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‘Sad day for Zimbabwe’ as Mnangagwa passes ‘draconian’ law to silence critics ahead of August poll

‘Sad day for Zimbabwe’ as Mnangagwa passes ‘draconian’ law to silence critics ahead of August poll
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa. (Photo: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

Zimbabwe has enacted a new law that seeks to curtail citizens’ freedom of expression just a month before the country heads to the polls on 23 August, with political pundits saying the new statute would be used to target government critics and human rights defenders.

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday signed into law a bill that imposes penalties on citizens who portray a negative image of the country, ignoring a chorus of disapproval from opposition parties and pro-democracy groups.

The Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill, commonly referred to as the Patriotic Bill, punishes Zimbabweans for “wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe.”

The enactment of the new law, which has been described by critics as “draconian”, comes only a few weeks before the country holds general elections that some observers say have already been undermined by politically motivated violence and an uneven playing field.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights spokesperson, Kumbirai Mafunda, described the latest move by President Mnangagwa as a “sad day for democracy” in Zimbabwe.

“We are saddened that Zimbabwe is taking a route that is retrogressive in terms of hampering citizens from exercising their rights. It’s a sad day for Zimbabwe; it’s a sad day for democracy. We are quite taken aback by a government that had made promises that it will enhance or make people enjoy their rights. We are seeing this happening towards an election and this shows that the government does not want any constructive criticism and constructive advice,” Mafunda said.

Another human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, criticised the enactment of the new law saying it was an impediment to the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms enshrined in the country’s constitution.

‘Disturbing’ crackdown on human rights

“It is deeply concerning and signals a disturbing crackdown on Zimbabweans’ rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The weaponisation of the law is a desperate and patent move to curtail the rights to freedom of expression and to public participation in elections due in August,” said Flavia Mangovya, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East and southern Africa.

Mangovya said it was worrying that the new law “would also give authorities greater powers to unduly restrict human rights adding that it would allow for imposing the death penalty against those perceived as being critical of the government, including political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, civil society leaders opposition parties and whistleblowers.”

You don’t legislate patriotism; patriotism is something that comes from a sense of pride, a sense of dignity, a sense of belonging.

Nelson Chamisa, leader of the main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party, described the enactment of the new law as a desperate attempt by the Mnangagwa administration to justify its omissions and commissions.

“You don’t legislate patriotism; patriotism is something that comes from a sense of pride, a sense of dignity, a sense of belonging. It’s not done by putting a piece of legislation,” said Chamisa.

Government says law is ‘necessary’

According to Mnangagwa’s government, it was concerned by Zimbabweans who were collaborating with foreign forces to impose sanctions on the country; therefore it was necessary to enact this law.

Zanu-PF spokesperson Christopher Mutsvangwa was not immediately available for comment ,but a senior party activist Peter Tangi told Daily Maverick that the law was necessary.

“This all started when some Zimbabwean citizens called for sanctions from America, Britain and other countries in the West. Every country has its own principles and we will not allow Zimbabweans who call for punitive measures … on Zimbabwe to allow the West to effect regime change in our country,” Tangi said.

‘Leadership crisis’

However, Chamisa said Zimbabwe’s problems emanated from a leadership crisis in the country.

“Government is the biggest sanction in Zimbabwe and we have to remove all sanctions starting with corruption, starting with the [current] government, starting with those who are causing problems and nightmares,” added Chamisa.

Lloyd Damba, the spokesperson for MDCT leader Douglas Mwonzora, said his party would push for the law to be repealed.

“We are going to have that law repealed because it is draconian, it is archaic and it is not in sync with the democratic principles of any nation globally,” Damba said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    But hang on, wag ‘n bietjie, can’t this ridiculous law be used to take the Neo Mugabe and his corrupt mates to court themselves for bringing down the country’s good name? Now that would be interesting. The biters bit.

    • Rod McLeman says:

      Spot on😊

    • Cally Heal says:

      Good thought! Absolutely. Or is it one rule for those in power
      and another rule for the rest of us ?

    • Adam B says:

      That might be true if the law was applied equally to all members of society. Here are 2 examples to show how this is not the case.

      Job Sikhala (a lawyer and an opposition MP) has being held in a maximum security prison, denied bail, for over a year. He has applied for bail 15 times and been repeatedly denied. Somewhat ironically, he is accused of obstructing the course of justice because he accused ZANU-PF supporters of murdering a CCC activist. From June 2022 to May 2023 the state didn’t even bring the case to trial while Mr. Sikhala endured the terrible conditions in an overcrowded Zimbabwean prison.

      Henrietta Rushwaya (Mnangagwa’s niece) was arrested in October 2020 at the Harare airport departure lounge because she had 6kg of gold in her hand luggage. She was released on bail without spending a day behind bars. She was eventually charged with bribing an airport official and found not guilty.

  • Chris 123 says:

    Is anyone surprised, especially when the opposition look as though they have a chance.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Not surprising in the least …he’s learnt the lesson of Political capture well from Putin. He will do anything to stay in power to reap the rewards promised once the BRICS countries get their hands on Zimbabwe’s vast Lithium deposits!

  • John Smythe says:

    Almost all African leaders have failed their own people for centuries at every conceivable level. They criticise the west, but embrace its lifestyle while denying their citizens the same pleasures. Why should this crocodile be any different?

  • Bryan Macpherson says:

    Same old, same old – and the ANC will be taking pointers, you can be sure.

    • Francois Smith says:

      Cyril will congratulate Mnangagwa and declare the election as free and fair and allow at least one junior on the staff of Mnangagwa to sit on his presidential staff and enjoy the ride.

  • Craig King says:

    Oh well, there goes another chance for political change through democratic means. ZANU-PF will never allow itself to be beaten at the ballot box no matter how many votes the opposition gets. Chamisa will lose once more with honour but it’s still losing. The criminal enterprise that is ZANU-PF will always prevail because it knows no limits. Aluta continua.

  • Trevor Thompson says:

    So much for free and fair elections in the near future …….. already the results are tarnished.

  • James Lang says:

    And the silence from Ramaphosa and his ANCronies will be deafening. As our criminal ex President gets “treatment” in Russia, that other bastion of democracy

    • Alan Paterson says:

      It will be more than deafening. Given their track record with the great liberator Mugabe the ANC will likely trumpet “free and fair” post-election despite the even more likely international condemnation. Birds of a feather? Most likely vultures, both ZANU and ANC. (With apologies to vultures that carry out essential tasks.)

  • Gerrie Pretorius says:

    And our “democratic” anc rulers have nothing to say about the suppression of human rights in Zim?!?

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Look at your future, my fellow South Africans. Incompetent thieves resorting to violent silencing of citizens. What is the useless DA doing? Precisely nothing. Freedom Front Plus

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