Zimbabwe opposition faces wave of arrests after disputed voteThu, 21 Sep 2023 10:40:29 GMT

In the photo that got him arrested, Gift Ostallos Siziba is sporting wide sunglasses and the jersey of his favourite football team, Zimbabwe’s Highlanders.”We fear fokol” (slang for “nothing”) read the caption the opposition lawmaker posted on social media this month, as the squad from Bulawayo readied to face its bitter rivals, the Dynamos. After the match was suspended over a pitch invasion, police held Siziba on accusations of inciting public violence.The opposition says his arrest is one of a string of cases brought to intimidate it after last month’s disputed election.Leading opposition party the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) says more than a dozen people affiliated with it, including MPs and councillors, have been arrested since the August 23 vote, which saw President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the ruling ZANU-PF secure a second term.”They’re fabricated, politically motivated and frivolous,” CCC spokesman Promise Mkwananzi told AFP, of the cases targeting fellow party members.”Mnangagwa is trying to coerce our party.”Critics have long accused ZANU-PF — in power since independence in 1980 — of using the courts to target opposition politicians and silence dissent.Police spokesman Paul Nyathi denied authorities targeted the CCC, saying they were “simply following protocols” by responding to reports of wrongdoing.”If we don’t arrest suspects after matters have been reported, the public will complain that we are sleeping on the job. So as the police, we are doing our job,” he said.The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. – ‘Forced to leave’ – Mnangagwa, 81, won 52.6 percent of the vote, against 44 percent for CCC leader Nelson Chamisa, 45, according to official results. International observers, including from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional bloc that usually endorses polls in member countries, said the election fell short of democratic standards. The CCC said the result was “flawed, shambolic and illegal” and has demanded a new vote. Many of its members have since run into trouble.Womberaishe Nhende, a newly elected local councillor from a Harare suburb and a relative were abducted, tortured and dumped naked near a river by suspected government agents earlier this month, according to rights groups. Two lawyers representing them were later arrested on charges of obstructing justice. Mkwananzi, the CCC spokesman, is currently in self-imposed exile after a 2020 arrest warrant against him for “defaulting court proceedings” resurfaced.The case, which he said had been resolved, related to alleged incitement of public violence.”I was forced to leave,” he said. Siziba — who is Mkwananzi’s deputy — appeared in court last week and was granted bail. His lawyer said he is yet to be officially charged over the pitch invasion, which saw police scuffle with football supporters, as investigations are ongoing. But he was slapped with additional charges for allegedly defacing campaign posters of another candidate.Harare’s newly elected deputy mayor Kudzai Kadzombe and MP Maureen Kademaunga are among others to have been arrested in recent weeks.Kadzombe was released on bail, while a court freed Kademaunga saying there was no evidence.- ‘Jumpy’ government -Political analysts say the government is “still quite jumpy” after the vote, which the opposition claims to have won. Nicole Beardsworth, from South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, said arresting MPs could help ZANU-PF force by-elections.The party, once led by the late Robert Mugabe, is currently 10 lawmakers short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution. “It’s also an attempt to keep the CCC occupied and intimidated, to ensure that there are no protests,” Beardsworth said.Mkwananzi said the government’s aim was to force the CCC to “capitulate into some negotiations” or to “decimate” it.The party hopes the SADC will back its calls for fresh elections and has urged it to mediate in the political crisis.But Justice Mavedzenge, a Zimbabwean scholar, said there was no consensus on the matter within the bloc. Some SADC countries have congratulated Mnangagwa on his re-election — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa used his speech at the UN General Assembly this week to call for the lifting of Western sanctions against Zimbabwe.”There is no chance that the CCC will be able to overturn the results,” Mavedzenge said.Rather than intimidation, he said the arrests could be down to “overzealous” police eager to show their loyalty to the president and his party.