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Online #ZimbabweLivesMatter campaign jolts Mnangagwa govt

by Staff reporter
09 Aug 2020 at 10:23hrs | Views
STUNG by the impact of an online campaign by Zimbabweans to raise awareness about alleged human rights violations in the country, top government officials are fighting back with claims that gory images of victims are fake.

Tapping into the popularity of the #BlackLivesMatter phenomenon, Zimbabweans outraged by the rights violations that followed the July 31 protests, which were stifled by the heavy deployment of security forces, started the #ZimbabweLivesMatter social media hashtag.

The movement soon won the support of South African celebrities such as AKA, Lecrae and Pearl Thusi. Other celebrities who showed an interest were Thandie Newton and Ice Cube.

Prominent opposition figures in South Africa such as Economic Freedom Fighters commander Julius Malema and former Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane took the campaign offline to pressure Cyril Ramaphosa's government to intervene in Zimbabwe.

Ramaphosa eventually relented by appointing former vice-president Baleka Mbete and ex-minister Sidney Mufamadi as special envoys to help resolve the problems in Zimbabwe.

Former Botswana president Ian Khama also lent his support to the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter movement and decried the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe.

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guttteres reacted by urging the government of Zimbabwe "to ensure the protection of all fundamental human rights, notably the freedom of opinion and expression and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association".

The government that had spent the week brushing aside the hashtag as ineffective is fighting back with claims that the images of victims of rights abuses in Zimbabwe are manufactured.

Nick Mangwana, the government spokesperson, told SABC News on Friday that claims of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe were propaganda. Mangwana said no one has been abducted for organising the July 31 protests.

Mnangagwa's spokesperson George Charamba took to Twitter to dispute the authenticity of a picture showing a soldier whipping a woman in central Harare, claiming the image was photoshopped.

"They can't even photoshop plausibly. They fabricate credits and superimpose them to certify lies," he tweeted.

Charamba's claims were immediately disapproved by fact-checking platform Zimfact that demonstrated that the picture was taken by Alpha Media Holdings photojournalist Shepherd Tozvireva. It was published by our sister publication NewsDay.

Charamba insisted in an interview with The Standard that the narrative that the government had gone on an onslaught against its critics was being pushed by exiled government ministers linked to a former Zanu-PF faction known as G40.

"Lies remain lies even if you try and ornament the digital graphics," he said.

"That is (Mnangagwa's) view.

"He can't be moved by digitally ornamented lies.

"It makes no difference to us, move on and as you can see they have come down on earth with a mighty thud."

Maimane said it would be difficult for the Mnangagwa administration to spin the latest human rights abuses as evidence was overwhelming.

"It is very clear that there is suppression of human rights in Zimbabwe and Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF cannot spin their way out ofthe actions they have committed," he said, denying accusations that he was being misled by G40.

The #ZimbabweLivesMatter hashtag has trended the whole week, gaining support from Zimbabweans from across the divide including young people.

Young people have been targeted by security forces, mostly arresting them in the early hours of the morning.

"Security forces are breaking into your house, kidnapping people and then bring them back tortured," Mantate Mlotshwa, an advocate of gender equality, equal rights and civil liberties, told DW.

"Zimbabweans are heartbroken beyond words," Mlotshwa said.

"If you can't say that a country is chaotic without getting arrested for it, what's the point of freedom of expression guaranteed in our constitution?"

The 25-year-old activist accused the state of deploying the police and military to intimidate locals who are trying to speak out.

"What does it take for the government to listen to us? They don't know how we feel, so we have got to tell them how we feel," Mlotshwa added.

Even before Mnangagwa's speech last week where he threatened to "flush out" his opponents, Zimbabwe's political situation was already polarised, Takura Zhangazha, an independent Zimbabwean blogger, said.

"The general public is mainly preoccupied with dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and economic survival," Zhangazha told DW.

Zimbabwe's economy is in crisis, dogged by a weak currency, fuel shortages and high inflation.

There is a bit of loss of hope in a better Zimbabwe, Mlotshwa said.

A lot of people say that if it weren't for Covid-19, they would be leaving Zimbabwe.

"I think it's an unfortunate place to be in. A nation where youth say they are done," she said.

"They're done with the country that causes them more pain than pride."

Mnangagwa issued a stern warning to his critics, saying he will flush out "bad apples" that are weakening his administration.

Rights activists said his words could be interpreted as a threat.

Those who know Mnangagwa say his current statements were not mere threats and they were not new.

"This sort of incendiary rhetoric may seem shocking, but in fact, it's the norm for Mnangagwa well before he was president," Jeffrey Smith, director of Vanguard Africa, a non-profit pro-democracy initiative, told DW.

When he was deputy president in 2015, Mnangagwa likened Zimbabwe's political opposition to Satan and announced to an assembled crowd in Midlands that "we have come to cleanse you of the sins of the MDC", Smith recalled.

Mnangagwa is also accused of being chief architect of Gukurahundi a series of massacres of Ndebele civilians carried out by the Zimbabwe National Army from early 1983 to late 1987. He was then minister of defence under Robert Mugabe.

"The most worrying aspect here is that these aren't just toxic words being espoused by a head of state," Smith said, adding that: "They are red flags, clear warnings of future action."

According to Smith, there is clear intent as evidenced by the decades of massive human rights abuses allegedly committed by Mnangagwa and the Zanu-PF regime.

"We hope it's not what we think it is," Nqaba Matshazi, of the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe chapter (Misa), told DW.

"We believe he [Mnangagwa] is going to target the opposition, target journalists, target lawyers, and target doctors," Matshazi said.

Misa, a non-profit organisation promoting media freedom and freedom of expression across the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region, has documented more than 25 violations against journalists and media workers between March and June 2020.

Several more cases have been reported before and during peaceful public protests on July 31.

"People are being abducted, arrested," detained, harassed and tortured, Matshazi said. "It always feeds into a powder keg and it seems it's going to explode any-
time soon."

Among those arrested was top Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga and Fadzayi Mahere, a lawyer and spokesperson for the main opposition party MDC-Alliance.

Both were charged with inciting public violence and released on bail.

In a surprise address on stateowned television, the Zimbabwean leader said his country's problems were being caused by his enemies who do not want his government to turn the country's misfortunes for the better.

"My administration has faced many hurdles since its inauguration. These include the divisive elements of some opposition elements, the illegal economic sanctions, cyclones, drought and most recently the deadly Covid-19 pandemic," Mnangagwa said.

"We will overcome attempts of destabilisation of our society by a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors," he added.

"Those who promote hate and disharmony will never win. The bad apples that have attempted to divide our people and weaken our system will be flushed out. Good shall triumph over evil."

Additional reporting by DW

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