Zimbabwe’s march to an illusory freedom and impact on UK asylum claimants

Witting or unwittingly, on 18 November 2017,  the Zimbabwean people’s  march contributed to the rejuvenation of power and control within ZANU (PF).  Variously dubbed the “Mugabe must fall march”, or  the “solidarity march”,  the Zimbabwean populace as willing participants in  a pre-hatched orchestrated  plan to which they were not  privy to, subsequently  sung, danced and bayed  for Mugabe’s ouster.

Just like Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth with her unquenchable thirst for power, Grace Mugabe domineeringly and manipulatively seemed on the verge of an unstoppable rise to power. It took the military’s show of power to abruptly and humiliatingly strike down her naked ambition.  Grace’s arrogance, aggressiveness and capacity to emasculate ultimately proved repugnant.  The  military  unleashed  a sophisticated  intervention  which saw Mugabe  ushered out,  with Mnangagwa  making a  heroic return, and as if by  rightful  entitlement, taking  the  seat of power which  earlier  appeared to have eluded him.

 

Now foisted with  an unelected  president,  dragging along with him  from his not so long ago  past, an unsavoury record  of human rights violations,  the road to Zimbabwe’s walk to a true  democracy  calls into question whether on 18 November 2017, Zimbabweans began a march towards an  illusory freedom.

 

Ironically, as matters stand, it would appear that the current targeting and harassment of G40  cabal members could result in such members, if  landed in the UK, possibly legitimately putting  forward   claims for asylum, even likely to be  granted  protection.

 

Could some G40 cabal members really  fall into risk categories?

 

The Home office will at some point this year publish a new Country Information Note, more so  following on from the events of November 2017  in Zimbabwe. It is expected the report will also set out what the UK government considers are the categories of claimants  that  may likely be at risk on return to Zimbabwe.

 

Speculative though it may seem, it should not be surprising,  having regard to the  current incessant purging and arrest of  known  G40  members  by Mnangagwa’s  government, that such persons  can  arguably  be stated to be at risk of persecution.  The current Information Note,  Country policy and information note: opposition to the government, Zimbabwe, January 2017, states that People First, lead by the former ZANU-PF vice president, Joice Mujuru,  have been subjected to harassment, discrimination, arbitrary arrest, abduction and physical abuse.  Of course in some cases, refugee exclusion clauses might apply, however if  persecuted members of People First can potentially be granted  protection in the UK, outrageous though it might seem to some,  so too can  targeted G40  members where  they can  also evidence that  the following applies:

 

  • a legal, administrative, police, or judicial measure which in itself is discriminatory or which is implemented in a discriminatory manner;

  • prosecution or punishment, which is disproportionate or discriminatory;

  • denial of judicial redress resulting in a disproportionate or discriminatory punishment;

The 2017 Home Office Country Information Note clarifies further as follows:

 

“4.3.6 The International Crisis Group report, ‘Zimbabwe: Stranded in Stasis’, published on 29 February 2016, further explained:  ‘In December 2014, then Vice President Joice Mujuru was purged and her rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa, elevated. Since then, over 140 top national and provincial party officials linked to Mujuru have been suspended or expelled from the party, including nine of ten provincial chairpersons and senior cabinet and politburo members. Posited as necessary to end party factionalism, this instead opened a new chapter of division, as those whose interests had converged around Mujuru’s removal sought advantage over each other”.

 

Fast forward to 2017 and 2018: Mnangagwa and his supporters, in this regards  have employed  the very same tactics and perhaps worse,  undertaken previously  by Mugabe:

 

Zimbabwe authorities should uphold the rights of everyone detained following the military takeover of the government on November 15, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The military should publicly acknowledge the identities and location of everyone arrested and detained, and ensure that their due process rights, including access to lawyers and family members, are respected…………Media reports indicate the military arrested a number of former president Robert Mugabe’s associates and that they remain in detention. However, the military has not provided information about any arrest, location, and conditions of detention, or reasons for arrest………. “The end of Mugabe’s 37 years of abusive rule should not be marked by continued rights violations,” Mavhinga said. “Respect for the rule of law and due process for anyone in detention would signal a clean break with the past.” https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/22/zimbabwe-protect-detainees-rights

Whilst Zimbabweans stand by and stare and whilst others jubilate  as a focused blitz on  the despised G40 members  proceeds apace,  pause for thought however is required. The same  targeted discriminatory  and persecutory  focus on currently undesired persons ( whilst leaving aside and even promoting to senior positions  known  individuals heavily steeped in corruption and human rights abuses),  likely means that  in the very near future,  similar visitations might befall other groups opposed to the Mnangagwa government.

 

MDC members and risk:

 

The emergence of a new president,  whilst on the other hand the ZANU(PF) machinery keeps on oiling its  wheels in perpetual rolling  dominance of the political scene,  does not mean the dearth of asylum claims from MDC members.  It must remembered that changes  in Zimbabwe have come and gone over  the years  but with MDC members in the UK  managing to  successfully evidence risk on return issues  due to their political  activities  in the UK.

 

At some point, it was viewed by some that following the formation of the power sharing government in February 2009 and Morgan Tsvangirai becoming Prime Minister  that this would see the end of  refugee protection being granted to  MDC members in the UK. Events did not  however turn out that way: claims continued to be submitted  and the Home office continued to granted  asylum to some activists. Ill-treatment of  the opposition  continued  in Zimbabwe despite the power sharing agreement:  The Home Office Zimbabwe Country Information Report of  July 2009 stated:

 

“9.10 Freedom House’s, Worst of the Worst 2009, Zimbabwe, released on 3 June 2009, noted that: “Zimbabwe is not an electoral democracy. President Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF party have dominated the political landscape since independence in 1980. Presidential and legislative elections in March 2008 were marred by a wide-ranging and brutal campaign of violence and intimidation, flawed voter registration and balloting, biased media coverage, and the use of state resources to bribe and threaten voters. Despite political violence and vote rigging, the two factions of the opposition MDC won a majority of seats in the House of Assembly, while ZANU-PF maintained its majority in the Senate. The September power sharing agreement divided ministries between the two parties and installed Tsvangirai as prime minister, while Mugabe remained president. Corruption is rampant throughout the country, including at the highest levels of government… Freedoms of expression and the press are severely restricted. Journalists are required to register with the state and are routinely subjected to intimidation, physical attacks, arrest and detention, and financial pressure. In 2008, scores of local and foreign journalists were beaten or detained, both before and after the elections….. Nongovernmental organizations have faced increasing legal restrictions and extralegal harassment, and human rights groups are explicitly prohibited from receiving foreign funds. While some courts have struck down or disputed government actions, increasing pressure by the regime has substantially eroded judicial independence. In general, security forces are accountable to the government but abuse citizens with impunity. ZANU-PF militias operate as de facto enforcers of government policies and have committed assault, torture, rape, extralegal evictions, and extralegal executions. Prison conditions are harsh, and deaths in prisons are often caused by disease or beatings by guards”.

 

Although on 5 January 2018, Mnangagwa visited  ailing  MDC-T opposition leader  Morgan Tsvangirai, the President ruled out sharing power. No opposition figures have been included in Mnangagwa’s Cabinet. The criticism includes the following  in relation to Mnangagwa:

 

“Currently, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s secretariat – which is charged with overseeing the 2018 election process – is dominated by partisan state intelligence and military officials. Electoral reforms should start with making the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission independent and professional. The commission is compiling a new voters’ register. Unlike countries like Botswana or Mozambique that guarantee the diaspora vote, there is no provision for Zimbabwean citizens in the diaspora to vote from outside the country, unless in diplomatic missions. In early December, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Justice Rita Makarau, resigned from her post without stating reasons. Mnangagwa will replace Makarau with a former judge or a person qualified to be a judge. A key part of Zimbabwe’s election credibility rests on ensuring that the chairperson is replaced by someone known to be independent, impartial, non-partisan and with the capacity to deliver a democratic election. If Makarau is replaced by a person aligned to the military, and lacking in independence and professionalism, a credible election will not be possible. The Mnangagwa government should also take steps to amend or repeal repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. These laws were used under Mugabe to severely curtail basic rights through vague defamation clauses and draconian penalties. Partisan policing and prosecution has worsened the impact of the repressive provisions in the AIPPA and POSA laws. Failure to repeal or significantly revise these laws and to develop mechanisms to address the partisan conduct of the police leaves little chance of the full enjoyment of rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly prior to and during the coming elections”. https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/12/zimbabwe-after-military-takeover-prospects-credible-elections-and-human-rights

“Mnangagwa, who had fled the country fearing assassination, was inaugurated on 24 November. He quickly consolidated power, appointing a cabinet filled with supporters, including military officers and war veterans. For its part, ZANU-PF dutifully silenced and sidelined his rivals, expelling his fiercest critics…… In several respects, President Mnangagwa’s inaugural speech set a new tone. He focused on economic stimulus, rule of law and responsible governance. What he failed to mention was electoral and security sector reform, national healing, devolution of power and reconciliation. And what he failed to do was reach out to the opposition or ensure the executive was staffed with competent technocrats……….. However, to achieve his goals, and cement a legacy as the leader who turned Zimbabwe around, he will have to lay the foundation for institutionalising rule of law, respect for the constitution and – of crucial importance in the run-up to the 2018 vote – implementing procedures that can ensure free and fair elections…….. Presented as a pragmatist, Emmerson Mnangagwa was unable to deliver needed reforms when he was vice president (2014-2017) under Mugabe. Whether he can succeed now remains in question. He has been accused of responsibility both individually and as part of ZANU-PF’s collective leadership for an array of human rights violations, ranging from the Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s……..Mnangagwa also was named in a UN inquiry into the illegal exploitation of natural resources during Zimbabwe’s intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the late 1990s. Members of the security apparatus and military personnel have been accused of benefitting from the control of diamond fields in Marange…. But what he did not say was as significant as what he said. He remained silent on electoral and security sector reforms as well as plans to devolve political power, and said little about reconciliation and national healing beyond general platitudes…..In short, while the speech offered some hope that Mnangagwa might chart a new national political course, it is equally possible the country is witnessing nothing more than a reconsolidation of power by ZANU-PF. The reconfiguration of leadership and party structures – both national and provincial –will consolidate the position of Mnangagwa and his allies………… Mnangagwa’s new administration rewarded key allies in ZANU-PF, brought in more war veterans and even two senior security service chiefs. It did not include opposition elements or external technocrats as had been expected. Although slightly slimmer in size, its composition reflects a large degree of continuity in substance, with at least a third of the cabinet having served in previous Mugabe administrations….. A key question revolves around the credibility of the elections. In his inaugural address, Mnangagwa promised they would be “free and fair” yet was silent on prerequisites to ensure that outcome, namely the electoral reforms called for by the opposition, civil society organisations (CSOs) and international election observers. These include measures to guarantee a credible and verifiable voters roll; the independence and capacity of, as well as parliamentary oversight over, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission; removal of the executive’s ability to veto election observers, and “creation of a conducive political environment devoid of violence, intimidation, patronage, propaganda and hate speech with all stakeholders (citizens, political parties, traditional leaders, media, churches, CSOs) abiding by the rules of the electoral conduct…” https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/southern-africa/zimbabwe/b134-zimbabwes-military-assisted-transition-and-prospects-recovery

MDC members active in the UK in opposition to the Mnangagwa government and continuing ZANU(PF) rule,  would very likely have no hesitation in seeking protection in the UK. It is important to recall that each claim is considered on its own merit and as such despite the recent events in Zimbabwe, that alone should not preclude the Home Office from recognizing active opposing claimants as refugees in the UK.

 

UK based protest activities and risk:

 

The detention, arrest and  beating  on 31 December 2017  in Bulawayo of several  Mthwakazi Republic Party youth, who protested  against Mnangagwa saying he was part of the Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980s,  bellies  Mnangagwa’s  stated commitment  to a “ new democracy”.   Barely two months had passed since  he took  over in power  when  this incident occurred.  That charges against them have been dropped,  is no consolation.  Just like Mugabe’s dictatorial regime,  these  are warning indicators  that Mnangagwa’s  fledgling  government too will  brook  no opposition protests against it.

 

Some have said pause a while, there is no need to protest currently, give Mnangagwa a chance. Those Zimbabweans  who pause and doze,  while ZANU(PF)  consolidates and rejuvenate its power,  will find that by the time they  “awaken” ,  little by little they have been taken to a place  where legitimately  protesting against the government signifies opposition to it, deserving of violent  retaliation.

 

Yes, in November 2017  people were “ permitted and encouraged “,  to protest however  although Mugabe is now gone,  it is  undeniable that the changes that subsequently  took place  served to substantially  benefit those currently in power and elevate  a few  to even greater heights.  It is yet to be seen how exactly the long-suffering  masses of Zimbabwe have or  will benefit lastingly and positively from having ZANU(PF) continue in  power.

 

Should activists attempt now to  instigate  a spontaneous march in Zimbabwe, one only has to refer to what happened recently  to  the Mthwakazi Republic Party youths to know that it is likely  that such  a march is likely to be  crushed before it takes off the ground.

 

HS (returning asylum seekers) Zimbabwe CG [2007] UKAIT 00094, states in its headnote:

 

“2. The findings in respect of risk categories in SM and Others (MDC – Internal flight – risk categories) Zimbabwe CG [2005] UKIAT 00100, as adopted, affirmed and supplemented in AA (Risk for involuntary returnees) Zimbabwe CG [2006] UKAIT 00061 are adopted and reaffirmed. The Tribunal identifies one further risk category, being those seen to be active in association with human rights or civil society organisations where evidence suggests that the particular organisation has been identified by the authorities as a critic or opponent of the Zimbabwean regime”.

 

The January 2017 Country Information Note currently states:

 

“1.2.1 Actual or perceived involvement in political opposition activities includes: members or supporters of political parties, protestors, journalists, civil society activists and teachers”.

 

Arguing risk on return based on protest activities in the UK also involves  consideration of   how civil society groups are treated in Zimbabwe as well as  how the   new social media influenced  protest movements  that have emerged in Zimbabwe will chose to focus their  response to the  new government.    Evan Mawarire is reported to have said in  December 2017 that ,  “It’s Too Early To Protest Against Mnangagwa”,  yet a few days later was said to be fuming “Over ‘Raw Sewage’ Pumped to Harare Homes, Calls for State of Emergency”, http://allafrica.com/stories/201712290610.html

Various UK based human rights and civic society groups have not ceased their regular protests against  human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, even after Mugabe’s fall – and rightly so.

 

“Zimbabwe diaspora extends protest after Mugabe ouster” reported Al Jazeera on 11 December 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/zimbabwe-diaspora-extends-protest-mugabe-ouster-171207163238379.html:

After 15 years of protesting against Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean diaspora in the UK will continue to rally against the ruling ZANU-PF party, accusing its leaders of being “dictators who only believe in themselves ruling”. Mugabe stepped down as president after 37 years in power after a military takeover in November.  Members of the Zimbabwe Vigil Coalition, who have demonstrated outside the country’s embassy in London every Saturday since October 2002, say Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s replacement, has filled his cabinet with “contaminated genocidaires from the armed forces and discredited former Mugabe freeloaders. Protester Rose Benton, who coordinates the group, told Al Jazeera from London: “There’s been no democracy in Zimbabwe since we started protesting … [instead] there’s a battle in ZANU-PF to keep power and control of the population………. “Right now we are still under dictatorship,” said Fungayi Mabhunu, a 46-year-old based in London. “It’s the same head with a different haircut.”

Members and supporters of ROHR and ZHRO also continue to protest within the UK. Zimbabwe surely needs a continuous robust opposition  as well as an  unrelenting civil society voice: it is still arguable that such active  protesters  in the UK are likely to be at risk on return being seen as critics  or opponents of the Mnangangwa regime.

 

Conclusion

Currently, displaying and sustaining  an augment  solely based  on  a mere knowledge of the psyche and culture  of  ZANU(PF), focused only on its  known  history of  oppression and  repression  is not sufficient in advancing  a viable  asylum claim or appeal. Risk on return issues  need to  be evidenced by current  relevant background evidence  such that it can  properly  be argued that a claimant’s fear is well founded.

Mnangagwa is currently all talk and such talk( some mere lip-service)  includes  promises of a  “ new democracy”.  What however  must be remembered is  what the man himself has previously  said: “…. Immediately upon his return, Mnangagwa said that “Zanu-PF will continue ruling no matter what, while those who oppose it will continue barking”- https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/southern-africa/zimbabwe/b134-zimbabwes-military-assisted-transition-and-prospects-recovery

The question which remains is this:  by what means will  ZANU(PF) ensure that  they  continue ruling?  The past  is replete with  violent acts by ZANU(PF)  supporters/members,  war veterans and  the military via a  campaign  of  terror against the opposition and  those  seeking to unseat the ruling party.  Despite  the ascendency of a new president, bearing in mind his ominous past,  the indicators are that despite the Zimbabwean people’s  march of 18 November 2017, the chosen  road currently appears to  lead to not to  a true democracy, but a democracy  that will be shaped  only  by how ZANU(PF)  chose to define it.

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