Human Rights in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has been enduring a political, economic and humanitarian crisis for at least 18 years. ACTSA supports and campaigns for human rights and sustainable and equitable development in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is in a political, economic and humanitarian crisis and has been for 18 years. Robert Mugabe was ousted by military intervention in November in 2017. Zanu PF continues to govern Zimbabwe as it has done since independence in 1980. The government is now a political/military government. The person who led the military intervention is vice president. National elections will take place by mid-August 2018.  The opposition is fragmented and the death of Morgan Tsvangirai the leader of the largest opposition party MDC(T) in February 2018 may led to further splits.

A CLOSER LOOK

What is the political/governance situation?

Mugabe was ousted by military intervention in November in 2017. Zanu PF continues to govern Zimbabwe as it has done since independence in 1980. The government is now a political/military government. The person who led the military intervention is vice president. National elections will take place by mid-August 2018.  The opposition is fragmented and the death of Morgan Tsvangirai the leader of the largest opposition party MDC(T) in February 2018 may led to further splits.

Prior to the coup Robert Mugabe was president of Zimbabwe. He was in power for 37 years. Mugabe was democratically elected in 1980 following The Lancaster Agreement which introduced democratic elections and led to Zimbabwe’s independence. Over the course of his time in power, he increasingly sought to consolidate his rule through coercion and force.

How did Zimbabwe arrive at this point?

In order to understand the current situation it is important to consider Zimbabwe’s history. During the colonial period whites governed Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, and refused to allow democracy. These whites made a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in 1965. This was only recognised by apartheid South Africa.  The UK and UN imposed sanctions. With no prospect of peaceful change a war of liberation was fought. In 1980 following negotiations, “the Lancaster House agreement”, and democratic elections independent Zimbabwe came into being.

Zanu, later Zanu PF led by Robert Mugabe won the first democratic election.  Land rights of whites were protected under the Lancaster House agreement and for the first 10 years whites had parliamentary seats reserved for them. Many viewed Zimbabwe with hope and promise as demonstrating reconciliation between former enemies. However the first signs of the violent consolidation of power came in the mid-1980s when there were terrible massacres by government forces against rival black nationalist/liberation party Zapu. The international community chose not raise the killings. Robert Mugabe continued as Prime Minister and subsequently became President pushing for a one party state. Whilst this never formally happened Zimbabwe increasingly resembled one with little internal opposition.

The next real challenge to Robert Mugabe’s increasingly consolidated power came when Zimbabwe endured an economic crisis in the early 1990s. The trade union movement became increasingly critical of the government and with other civil society organisations formed first a civil society pressure group, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and then a new political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Zanu PF portrayed this opposition as illegitimate, citing its own history as a (in their view, the) leader in the liberation struggle. Laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the ironically titled Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (AIPPA) were used to prevent freedom of organisation and expression. The institutions of the state were openly partisan in support of Zanu PF and against the opposition. Human rights activists were harassed, beaten detained, beaten and a number killed/disappeared. It is estimated three million people left or fled Zimbabwe between 1995-2015. It is difficult to get hard data but a very large number left.

What are the key socio-economic issues facing the country?

Reviving the Economy

From the mid-1990s Zimbabwe plunged into a financial crisis which has massively impacted the quality of life for Zimbabwean citizens.  This situation was partly created by the economic structural adjustment programme (ESAP) Zimbabwe adopted in 1990 under pressure from the IMF. This pushed many Zimbabweans into further poverty.

As the economic situation worsened, unemployment and inflation increased, public expenditure was reduced, the economy continued to contract, and the Zimbabwe dollar lost value against international currencies. Zimbabwe has never recovered. It could be argued the economy has bottomed out. The Zimbabwe dollar was abandoned as worthless and replaced by the US$ which is in short supply and South African rand.  The dire economic situation in the country today impacts the livelihoods of many Zimbabweans. There are massive cash shortages, many do not have access to basic products and in the public sector some workers have not received salaries for months.

A key challenge is to revive the economy, create decent jobs, control inflation and improve basic services.

Land Rights

The struggle for independence and ultimately liberation in Zimbabwe had at its heart civil, political, and economic rights in particular those relating to land. The best agricultural land in Zimbabwe was taken by white settlers with no or derisory compensation. The Lancaster House agreement contained clauses on land redistribution . A key principle was willing buyer, willing seller. Whilst there was some initial redistribution in the aftermath of independence the land issue became less of a priority.

However facing a failing economy and a burgeoning opposition, land rights were placed centre stage once again in the late 1990s, when the government stated that Zimbabweans were suffering because they were being punished by the colonial powers for raising land rights. The government  began endorsing seizure of land, farms.

In the short-term agricultural production dropped significantly as did foreign exchange with little cash crop production. Some argue agricultural production is now back to 1998 levels. Land and especially productive land needed to be redistributed but many condemn how it was done and who benefited the most. There is no going back to pre-1998 land distribution. Zimbabwe needs a productive, fair and sustainable agricultural sector.

Minerals

Zimbabwe has significant mineral wealth e.g coal, platinum, diamonds. Large amounts of recent major diamond discoveries were looted by those with good political connections.

The minerals need to be mined in a sustainable and much less exploitative way with the benefits coming to ordinary Zimbabweans.

What is the situation for women and girls?

Women in Zimbabwe, like women across Southern Africa, do many tasks and take on many roles. They run the home, they care for children and elderly, they work – some of which is paid, whilst some work for food or non-cash items, and others on family land. Girls also generally complete fewer years of formal schooling than boys.

However, the situation for women in Zimbabwe does differ in some respects from women in neighbouring countries. Before 2000 notably more Zimbabwean women were in paid employment than in the majority of neighbouring countries. However, women have borne the brunt of the economic collapse and significantly fewer women are now in formal employment, especially in the private sector.

Another consequence of the economic crisis was the widespread emigration of Zimbaweans from the country. It is estimated that more than three million Zimbabweans left between the years 1995 to 2015, the majority of whom are thought to be men, leaving more women in Zimbabwe.

Finally, like all Zimbabweans the economic crisis has presented difficulties for women in accessing some basic goods. Prior to the crisis women in Zimbabwe, particularly those in urban areas, did have access to sanitary protection. The economic crisis led to shortages of sanitary pads and even if available they became unaffordable for many women. See our  campaign Dignity!Period for more information.

WHERE DOES ACTSA STAND?

ACTSA engages in advocacy with the UK government and European Union, promoting policies to improve human rights and reduce poverty. We produce reports and analysis on Zimbabwe. We support Zimbabwean human rights defenders and civil society activists, promoting their struggles through our website, social media, E-updates and organising visits to the UK. We are members of the Zimbabwe Europe Network which lobbies the EU and member states. We also highlight the situation and role of women through our Dignity!Period campaign which provides sanitary protection to women in Zimbabwe.