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When governments label their critics terrorists we usually think of Brazil under President Jair Bolsonaro, Egypt under President Fattah al-Sisi, Nicaragua under President Daniel Ortega or Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Zimbabwe might have long been part of the club of authoritarian states that rule with an iron fist, violate human rights, and jail journalists and political opponents, but President Emmerson Mnangagwa has finally crossed the Rubicon by publicly calling his political opponents terrorists.
In a televised speech on Tuesday, Mnangagwa referred to the “destructive terrorist opposition groupings”, and “dark forces inside and outside Zimbabwe, that have tampered with the country’s growth for too long”. He vowed to “flush out his opponents”, as if Zimbabwe is in a war against an insurgency.
When the emperor has no clothes the tendency is to blame his country’s economic collapse, lack of basic services, soaring inflation, and unemployment on some elusive third force attempting to undermine or overthrow the government. The one thing it will never be is the ruling party’s fault.
South Africans have finally woken up to the plight of Zimbabwe’s people and begun an online social movement, #ZimbabweanLivesMatter.
Zimbabwe lives with the nightmare of trade unionists forced into hiding from state agents, members of the opposition being visited in their homes and abducted, tortured, and left for dead in the bushes, all too reminiscent of what happened in the dark days of apartheid.
Zimbabwe has resorted to abducting the family members of journalists and opposition members and holding them in police cells until their target comes to their rescue.
According to Amnesty International, on July 30, the police arrested the sister of investigative journalist Mdudzi Mathuthu and refused to release her until her brother came to the police station. Mathuthu is the editor of the online news site ZimLive.
Investigative journalism has apparently become a crime, especially if it is investigating corruption.
Zimbabwe Communist Party general secretary Ngqabutho Mabhena told journalists on Tuesday that the people were up against a state machine that was strong and ready to crush the opposition. He called for Zimbabweans to unite against corruption, particularly against those looting the Reserve Bank and asset stripping parastatals.
Mabhena said many union leaders remained in hiding, including the Amalgamated Rural Teacher’s Union president Obert Masaraure, and Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president Peter Mutasa. Two weeks ago, men down the doors of Masaraure’s home, kidnapped his wife and threatened her with death if she refused to reveal her husband’s whereabouts.
That was four days after a gang of men, who introduced themselves as state security agents, raided Masaraure’s uncle’s home and abducted his cousin, demanding his whereabouts.
Masaraure’s “crime” is his long-held vision of a Zimbabwe where labour justice and inclusive access to education is realised.
It was not long ago when South African trade unionists were in hiding and their comrades arrested and tortured in much the same way for demanding their rights and freedom.
They relied on their comrades in the region for support, much the same way that they are in Zimbabwe today.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media’s group foreign editor.