Zimbabwe opposition figures detained in crackdown after disputed election

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Barely a week after being sworn in as an opposition MP following elections in Zimbabwe last month, Gift Siziba found himself in police custody facing several charges, including inciting violence at a football match and defacing posters of an opponent in Bulawayo.

While other legislators’ debate in parliament, Siziba, from the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), has been in and out of court defending his innocence.

Siziba is just one of a number of opposition politicians and activists who have been arrested and charged with various offences since President Emmerson Mnangagwa won a second term in the 23 August vote, a result the CCC described as a “gigantic fraud”.

Others have faced a worse fate.

Womberaishe Nhende, a newly elected local councilor from a Harare suburb, was allegedly abducted, tortured and dumped naked near a river earlier this month, according to rights groups.

His lawyers say Nhende and an unnamed relative were also injected with an unknown substance during the brief disappearance.

Nhende is reported to have fled the country since the attack.

Nhende’s lawyer, Doug Coltart, was also detained then freed on bail. Coltart described the two developments as “a worrying indication of the state of the rule of law in Zimbabwe and the direction that this regime is going in the five years ahead”.

The Opposition MP Maureen Kademaunga spent a night in police cells having been charged with attempted murder and malicious damage to property, only to be cleared of wrongdoing after prosecutors failed to present evidence in court.

And Kudzai Kadzombe, a CCC politician and deputy mayor in Harare, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a member of the ruling Zanu-PF party before the election. She is out on bail.

The CCC says the cases have brought to intimidate it after last month’s disputed election.

“Public officials, supporters, civilians are being targeted on account of who they voted for in the last election.

The regime is targeting all the voices of dissent,” Siziba told the Guardian.

“It is a clear confirmation that the regime did not win the election.

There was no victory for them, that is why they are turning against their own citizens.”

The crackdown has also drawn criticism from rights groups.

“We are concerned about the crackdown that we continue to see in the aftermath of the elections,” said Wilbert Mandinde, the acting executive director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a coalition of civil society organizations.

“Whilst we do not condone some acts of a criminal nature, we continue to be shocked about some of these arrests. We believe they [the authorities] are bent on trying to make things difficult for the opposition.”

Promise Mkananzi, a CCC spokesperson, is in self-imposed exile after a 2020 arrest warrant against him for “defaulting court proceedings” resurfaced.

The case, which he said had been resolved, related to alleged incitement of public violence.

He accused Zanu-PF of orchestrating the jailing of opposition MPs in an attempt to restore its two-thirds parliamentary majority.

“The post-election crackdown is clear evidence of anger, vindictiveness and bitterness,” he said. “It is also a protracted effort to restore their parliamentary majority by hook or crook.” Mkwananzi claimed Zanu-PF was seeking a two thirds majority in part so that Mnangagwa could change the constitution to allow him to seek a third term.

In last month’s election, neither of the two main parties secured a two-thirds majority, meaning no wholesale changes can be made to the constitution, including amending the presidential term limits.

Critics have long accused Zanu-PF – in power since independence in 1980 – of using the courts to target opposition politicians and silence dissent.

A police spokesperson, Paul Nyathi, denied authorities were targeting the CCC, saying they were “simply following protocols” by responding to reports of wrongdoing.

“If we don’t arrest suspects after matters have been reported, the public will complain that we are sleeping on the job. So as the police, we are doing our job,” he told Agence France-Presse last week.

Mnangagwa, 81, won a second term with 52.6% of the vote, against 44% for CCC leader Nelson Chamisa, 45, according to official results.

Chamisa maintains the election was stolen and has called for a fresh vote, as well as urging the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to intervene.

International observers, including from the SADC, a regional bloc that usually endorses polls in member countries, said the election fell short of democratic standards.

Mnangagwa promised to uphold the rule of law during his inauguration speech. “Under my leadership and the new Zanu PF government,” Mnangagwa said, “democracy, good governance, the rule of law and the politics of tolerance will be entrenched, in line with the spirit and letter of our sacred national constitution and laws.”