Activists and human rights defenders mobilized to hold the government to account for increasing corruption, unemployment, poverty and inequality. In the face of increasing activism, the authorities intensified the crackdown on government critics, imposing blanket bans on protest in central Harare, the capital, and detaining journalists and activists, some of whom were tortured.
A report by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee released in July stated that approximately 4.1 million people would experience food insecurity between January and March 2017 following a drought caused by El Niño.
Cash shortages left the government struggling to pay civil servants their monthly salaries, leading to government proposals to introduce bond notes. The fear of bond notes becoming a worthless currency and returning the country to the unpopular period of hyperinflation similar to 2008 sparked continuous protest up to December.
In June, the government introduced Statutory Instrument SI64 in a desperate bid to curb cheap imports and promote domestic manufacturing, sparking protests by those opposed to the measure.
Tensions in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party continued to affect the functioning of government.
Freedom of expression
The government sought to stifle critical reporting in the privately owned media.
In January, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services (MIMBS), George Charamba, threatened the privately owned media with arrests if they reported on factional strife within ZANU-PF. His comments followed the arrest in January of three members of staff of Newsday: Nqaba Matshazi, deputy editor; Xolisani Ncube, a reporter; and Sifikile Thabete, the legal assistant. The two journalists were charged with publishing falsehoods. At the end of the year, their trial was pending a decision by the Constitutional Court on the validity of the law used to arrest them.
In February, while attending World Radio Day commemorations, Anywhere Mutambudzi, Director of Urban Communications within the MIMBS, threatened to clamp down on community radio initiatives, accusing them of operating illegally. The government has failed to license a single community radio station since the enactment of the Broadcasting Services Act (2001).
Journalists faced harassment, arrest and assault while covering protests. The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) recorded assaults on 32 journalists between January and September.
Paidamoyo Muzulu, a Newsday journalist, was arrested and detained in June together with 15 other activists who were holding a protest vigil in Africa Unity Square in Harare. He was charged with robbery and obstructing or defeating the course of justice. The activists were charged with robbery and resisting arrest. All were released on bail pending trial at the end of the year.
Five journalists were arrested while covering demonstrations against the Vice-President’s lengthy stay in the five star Rainbow Towers Hotel. They were detained for six hours before being released without charge.
Freelancer Godwin Mangudya and three Alpha Media Holding (AMH) journalists – Elias Mambo, Tafadzwa Ufumeli and Richard Chidza – were briefly detained at the Marimba police station for covering protests in the suburb of Mufakose on 6 July. Police officers released them after ordering them to delete images of the protests.
Mugove Tafirenyika, a journalist with the Daily News, was assaulted at the ZANU-PF headquarters by party supporters on 27 July while covering a war veterans’ meeting.
On 3 August, seven journalists – Lawrence Chimunhu and Haru Mutasa of Al Jazeera, and Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, Christopher Mahove, Tendayi Musiya, Bridget Mananavire and Imelda Mhetu – were assaulted by police while covering demonstrations against government plans to introduce bond notes. All seven were released without charge.
On 24 August, freelance journalist Lucy Yasin was assaulted by riot police while covering a march by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) and Tendai Mandimika, a freelance journalist, was arrested and charged with public violence.
On 31 August, Crispen Ndlovu, a Bulawayo-based freelance photojournalist, was arrested and assaulted by riot police for taking pictures of police as they assaulted Alfred Dzirutwe in Bulawayo. He was charged with criminal nuisance and beaten up in a truck and later admitted to a private hospital for treatment of the injuries sustained.
In August, security and intelligence officers dressed in military attire made several visits to Trevor Ncube, the publisher of Alpha Media Holdings (AMH), in a clear attempt to intimidate him.
The authorities attempted to stifle social media.
In April, President Mugabe threatened to introduce laws to restrict access to the internet.
In August, in response to the rising discontent expressed on social media, the authorities introduced a draft bill on Computer and Cyber Crimes to curb anti-government criticism. The bill had not become law by the end of the year.
During a national stay-away on 6 July in protest against corruption, fronted by the social media movement #ThisFlag, social media apps such as WhatsApp were shut down by the government.
Repression of dissent
Activists and human rights defenders were subjected to intimidation, harassment and arrests by the authorities and the youth wing of the ruling ZANU-PF party with impunity.
In July alone, 332 people were arrested in connection with anti-government protests. Hundreds were arrested across the country for participating in demonstrations organized by the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA), a coalition of 18 political parties campaigning for electoral reform. Organizers of the protests were assaulted the night before the demonstrations.
During celebrations of Independence Day in April, state security agents brutally assaulted and arrested Patson Dzamara for staging a one-man demonstration by raising a placard in front of President Mugabe. He was protesting the abduction and disappearance of his brother, Itai Dzamara, in March 2015. Patson Dzamara was later released without charge. However, in November, he was abducted by armed men shortly before an anti-government protest and severely beaten.
About 105 people were arrested and charged with public violence when workers on commuter omnibuses went on strike on 4 July in Bulawayo and Harare and barricaded roads with stones and burning tyres. They were later released on bail.
Evan Mawarire, leader of the #ThisFlag movement, was arrested by police on 12 July and charged with inciting public violence. While in court, the state changed the charges to “subverting a constitutionally elected government”. He was released after the magistrate ruled the change of charges illegal and unconstitutional. However, Evan Mawarire left the country in July following continued state persecution.
In August, pictures emerged of a 62-year-old woman, Lillian Chinyerere Shumba, being brutally beaten by riot police outside the Harare Magistrates’ Court. The authorities also arrested Sten Zvorwadza, Chairperson of the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ), and Promise Mkwananzi, spokesperson for the Tajamuka/Sesjikile (“We’ve had enough”), campaign, and charged them with inciting public violence.
The unprecedented clampdown on former allies of ZANU-PF intensified following the publication of a communiqué by the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association renouncing President Mugabe’s leadership and blaming him for the deteriorating economic situation. Police arrested five war veterans and charged them with undermining the authority of or insulting the President in contravention of section 33(2) of the Criminal Law Act. All five were released on bail and their trials were indefinitely postponed at the end of the year.
Freedom of association
President Mugabe launched an attack on the judiciary following significant judgments that upheld the right to protest. He criticized the country’s judges, labelling them “reckless” and warning them not to be negligent.
In September, in response to an increasing number of demonstrations, police imposed a two-week ban on protests in Harare Central District under Statutory Instrument 101 A. However, a High Court judge lifted the ban, declaring it to be unconstitutional.1
On 16 September, police imposed a one-month ban on protests in central Harare under Government Notice No.239 A of 2016. An appeal to set aside this ban was dismissed by the courts.2
On 29 September, three students at the University of Zimbabwe – Tonderai Dombo, Andile Mqenqele and Zibusiso Tshuma – were arrested for raising placards in front of President Mugabe demanding jobs during the university’s annual graduation ceremony. They were charged with criminal nuisance and fined US$10.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Activists reported cases of attempted abductions by unidentified armed groups often linked to state security forces. These took place either during the night or just before a planned demonstration. Some of those abducted and taken to ZANU-PF headquarters were subjected to torture including sexual violence.
On 13 September, Silvanos Mudzvova, a well-known actor, director and activist and member of Tajamuka/Sesjikile, was abducted from his home at night by six armed men alleged to be state security agents. He was blindfolded and taken to an area near Lake Chivero where he was tortured. He was injected with an unknown substance and left for dead. He required hospital treatment for the serious injuries sustained, which included abdominal trauma, and was still recovering at the end of the year.
Unidentified men travelling in five vehicles abducted Kudakwashe Kambakunje, NAVUZ Chairperson for the Central Business District, on 27 September in Harare. He was later found 22km outside the city, badly wounded. He had been severely beaten and injected with an unknown substance.
In September, pictures emerged of serious lacerations sustained by Esther Mutsiru and Gladys Musingo while in police custody in Harare. The women had been detained and tortured after participating in a NERA demonstration.
Activist and public relations officer for the Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe Ostallos Siziba was abducted on 26 August in the lead-up to the NERA demonstrations. He was taken to ZANU-PF headquarters where he was severely beaten. He stated that his abductors tried to force him to have sex with an elderly woman, but he refused. He was later handed over to Harare Central Police station, charged with public violence and released on bail.
Constitutional and legal developments
In January the Constitutional Court outlawed child marriage by setting a minimum age for marriage at 18 years.
In February, the Constitutional Court ruled the criminal defamation law to be invalid and unconstitutional.
In its report to the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the government revealed that 10 death row inmates had been pardoned during the year after they requested clemency.
right to health
In January, following its review of Zimbabwe’s second periodic report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted the negative impact of the severe economic decline on the delivery of services to children. The Committee expressed serious concern about the high rates of maternal, neonatal and child mortality; malnutrition among children under the age of five; and the significant number of deaths of children under five owing to inadequate sanitation and the lack of clean drinking water.
In the context of continuing widespread food insecurity, particularly among poor households in the south of the country, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission criticized the government for partisan distribution of food aid and agricultural subsidies in five districts.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed extreme concern about the high rate of sexual violence experienced by adolescent girls as well as early pregnancy and child marriage and its correlation with the school dropout rate of adolescent girls.
On 21 January, Harare City Council demolished over 100 houses in Arlington Estate belonging to members of the Nyikavanhu Housing Cooperative without following due process, including consultation and adequate notice. The demolitions took place after President Mugabe ordered the relocation of the settlers.