Zimbabwe slides into new authoritarianism

Zimbabwe slides into new authoritarianism
Published: 15 March 2019 (181 Views)
The assessment of Zimbabwe's "Second Republic" under President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been overshadowed by the violence of August 1 2018 and mid-January 2019. On both occasions, Zimbabwe's military intervened to suppress violent protests, using live ammunition and gunning down six fleeing civilians during the first demonstrations and a reported 17 in the second.

The brutal response of the military, under Mnangagwa's ultimate command, has obscured other alarming marks of his authoritarian style of governance. This doesn't come as a surprise. In his last few months in Robert Mugabe's government, Mnangagwa was the driving force behind two anti-democratic changes to Zimbabwean law.

One was an amendment to the constitution that sharply curtailed the independence of the judiciary. It reduced the involvement of the Judicial Service Commission in the appointments of the chief justice and judge president of the High Court to one of consultation only, essentially placing the power solely in the hands of the president.

The power to appoint the judge president was of equal importance to that of the chief justice. The judge president wields enormous influence through his discretion to allocate cases to puisne judges, giving politically sensitive cases to "right-thinking" judges.
The second change spearheaded by Mnangagwa was a legislative one that severely undermined the prosecutor-general's independence. This was done by removing the right to mount private prosecutions, which had worked as a barrier to political interference in the prosecutor-general's decision to prosecute.

Both changes to the law are in accordance with the general modus operandi of Zanu-PF administrations, where government thinks only in terms of institutions that are part of or controlled by government. It is extremely uncomfortable with any institution that claims independence.

The Mnangagwa administration has shown itself to be as bad, if not worse, than that of Mugabe in this regard. The functioning of the "independent" commissions, established under Zimbabwe's 2013 constitution, is a clear example. Members of Mnangagwa's cabinet are responsible for "administering" the "enabling act" of each commission. In this way, commissions' finances, and thus operations, are controlled.

The chairperson of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission recently made a frank admission that "you find independence cannot be total per se" and that he is "answerable" to Vice-President Kembo Mohadi.

Government also exercises undue control over the secretariat of the commissions. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is run by a secretariat comprising many Zanu-PF loyalists, many of whom have military backgrounds. As the 2018 polls made abundantly clear, the commissioners function largely as the public relations department, doing damage control for displays of partisanship in managing polls.
The commission heads are appointed by the president.

Justice Rita Makarau, whose family was known to be close to that of Mugabe - and who as Zec chairperson thought it appropriate to sink to her knees when addressing Mugabe "as a sign of respect" - headed the commission until Mugabe's ousting. That she then apparently found her position untenable and resigned, speaks volumes about the position's lack of independence.

The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has not fared much better. Mnangagwa found it expedient to move the administration of the enabling Act from the Minister of Home Affairs to the Office of the President and Cabinet.

If the commission were operating independently, it should have been irrelevant who administered the Act. When this move did not have the desired effect, Mnangagwa publicly accused all the commissioners of being corrupt. Under the constitution, commissioners can only be removed by a tribunal established for the purpose. This proved entirely unnecessary. The commissioners all obediently and immediately resigned.

The conduct of Zimbabwe's lower courts after the January protests showed the magistracy equally compromised and intimidated. It allowed the judicial process to be used for repression. People were hauled arbitrarily before the courts by the police, routinely denied bail and subjected to fast-tracked mass trials that allowed little time to prepare a defence.

In one of these cases, the prosecutor - when the magistrate asked the obligatory question as to why he was opposing bail - thought it sufficed to say he had been instructed to do so by Zimbabwe's military commander. Sixty percent of the National Prosecuting Authority's staff have been seconded from the military.

Reacting to criticism of arbitrary and brutal conduct of the military during the January protests, acting prosecutor-general Kumbirai Hodzi tried to airbrush the issue, stating that no "law-abiding citizen" had been killed.

This was not enough to gain Mnangagwa's complete trust, however. On swearing in Hodzi to the substantive post, the president warned him against thinking he could operate independently: "I want you to know the difference between the aspirational and what is termed realpolitik. Independence is an aspiration, it's not a reality … Anyway, let me clarify things for you, my dear.

"We have three pillars of the state, namely the judiciary, the legislature and the executive.

"I am the face of the executive and don't get influenced by me as the head of the executive or by the chief justice as the head of the judiciary or by the speaker of the National Assembly as the head of the legislature.

"But then, do you also know that I am the head of state and that when I operate at that level, all these three pillars are below me? So if you see yourself disregarding that saying you are indepen
dent and not come to seek advice from me as the head of state, then there is a problem."

With the advent of Mnangagwa, some predicted that Zimbabwe would become a developmental authoritarian state - a la Rwanda. So far, they have the authoritarian part right. - Daily Maverick/Institute of Security Studies (South Africa).

Matyszak is a senior research consultant, ISS.

- the independent


You May Like These Videos


There are no comments.

Latest stories

Prophet Makandiwa mansion raises eyebrows

by Staff Reporter | 22 July 2019 | 62 Views

Exposed Ramaphosa reacts to Public Protector's report

by Staff Reporter | 22 July 2019 | 41 Views

UCE graduation ceremony

by Dr. A. Luthuli | 22 July 2019 | 43 Views

ZERA looking to remote fuel monitoring system

by Staff reporter | 22 July 2019 | 46 Views

The corruption commission

by Clemen Moyo | 22 July 2019 | 53 Views

Government speaks on Auxilia Mnangagwa - Army fallout

by Mandla Ndlovu | 21 July 2019 | 192 Views

Chinamasa's world up in flames

by Mandla Ndlovu | 21 July 2019 | 175 Views

Teachers to shutdown schools on Monday

by Mandla Ndlovu | 21 July 2019 | 152 Views

Zimbabwe govt licenses companies for riverbank mining

by Staff Reporter | 21 July 2019 | 99 Views

ZCTU proceeds with demo preps

by newzimbabwe | 21 July 2019 | 148 Views

Mnangagwa pledges support for women's projects

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 90 Views

Mthuli Ncube needs to work his magic on inflation

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 113 Views

'The electorate believes in Zanu-PF'

by STaff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 95 Views

Mnangagwa gets Sadc boost

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 103 Views

Power shortage hits mobile phone services

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 79 Views

City fathers or city dealers at council chambers?

by Limukani Ncube | 21 July 2019 | 89 Views

Bulawayo residents call for dissolution of council

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 82 Views

Nust bursar suspended

by Staff reportet | 21 July 2019 | 82 Views

Mid-air scare for fastjet passengers

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 79 Views

Exploring the causes of Gukurahundi

by Dr Obert Mpofu | 21 July 2019 | 107 Views

Lobels shut down Bulawayo plant again

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 96 Views

Harare demands 30-year-old debt from Zesa

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 77 Views

Kalanga lobby group to produce textbooks

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 75 Views

Govt moves to tackle gold leakages

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 68 Views

Mthuli Ncube to rescue closed mines

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 84 Views

Zimbabwe reels as 18-hr power cuts

by Staff rpeorter | 21 July 2019 | 119 Views

Kirsty Coventry denies interference

by AFP | 21 July 2019 | 60 Views

Zimbabwe removes barriers to solar energy expansion

by Thompson Reuters Foundation | 21 July 2019 | 109 Views

Zimbabwe food crisis an emergency, says UN

by VOA/ UN News | 21 July 2019 | 58 Views

Can Bosso's Prince rise again?

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 36 Views

CIO operative harasses journalists

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 35 Views

Save Bulawayo from vultures

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 70 Views

The pig in Mthuli Ncube's bacon

by Zifiso Masiye | 21 July 2019 | 91 Views

Mnangagwa ally faces probe in $3bn scandal

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 48 Views

Power outage cripples Econet services

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 56 Views

Lobengula descendants demand State House

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 47 Views

Zanu-PF vote-buying scandal raises alarm

by Staff reporter | 21 July 2019 | 66 Views