Zimbabwe president vows to ‘flush out’ opponents

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has vowed to "flush out" any "bad apples" as his regime cracks down on dissent AFP/File

Harare – Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Tuesday warned he would “flush out” opponents as rights groups reported dozens of activists had been arrested in a crackdown on dissent.

Mnangagwa, who took over from longtime ruler Robert Mugabe after a coup in November 2017, said his administration was facing “many hurdles and attacks” including “divisive politics of some opposition elements”.

“The bad apples who have attempted to divide our people and to weaken our systems will be flushed out,” he warned in an impromptu nationwide address.

“We will overcome attempts at destabilisation of our society by a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors.”

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Tuesday it had represented more than 20 people arrested since last week when authorities thwarted anti-government protests that had been scheduled for last Friday.

The protests had been called by opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume, the head of a small party called Transform Zimbabwe, against alleged state corruption and the country’s slumping economy.

The police banned the protests, which the government described as an “insurrection”.

“We make no apologies for fixing our systems across the socio-economic and political spectrum,” Mnangagwa said from the State House in the capital Harare.

Among those arrested was top Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga and Fadzayi Mahere, a lawyer and spokeswoman for the main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-Alliance).

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

MDC-Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti said the situation had become “untenable”.

He condemned the regime for “closing political space”, engaging “massively in corruption” and “abusing the constitution”.

“We are at a tipping point, something is going to give,” Biti told AFP, warning that another military coup could be “around the corner”.

– ‘It really is scary’ –

The latest government clampdown sparked outrage on social media with the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter trending worldwide on Twitter since Monday.

Celebrities and politicians across the globe have posted outrage over the arrests and condemned the long-standing repression of protest movements in Zimbabwe.

Soldiers opened fire on demonstrations over delayed election results shortly before Mnangagwa officially took office in 2018, killing at least six and injuring dozens.

Another 17 protesters were shot dead in January last year during a march against rising fuel prices that was dispersed by the army.

Activists and opposition figures are regularly kidnapped by suspected government agents and some are physically abused.

“This pattern is becoming established,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Human Rights Watch director for Southern Africa.

“Security forces (are) being complicit in abductions, in torture, in harassment and in silencing government critics.”

Mavhinga was worried Mnangagwa’s harsh rhetoric could be the sign of an even greater crackdown.

“It really is scary,” he told AFP. “We are likely to see an escalation in attacks in government critics because this is what has happened in the past.”

– ‘Ruthless government’ –

Amnesty International has meanwhile condemned what it calls the “witch-hunt and repression of peaceful dissent.”

Zimbabwean human rights activist Jestina Mukoko deplored the lack of accountability in both government and police forces.

“We are suffering repression and criminalisation of our rights work,” she said, adding that democracy had been “compromised”.

Activist Douglas Mahiya noted that “state agents” had used violence against a “peaceful demonstration”.

“This is the most ruthless government with no respect for its people,” said Mahiya, who heads a coalition of 80 local civil society groups. “It is as clueless as it is brutal.”

South African radical opposition leader Julius Malema on Tuesday demanded the immediate closure of the Zimbabwean Embassy “until they restore the human rights in that country”.

Zimbabwean political scientist Richard Mahomva suggested Mnangagwa was acting to defend himself from a “regime-change project”.

“There are indications of a huge role of state intelligence (against) anti-establishment elements,” Mahomva acknowledged.

“This could be emanating from the traditional, but now upscaled existential threat posed to the ruling (party).”


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