Southern Africa: Zimbabwe Cries for Hope

7 August 2020

Zimbabwean nationals, including those in the diaspora, had rejoiced at the ousting of former leader Robert Mugabe following massive protests in the southern African country in 2017.

Mugabe, who had ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist and left a divided legacy when he passed on last year, was forced to resign under military pressure after 37 years in charge. His eventual successor and current head of state Emmerson Mnangagwa immediately returned from a very brief stint in exile (South Africa) and was named interim leader.

Riding on a big political wave and euphoria Mnangagwa boldly hailed a "new and unfolding democracy" in Zimbabwe, vowing to create jobs as well as fixing an imploding economy. "We want to grow our economy, we want peace, we want jobs, jobs, jobs," he then told a cheering crowd in Harare. Despite undertakings by Mnangagwa to human right reforms, Zimbabwe remains intolerant of basic human rights for its citizens.

Fast forward to July 2020, the situation in Zimbabwe has not changed much, with inflation running at over 700%, while the Covid-19 pandemic has further compounded matters on an already weak state on the brink. As we pen this editorial, there is global pressure on Mnangagwa's administration to end human rights violations, including arrests and abductions of activists, journalists and ordinary citizens speaking truth to power. Reports emanating from Zimbabwe suggest the police are using force to disperse and even arrest health workers, including nurses, who are trying to protest for better working conditions.

Members of the opposition have not been spared either. In fact, Mnangagwa warned in a presidential address this week he would "flush" out political opponents protesting against alleged state corruption and the slumping economy. Clearly, the head of state has declared war against his fellow countrymen and women considering the tone of his message, which borders on crushing dissent and persecuting opponents.

The state of affairs is very disturbing and further confirms long-held assertions that Mnangagwa is no different from his predecessor. Instead of calling for calm, Mnangagwa declared war, heightening tension between security forces loyal to him and political opponents.

For a nation of millions leading lives of untold suffering and an uncertain future, Zimbabwe can ill-afford to slip further into economical abyss. This would be a betrayal of those who sacrificed and paid with their lives for an independent Zimbabwe and a country once considered as the breadbasket of Africa.

Equally, we should not watch on with folded arms as the government of the day sheds innocent blood. Indeed, Zimbabwean lives matter, and the time has come for regional leaders and the African Union to not only push for dialogue with the authorities in Harare over the political situation in that country, but to condemn the actions of the current regime.

Zimbabweans deserve better and need our support to rebuild their country. So-called quiet diplomacy is an exercise in futility. The AU and SADC should speak out loudly and clearly that human rights abuses can no longer be condoned. SADC citizens should exercise their democratic rights without fear.

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