Democratic space has shrunk

Guest Column: Learnmore Zuze

IT is indisputable that the little democratic space that existed during ex-President Robert Mugabe’s tyrannical era has now even shrunk further.

I write this article with a bleeding heart, as scenes from Zimbabwe, reminiscent of the brutal colonial Ian Smith regime, characterised by law enforcers callously descending on unarmed citizens, are splashed across the world.

The worst part is that, this time, the heartless law enforcers are fellow blacks, who have the impudence to violently batter frail and elderly unarmed citizens in full glare of the international media.

If anyone had harboured some doubts as to the striking similarities between Mugabe’s administration and Emmerson Mnangagwa’s own government, the matter was flatly put to rest on Friday.

There remained that section of society, section of business, section of civil society and some in opposition politics who somehow bought the narrative that Zimbabwe was under the cloud of a new dispensation. To their utter shock, I am sure they saw firsthand the gory truth of the Zimbabwean situation; our worst fears have been confirmed. The little that existed of democracy is fast disappearing.

Name all the elements that typify repression, abductions, kidnappings, torture, disregard of the Constitution and questionable judicial rulings and Mnangagwa regime seems to be swiftly taking over.

A State does not necessarily need to openly make a declaration with regards its adherence to fascism. In fact, fascism is a style of governance. It is a way of operating which brooks no dissent. Honestly, how, under high heaven, can the actions of the Zimbabwean government be defended rationally? Even going by the sequence of events, did it require the use of such disproportionate force or a simple announcement through a megaphone that the demonstration had been called off?

The opposition MDC, which we had been made to believe was on the verge of unleashing violence using stones and catapults, ironically turned out to be the one following the law in both letter and spirit.

Palpably, the ZRP, assuming it was indeed the ZRP (many have expressed doubts), would clearly have been justified to act in such a fiendish manner if they had done what was justifiably possible before unleashing the violence that ensued with such diabolic gusto and enthusiasm.

The MDC has come out victors in the entire fracas, as it was not even given a chance to address its followers to the effect that the prohibition order was still in place. It is absolutely true that it was the State which shut down business last Friday.

What we saw was the law enforcement unit turning out to be the perpetrators of violence. It appears those holding the levers of power simply did not care about the reputation of this country or are covertly communicating their fascist nature to the world. Is Zimbabwe truly open for business? The answer is an emphatic “no”.

It is apparent that the law enforcers seen in widely publicised images were men clearly under instruction to “demolish”. In one of the different footages seen, the lack of restraint by the deployed security forces was apparent. The nation hopes there won’t be something akin to the allusion that certain rogue people stole some uniforms from the ZRP in order to give the pretence that they were genuine security personnel.

In light of the stained image of the current government resulting from last August’s fatal shootings, a normal person would have expected the forces to exercise restraint, given that these were unarmed men and women.

What the President Emmerson Mnangagwa-led government has just proven to the world is that it does not deserve a place at all among countries that are deemed democratic. In all honesty, it is apparent that Zimbabwe has no regard for constitutionalism and cares little about the rule of law.

It is befuddling to the core that while we would expect Mnangagwa to realise the disastrous policies that ruined Mugabe’s administration, the man seems determined to place his foot exactly where Mugabe put his.

Two years on, it has become increasingly clear that the deposition of Mugabe was a “wrong turn” for Zimbabweans.

The current government is not making a secret of its fascist nature. At his worst, Mugabe never propagated the belief that he could deal with lawyers and doctors attending to the opposition. Mugabe allowed human rights lawyers to freely represent cleric Evan Mawarire in his subversion trial. No consequences were threatened upon those who nursed the injured. But in the new dispensation, we have heard of threats to doctors who have dared to treat injured members of opposition political parties.

Surely, doctors on oath of their service are not allowed to discriminate who to attend to on tribal, religious or political lines. It is always a sad day when a Head of State, given the magnitude of his influence, advocates a culture of intolerance. There is virtually no respect of the law.

The government of Zimbabwe was virtually asking its citizens to do the impossible. The Constitution provides for the right to demonstrate against the government’s excesses. How else can one remain quiet when they earn $400 against daily price increases? All said and done, the events of last Friday helped to debunk the theory: A new dispensation is on the horizon.

l Learnmore Zuze is a legal officer and writes here in his own capacity.

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