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Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) Director, Jestina Mukoko has called on the government to excise restraint and end abductions and torture of Civil Society and opposition leaders to enhance democracy.
Mukoko, a victim of abductions and torture during the late President Robert Mugabe’s era told 263Chat recently most Zimbabweans have become too afraid to voice put their concerns due to fear of disappearing without a trace.
This comes as there has been an increase in the number of alleged abductions which are targeting critics of the government, an occurrence that had become synonymous with Mugabe’s 37-year rule.
The opposition and the international community blame the government, while the ruling ZANU-PF party and government officials blame it on the opposition that they accuse of working with the United States and other Western powers to pursue a regime change agenda.
Since the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC) rejected the outcome of the July 2018 elections and continues to challenge President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s legitimacy, the violence on citizens by the state has increased with Mnangagwa threatening to go after those individuals and organisations that he accuses of trying to destabilise his government.
“As a citizen, I shouldn’t be fearful of walking out because I fear being abducted and tortured. If you ask any Zimbabwean now what they are afraid of, it’s not being arrested and taken to a police station, they fear being abducted because you are not sure of what will happen to you and we say Zimbabwean are free? I don’t think so,” Mukoko said.
Police Officers beat up women who had joined an MDC demonstration in Harare on 16 August 2019 (Lovejoy Mutongwiza/263Chat)
She said the government is on a deliberate drive to instil fear in the citizens so that they do speak out.
Mukoko added that the targeting of civil society leaders and opposition members will only weaken the democratic space in a country that aspires to be constitutional.
She spoke against the politicization of the armed forces, which for a long time, have sided with the ruling party, Zanu-PF and in most cases used to intimidate and brutalize opposition supporters.
“Our concern with the police is that there is that conflation between the police and the ruling party that needs to stop because when you are a police service, you are actually supposed to serve the people regardless of the political party that they belong to.
“What is important for the government to recognize is that citizens are supposed to enjoy rights, especially the security of persons. They are also supposed to enjoy dignity which is enshrined in the constitution,” she said.
In the Zimbabwean context, Section 208(2) of the constitution maintains that the military has to be apolitical and must refrain from supporting any political party or politician.
Soldiers remove boulders from a street in Harare after protesters had barricaded the road during the deadly January 2019 demonstrations (Lovejoy Mutongwiza/263Chat)
Mukoko said the fear that has been instilled in the citizens will limit their participation in democratic processes.
“What the militarization process does is it instils fear in citizens and they are unable to fully participate in what is supposed to be a democracy. Issues of transparency and accountability are not really of concern (to the government) especially if you juxtapose with what the people were promised in 2018,” she said.
Of note is that almost every perpetrator has not been accounted for or brought to justice due to the strong links between the state and the armed forces.
However, the ConCourt recently gave the government until 9 November, to set up the Independent Complaints Commission which will investigate police and army brutality and will bring justice to victims.
Itai Dzamara, a critic of the late President Robert Mugabe, disappeared without a trace and has not been found since March 2015.
In recent times, more abductions have been reported with the most recent one being of a student, Tawanda Muchehiwa, who alleges that he was taken by suspected state agents and tortured for three days at an unknown location for organising an ant corruption demonstration in July.
He was later found with life-threatening bodily injuries.
In May this year, three opposition activists from the MDC-Alliance disappeared after being detained by police while on their way to an anti-government protest.
The women were found badly injured outside the capital Harare nearly 48 hours later and immediately hospitalized.
According to the UN, 49 cases of abductions and torture were reported in the country in 2019 alone.
Jestina MukokoPolice BrutalityPresident Emmerson Mnanangwa