugabe, Zimbabwe Still Enforces A Law Against Insulting The President



Terrence Mkhwananzi
Image by Tendai Marima

Terrence Mkhwananzi feels trapped and unsafe in what is now regarded as the new Zimbabwe.

Bailed out from remand prison, the 32-year-old activist makes weekly visits to the police station while state prosecutors deliberate over a date to start his court hearing.

He’s on trial for pointing at a presidential portrait at a public hearing in the city of Bulawayo. In front of the Commission of Inquiry, an independent body mandated to investigate the Aug. 1 post-election violence, Mkhwananzi accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa of being responsible for his father’s death.

A year since Mnangagwa seized power from his former mentor Robert Mugabe, and declared the beginning of a new era of freedom, it is still a crime in Zimbabwe to criticize the head of state.

Mkhwananzi says his father was killed in December 1986 during ethnic massacres in the southern and western parts of the country.

As minister of state security at the time, the country’s new leader Mnangagwa is accused by the opposition and local activists of being complicit in the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade operation in the 1980s, which killed at least 20,000 civilians living in the Midlands and the Matabeleland North and South provinces.

Terrence Mkhwananzi is a member of the Mthwakazi Republic Party, an emerging movement that advocates for the southern and western regions to secede from Zimbabwe for historical reasons and unresolved grievances from the ethnic killings in the 1980s.

He says the government is denying him the right to expression. In many ways, he says, the country feels even less democratic under Mugabe’s successor.

“Mnangagwa came in promising us a change. At least with Mugabe, we always knew that he was brutal, he didn’t come in pretending to be nice to people. But with Mnangagwa there is no democracy in this country,” Terrence Mkhwananzi tells NPR.

“It cannot be an insult to talk about something that hurts our family so much. All we know is that my father was killed along with many others from the village, but we don’t even know where he is buried.”

In theory, the country’s Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression. But under a section of Zimbabwe’s criminal law, it is an offence to insult the office of the president.

This means jokes, slurs or accusations against the head of state are unlawful and an “insult” carries a hefty fine and a brief stint in jail. If other charges are included, sentences can be longer.

In 2013, the Supreme Court found the insult law to be invalid. Mnangagwa, who was justice minister at the time, appealed against the decision and defended the law.

A case for the insult law to be struck from the statute books was lodged five years ago, but it remains in force because it hasn’t been heard by the Constitutional Court.

Lizwe Jamela, the program’s director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, which routinely handles insult cases pro-bono, says it is a very chilling sign that a repressive law still continues under new leadership.

The legislation was inherited from the British colonial era, which lasted from the 1880s to 1965, and took its current form in the early 2000s.

“It sends jitters down the spine that this law continues to be used because, during the First Republic of Mugabe, this law was abused and used against those perceived to be political enemies or voices of dissent,” he says in a phone interview.

During Mugabe’s 37-year rule, hundreds of people were accused of disparaging the president through art, protest or simply calling the veteran dictator “old,” or a “goblin.”

Shortly before Mugabe’s fall in November 2017, Martha O’Donovan, a U.S. citizen working in Zimbabwe, was jailed on charges of subversion and allegedly tweeting under a pseudonym that Mugabe was a “selfish and sick man.”

She denied the accusation. After months of postponed hearings, the charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence.

However, since Mnangagwa narrowly won the presidency in a disputed vote on July 30, up to a dozen people have been arrested under the insult law, according to information from the human rights lawyers group.

Despite Mnangagwa’s inaugural promise to lead Zimbabwe on a “path full of freedoms, democracy, transparency, love and harmony,” the new administration seems to be showing intolerance of criticism similar to Mugabe’s dictatorship.

Just days before Mnangagwa’s inauguration on Aug. 26, activist Munyaradzi Shoko was charged with criminal nuisance for a Facebook post in which allegedly said that Mnangagwa is associated with “evil and devilish deeds.”

According to the Zimbabwean human rights lawyers’ group, which represented Shoko, he was hauled before the courts and Shoko did not plead. The charges were later dropped after the lawyers claimed their client was assaulted by police while in custody.

Jeffrey Smith, executive director of Vanguard Africa, a pro-democracy organization that engages with African governments, says he is not surprised by the insult law arrests.

Mnangagwa — nicknamed the Crocodile for his crafty ways as a liberation fighter — rose to power through a de facto coup. Smith believes it would be a mistake to assume the country will now become more democratic.

“As many activists and onlookers rightly anticipated, dissent and criticism continue to be criminalized in Zimbabwe, and that is a situation unlikely to change. That Mnangagwa and the military cabal would usher in and commit to a ‘new dispensation’ was a farce from the outset,” he says.

Following decades of Zimbabwe’s isolation and targeted sanctions from the West, Mnangagwa has launched a big foreign investment drive to help the cash-strapped nation get back on its feet.

His mantra “Zimbabwe is open for business” is yet to bear fruit, but rights lawyer Jamela says in order to attract international investors, it is critical to making fundamental changes to the African nation’s repressive laws.

“You can’t say Zimbabwe is open for business when it is not open to freedom of expression,” Jamela remarks.

This week, the Commission of Inquiry issued a report finding soldiers and police used excessive force in the August protests. At least six people were shot dead and dozens injured by security forces.

In September, the U.S. renewed targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe urging the new leadership to show definitive steps toward democratic reform.

“As long as [Mnangagwa] continues in the mould of Mugabe, frustrations among citizens will rightly continue to rise, the economy will continue to deteriorate, and the country will remain devoid of the leadership it both needs and deserves,” Smith says.

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Kembo Mohadi resigns amid sex scandal



Kembo Mohadi sex scandal

Zimbabwe Vice President Kembo Mohadi resigned on Monday following local media reports he had engaged in improper conduct.

Kembo Mohadi, along with Constantino Chiwenga, was a deputy to President Emmerson Mnangagwa since 2018, but without a political power base, he was not seen as a potential successor to the president.

In a rare move by a public official in Zimbabwe, Kembo Mohadi said he had taken the decision to step down “not as a matter of cowardice but as a sign of demonstrating great respect to the office of the President”.

I have been going through a soul-searching pilgrimage and realised that I need the space to deal with my problem outside the governance chair,” he said in a statement released by the Ministry of Information.

Local online media service ZimLive has in the past two weeks carried reports that Kembo Mohadi had improper sexual liaisons with married women, including one of his subordinates.

Mohadi, 70, denied the accusations last week saying this was part of a political plot against him. On Monday he continued to deny the accusations saying he would seek legal recourse.

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Zimbabwe agrees to pay $3.5 billion compensation to white farmers



Zimbabwe White Farmers

Zimbabwe agreed on Wednesday to pay $3.5 billion in compensation to Zimbabwe white farmers whose land was expropriated by the government to resettle black families, moving a step closer to resolving one the most divisive policies of the Robert Mugabe era.

But the southern African nation does not have the money and will issue long term bonds and jointly approach international donors with the farmers to raise funding, according to the compensation agreement.

Two decades ago Mugabe’s government carried out at times violent evictions of 4,500 Zimbabwe white farmers and redistributed the land to around 300,000 Black families, arguing it was redressing colonial land imbalances.

The agreement signed at President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s State House offices in Harare showed white farmers would be compensated for infrastructure on the farms and not the land itself, as per the national constitution.

Details of how much money each farmer, or their descendants, given the time elapsed since the farms were seized, was likely to get were not yet clear, but the government has said it would prioritise the elderly when making the settlements.

Farmers would receive 50% of the compensation after a year and the balance within five years. Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube and acting Agriculture Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri signed on behalf of the government, while farmers unions and a foreign consortium that undertook valuations also penned the agreement.

“As Zimbabweans, we have chosen to resolve this long-outstanding issue,” said Andrew Pascoe, head of the Commercial Farmers Union representing  Zimbabwe white farmers.

The land seizures were one of Mugabe’s signature policies that soured ties with the West. Mugabe, who was ousted in a coup in 2017 and died last year, accused the West of imposing sanctions on his government as punishment.

The programme still divides public opinion in Zimbabwe as opponents see it as a partisan process that left the country struggling to feed itself. But its supporters say it has empowered landless Black people. Mnangagwa said the land reform could not be reversed but paying of compensation was key to mending ties with the West. Reuters

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Chinamasa calls U.S. ambassador ‘thug’ as anti-government protests loom




Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party on Monday called the United States ambassador a “thug” and accused him of funding the opposition ahead of this week’s planned anti-government protests that authorities say are meant to overthrow the government.

Without providing evidence, ZANU-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamasa told reporters that U.S. ambassador to Harare, Brian Nichols, was involved in subversive activities to topple President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

Chinamasa’s comments echo the Robert Mugabe era, where the ZANU-PF government regularly accused the United States and Britain of seeking to dislodge it from power.

“He (Nichols) continues to engage in acts of undermining this republic and if he does so, if he continues engaging in acts of mobilising and funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training insurgents, our leadership will not hesitate to give him marching orders,” Chinamasa said.
“Diplomats should not behave like thugs, and Brian Nichols is a thug.”

The U.S. embassy in Harare did not immediately respond to Chinamasa’s comments. Political tensions are rising fast in the southern African nation after activists called for demonstrations on July 31 against government corruption, which they blame for deepening the worst economic crisis in more than a decade.

Last month, the government summoned Nichols after a senior White House official said Zimbabwe was among “foreign adversaries” using the civil unrest in the United States following the death of George Floyd to interfere in U.S. affairs.

The U.S., Britain, E.U. embassies and the United Nations have all criticised Zimbabwe for the arrest of journalists and political challengers.
Relations between Zimbabwe and the West were promising when Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe after a coup in 2017, but have soured over the government’s human rights record.

Patrick Chinamasa urged party supporters to defend themselves from protesters and avoid a repeat of the deadly violence that followed post-election demonstrations in August 2018 and the January 2019 protests over a steep fuel price hike.“No, this time no. Use any means at your disposal to defend yourselves,” Chinamasa said. Organisers say this week’s protests will be peaceful. Reuters

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