August 2023 | President Mnangagwa re-elected in disputed election criticised by observers
Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa was re-elected in general elections held on 23 August. According to official results, Mnangagwa received 52.6 per cent of the vote, thereby avoiding a run-off against his main challenger Nelson Chamisa, who came second with 44 per cent. Mnangagwa’s party, Zanu-PF, which has governed Zimbabwe uninterruptedly since 1980, won 136 of the 210 parliamentary seats contested. The elections were criticised by international election observers, who found that they fell short of regional and international standards, and experts assessed them to be Zimbabwe’s worst ever. Amongst other irregularities, they pointed to voter intimidation and suppression, extreme delays in the opening of polling stations and undue restrictions on freedoms of association and assembly (many opposition party rallies were banned or disrupted). They also raised concerns about the arrest of 41 domestic observers, who were conducting a parallel voter tabulation. The results of the election were disputed by the largest opposition party, Citizen’s Coalition for Change, which claimed to have won and called for fresh polls. It has called for fresh elections to be held. Only 11 per cent of the 633 parliamentary candidates were women (compared with 14 per cent in 2018) and of these only 23 were elected (two fewer than in 2018). Voter turnout for the presidential election was 68 per cent (down from 86 per cent in 2018) and for the parliamentary election was 67 per cent (down from 83 per cent in 2018).
July 2023 | Draconian ‘Patriot Bill’ signed into law
On 14 July, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed into law a piece of legislation that analysts say is likely to have a chilling effect on opposition parties and civil society. The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, or the Patriot Bill as it has become known, criminalises ‘wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe’, for which it imposes draconian penalties, including the death penalty, citizenship revocation and lengthy prison sentences. A person commits the offence if they participate in a meeting where sanctions and military interventions are considered or where plans are made to ‘subvert, upset, overthrow or overtake’ the government. The Zimbabwean government has, in the past, routinely accused its opponents of calling for the imposition of sanctions on the country and the legislation’s overly broad provisions have raised concerns that it will be used to silence critics and may stop them from meeting with foreign governments.
April 2023 | Opposition politician convicted under nullified law
On 5 April, a magistrate’s court in Harare convicted opposition politician Fadzayi Mahere of ‘communicating falsehoods’, under a legal provision that was declared unconstitutional by Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court in 2014. The conviction, for which Mahere was sentenced to a $500 USD fine, related to a tweet she shared that incorrectly alleged that a police officer had killed a baby. Mahere’s case is one of a number of recent prosecutions targeting government critics, which have led commentators to accuse the government of using the courts to intimidate its opponents ahead of the general elections to be held later this year.
January 2023 | New law restricts health workers’ right to strike
President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed a bill into law that places new restrictions on Zimbabwean health workers’ right to strike. Amongst other things, the Health Service Amendment Act prevents health workers from striking for longer than 72 hours, either continuously or over a two-week period, and requires them to provide written notice 48 hours before a strike begins. Those who breach these provisions can be imprisoned for up to six months, a penalty that commentators have suggested is unusually stiff. The International Trade Union Confederation has described the law as draconian and asserted that the sanctions it imposes are contrary to freedom of expression and freedom of association. In recent years, Zimbabwe’s increasingly beleaguered healthcare system has been put under strain by frequent and long-strikes by health workers demanding improvements in working conditions.