Mnangagwa not a born-again democrat

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

President Emmerson Mnangagwa almost succeeded in fooling everyone with his pretence that he had suddenly become a born-again democrat after the coup that toppled strongman Robert Mugabe six years ago.

Mnangagwa, who was ever present in Mugabe’s governments for the 37 years that the autocrat ruled the country, even promised long-suffering Zimbabweans a “new kind of democracy” as he returned from brief exile in South Africa in the days leading to the military putsch.

He promised to roll back some of the draconian laws that were used by his vanquished mentor to hang on to power for three decades, which were modelled along the lines of colonial legal instruments such as the notorious Public Order and Security Act (Posa).

For some time he did act the part as his new administration repealed the obnoxious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and Posa, among other laws that were used so effectively by the Mugabe regime to clamp down on freedom of speech, assembly and association.

It appeared Zimbabwe was well on course to shed its unenviable tag of being a pariah State that paid scant regard to people’s freedoms.

For a moment Mnangagwa was celebrated as a reformer.

It didn’t take too long, however, for the mask to fall off the 80-year-old ruler.

As Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world on May 3 in celebrating World Press Freedom Day, those that took time to reflect on the state of Press freedom in the country were unanimous that Zimbabwe is back to factory settings.

The Mnangagwa government’s reflex reaction to growing pressure over its failure to deliver on electoral promises on the eve of what could be a watershed election, has been the increasing general disregard of freedom of expression and introduction of laws that entrench violations of freedom of expression.

The past year saw intensified efforts by the authorities to push through clawback clauses in new laws that make a mockery of the move to repeal draconian statutes in the early years of the post-Mugabe administration.

Fresh laws such as the Cyber and Data Protection Act are a clear assault on freedom of expression and are meant to silence critical journalism that shines some light into dark places.

The frenzied push for the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Amendment Bill (infamously known as the Patriotic Bill) and the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill is not reflective of a country that aspires to have a dispensation where respect and protection of freedom of expression as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is enjoyed by all.

Attacks against journalists intensified last year with the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa Zimbabwe) recording a jump in violations against media workers to 137 from 32 in 2018, which was an election year.

There are fears the attacks will escalate even further this year as the country heads towards harmonised elections at a time when the government has stopped pretending to be reformist.

Press freedom is a vital ingredient of a vibrant democracy. Sadly, Zimbabwe is heading back to the Mugabe era, if not worse.

This opinion piece is from the and platforms.

Kholwani Nyathi is Standard editor and Alpha Media Holdings acting editor-in-chief

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