Social Anthropology of Zimbabwe

Social Anthropology of Human Rights in Zimbabwe and the Impact of COVID-19

Zimbabwe is known for cricket, national parks like Mana Pools and Hwange, the largest man-made lake like Lake Kariba, and even the largest waterfall, known as Victoria Falls. However Zimbabwe’s social anthropology is something that has dictated the continuous decline of the human rights predicament in 2020 under the presidency of Emmerson Mnangawa. This article will cover the impact of COVID on human rights.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the President of Zimbabwe
Emmerson Mnangagwa, the President of Zimbabwe

The government of Zimbabwe misused the regulations for Coronavirus pandemic to justify their actions to restrict the rights to peacefully assemble and freedom of expression. They positioned armed forces to abduct, torture and assault their precept critics, opposition leaders or members. The security agents and the police assassinated at least ten people refused to proper maternal health care and the violence against girls and women was spread widely. 

The social anthropology of Zimbabwe dictates that as the security forces were constantly and arbitrarily arresting people, in July of 2020, Jacob Ngarivhume, the leader of the Transform Zimbabwe Party and the eminent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono were arrested too for announcing a nationwide protest for anti-corruption. In July, the police brutally dispersed the protests where more than sixty protesters were arrested and sixteen were injured. Therefore, it is imminent for us to know about the social anthropology of Zimbabwe and the various human rights issues the county’s plagued with.

Social Anthropology of Zimbabwe

In the official gazette, a constitutional amendment was passed in January where the President could hand-pick the judges to the higher courts which weakened the oversight of financial agreement of the Parliament entered into by the authorities. On March 30th, the government implemented severe movement restrictions to prevent the spreading of COVID-19 that started for three weeks initially but eventually extended throughout the whole year. As the rules and any other information of the lockdown were unclear, the imposing of said lockdown seemed arbitrary. On July 21st, a curfew from six pm to six am was implemented in the entire nation. 

The pandemic worsened the economic crisis in Zimbabwe and the government was incapable of providing social security to the most vulnerable people. According to the United Nation, 4.3 million people were seriously food insecure and 7 million people needed humanitarian assists.

protesters getting arrested: social anthropology of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga and a colleague Julie Barnes hold placards as they are arrested in Harare, July 31.

The opposition members declared “July 31” protest against economic difficulties, alleged state corruption and they also demanded the resignation of the President in the country. The nation was captured in political turmoil which led to multiple social crises in Zimbabwe that I will discuss thoroughly in this post today.

Ill-Treatment, Torture and Abuses in the Social Anthropology of Zimbabwe

In the last year, there were unresolved cases of abuses and abductions with torture of the critics of the government which increased in number without the perpetrator being brought to justice. During 2020, more than seventy critics were abducted and released later by unrecognized men who were suspected to be government security agents. 

Police abuse in social anthropology of Zimbabwe
Abuse of Police
Credit: Al Jazeera

During the early period of the protest in July, security guards had raided the home of a prominent journalist named Mduduzi Mathuthu who was also the editor of an online newspaper called Zimlive. Despite not finding him, they arrested the family members including his nephew Tawanda Muchehiwa who was allegedly tortured by the security agents that resulted in kidney injury and other severe injuries.

On 18th September, the leader of ZINASU or Zimbabwe National Students Union Takudzwa Ngadziore was attacked, abducted and assaulted by a few men while protesting against the attack of Muchehiwa in a press conference and was later arrested by the police for starting public violence. 

Absence of Accountability in Zimbabwe

In 2020, the authorities had still failed in doing justice to the victims of abduction and torture of the previous year. Unclosed cases where there was no accountability involve the abduction of Dr. Peter Magombeyi by unrecognizable attackers on 14th September, 2019. He fled the country after being held for four days. He was the leader of Zimbabwe Hospitals Doctors Association or ZADHR and organized several protests for increasing the salary of the health care workers.  

The social anthropology of Zimbabwe indicates that the administration of Mnangagwa has so far failed to impose the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry that was built to investigate the encompassing violence in the consequence of the elections of 2018. 

The commission had presented their report to the president and discovered that six people were dead along with thirty six injured by the hands of the security agents of the government. It was also recommended that the guilty parties should be held accountable and the families of the victims should be compensated. 

The Impact of COVID-19

During last year, the government of Zimbabwe had failed to provide a constant and affordable access to water throughout the country during coronavirus lockdown. The provision of safe water is a significant measure to fight Coronavirus. The longtime sanitization and water crisis in Zimbabwe was exacerbated by the pandemic and the eventual lockdown by the government on 30th March to slow down the spreading.

In the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare including the cosmopolitan regions Norton, Ruwa, Epworth, Chitungwiza have no access to adequate waste, or wastewater disposal services or safe drinking water. Thousands of women and children had to spend long periods at the narrow water wells and crowded boreholes to get safe, clean water.

COVID-19 in Zimbabwe in the social anthropology of Zimbabwe
A woman has her temperature checked by a healthcare worker during a nationwide lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a mass screening and testing centre, in Harare, Zimbabwe April 30, 2020.

The spread of the pandemic poses great threat against the detention centers and prisons in Zimbabwe. The facilities remained overcrowded, unsanitary and with no running water for the detainees in the cells and no access to hygiene measurements to curb off the spread of the disease. In March, the government acknowledged that though the prisons had the capacity of holding seventeen thousand prisoners, it is overcrowded as it holds twenty-two thousand. 

The social anthropology of Zimbabwe has discovered the release of four thousand and two hundred and eight prisoners by the government under an amnesty order by the President. Though masks were issued in the prisons but many detainees and wardens did not use them due to the lack of comprehension about the necessity of wearing masks in this pandemic.

Social Anthropology of Zimbabwe in Protecting Human Rights

Freedom of Expression

The government has abused the restrictions for COVID-19 to limit human rights and restrict civic space. Section 14 of Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 on Public Health Regulations criminalized the spreading of false news of Coronavirus and implemented a massive fine or a prison sentence of twenty years. 

From Chitungwiza, Lovemore Zvokusekwa was arrested in April for spreading lies about COVID-19 claimed to be from the President, like extension of lockdown. Later, the President stated that he should be in prison for twenty years as an example to others. Though he dealt with a trial that is pending further investigation by the prosecution, he was free on remand.

Social Anthropology of Zimbabwe
A student and human rights activist holds a banner during a peaceful protest in Harare, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.

The government utilized more provisions to criminalize people’s peaceful right to express themselves fully which involves disrespecting the president or “undermining the authority of the President” in order to stop the criticism of the authorities on social media. Furthermore, the Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army declared in March that social media is dangerous for national security and the military would also use private electronic conversations for surveillance to protect the government against subversion. In April, from the town of Chipinge, Christian Rambu was apprehended for forwarding a message on Whatsapp about the incompetence of the President. From Kariba, Rujeko Hither Mupambwa was captured because he criticized the address made by the President to the country on social media.

Freedom of Assembly in the Social Anthropology of Zimbabwe

The government prohibited demonstrations in the times of lockdowns by using the Section 14 of Statutory Instrument of 83 of 2020 on Public Health. In between March and August, the security agents locked down the roads leading to the central business area in Harare to obstruct protests supporting the renowned activists facing unjust trials. In Harare, the police also held people at gunpoint, demanding bribery and also had beaten them for breaking regulations of the lockdown.

Many people were apprehended for participating or organizing peaceful demonstrations which involved activists such as Vongai Zimudzi and Namatai Kwekweza. They were apprehended in June for peacefully demonstrating against the constitutional amendments. At Harare’s Sally Mugabe Central Hospital in July, at least seventeen nurses were charged for breaking lockdown protocol as they were protesting against low salary and poor working situations. They were all found not guilty of their alleged crimes.

Rights to Justice, Truth and Reparation

Many activists, civic society members, lawyers and opposition party members are accusing the government of Zimbabwe to misuse the power of judicial system to harass and torture the percepted critics of the authorities and the opponents. Statutory instruments were utilized to not receive the basic constitutional rights.

For instance Coronavirus restrictions resulted in early court closing, seemingly to allow the staff to go home before the curfew starts. As a consequence, the hearings were ensuingly adjourned and the activists and perceived critics couldn’t get bail and were held in detention before the trial actually happened.  In Masvingo, an MDC-A councilor Godfrey Kurauone spent more than five weeks in prison for “insulting” the President.

Right to Health 

Total one hundred and six maternal deaths were recorded in the social anthropology of Zimbabwe between March and June. The cause of death was mostly movement restriction as the pregnant women couldn’t get access to necessary services. It was reported that in July, a woman from Chitungwiza had to bribe a police officer to get through a roadblock and to the hospital because she was in labor.

The authorities did not release the numbers of COVID-19 positive health workers until August and the numbers have reached four hundred and eighty cases. It was in September when the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had reported a reduction in accessing the vital healthcare facilities as a result of Coronavirus outbreak among healthcare employees and a want of PPE. 

Dying from a lack of medicine
Dying from a lack of medicine
Credit: the United Nation

From the front-line health workers, calls for adequate PPE and effective medicines went unheard. The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights took their case to the high court that ordered the authorities to provide proper PPE to the front-line healthcare workers.

Major International Actors in the Social Anthropology of Zimbabwe

Proceeding the police violence on the protests for anti-corruption in July, the governing of South Africa African National Congress had dispatched a delegation of high level to Zimbabwe that is led by the party’s Secretary General Ace Magashule. It was sent to find a resolution for the country’s social, political and economic crisis. The team had some severe concerns for the deteriorating situation of human rights in Zimbabwe. In August, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had appointed two special representatives to find a solution in which South Africa could assist Zimbabwe.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, who is the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) expressed his concerns about multiple reports on the use of brute force of the security agents of the government to enforce the emergency measurement for COVID-19. Mahamat requested the government of Zimbabwe to practice restraint in their reply to the peaceful protests. 

In May, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States asked for a “swift, thorough and credible investigation” into the abduction and abuse of the opposition member of the Parliament Joana Mamombe alongside Netsai Marova, and Cecilia Chimbiri. They also called for investigation into the accusations of the assault of Ntombizodwa Mpofu and Nokuthula in Bulawayo.

75 years of the UN
75 years of the UN

In July, a spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights raised their concern about the allegations where it was claimed that the Zimbabwean government perhaps using the pandemic as a pretext to subdue peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and association. In June, the human rights experts of the UN asked Zimbabwe to end immediately a reported pattern of forceful disappearances and abuse that are aimed at clamping down on dissent and protests.

Now, we are at the end! Hopefully, I have given you a bird’s eye view of social anthropology of Zimbabwe and the crisis it’s facing. If you want to know more please visit here. Until then, travel safe, be safe.

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