ISCI is a cross-disciplinary research centre working to further our understanding of state crime: organisational deviance violating human rights

State crimes in Zimbabwe, from Mugabe to the new dispensation, a case of old wine in different bottles.

epa10855011 Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa announces his new cabinet at the State House in Harare, Zimbabwe, 11 September 2023. Mnangagwa won the 23 and 24 August 2023 elections.  EPA-EFE/AARON UFUMELI

by Dr K. K. Silika, Liverpool John Moores University.


When the November 2017 coup occurred in Zimbabwe, there was a pseudo renewed optimism and euphoria over new prospects for the country. Zimbabwe, a former British colony, had lived in the perpetual shadow of Robert Mugabe, the man who had ruled the country since independence in 1980. During his tenure that lasted 37 years, his government committed various democides resulting in the deaths of thousands of people and millions of people migrated out of the country. The government under President Emmerson Mnangagwa has for the past few years claimed that they are a “new dispensation” or “second republic.” This being an attempt to break away from the authoritarian rule under Mugabe. Events that followed the coup and the de facto situation appear to suggest that nothing has changed since the state crimes under the Mugabe regime. It would appear, based on the evidence espoused, that some tactics have been adopted and remodelled by the present government. The purpose of the paper is to outline various state crimes including, political violence, state capture of religious sects and judiciary, persecution of dissent, electoral fraud, and lawfare that President Mnangagwa regime have perpetrated. These facets, in addition to the use of propaganda been deployed and utilised against citizens to perpetuate President Mnangagwa’s grip on power. Finally, the paper will position if the Mnangagwa regime can be viewed within the context of “a new dispensation” as they claim, or just old wine in different bottles.

Key words: state crime; human rights abuses; political violence; lawfare; new dispensation.


For the last 50 years, Zimbabwe, a former British colony has gone through various episodes of violence which include the liberation war (1966–1979), political and general state violence (1980–), the Gukurahundi democide (1980–1987), and the Marange Diamond conflict (2006–2018) (Silika 2021). There has also been hundreds of abductions and disappearances of opposition officials, journalists, civilians since 1980 (Sachikonye 2011). These various episodes of violence, perpetuated mostly by the state and its entities, have left thousands of people dead and migration of millions of Zimbabweans into the Southern Africa region and beyond. Over the years there also has been rampant corruption in every government parastatal and Zimbabwe is ranked 157/180 most corrupt countries according to Transparency Internal (TI) (TI Zimbabwe 2022).

The significant and most disturbing human rights abuses by the state took place after independence and are known by the lexicon Gukurahundi. This is a Shona word meaning the early rain that washes away the chaff before spring rains (Werbner 1991). Gukurahundi is the word frequently used to denote the period between 1980–1987 and the North Korean trained army unit, the 5th Brigade. The 5th brigade was responsible for the massacre of over 20,000 civilians during that period (CCJP 1997). The commander of the 5th Brigade was Perence Shiri who passed away in 2020. President Mnangagwa was the Minister of State Security in the President’s Office during the peak of the massacres (CCJP 1997). During the height of the massacres, Mnangagwa was quoted saying “[b]lessed are they who follow the path of Government laws for their days on earth will be increased. But woe unto those who will choose the path of collaboration with dissidents for we will certainly shorten their stay on earth” (Coltart 2019: 134). On the 23 of April 1983, Mnangagwa and other security ministers were seen parading 4 young people in Matebeleland whom they accused to be dissidents, those individuals are unaccounted for till present day (Associated Press 1983). Ever since the Gukurahundi democide, which victims and authors characterise as genocide, there were conceited efforts by the state to repress any information about the massacres (Cameroon 2023). Mugabe previously described Gukurahundi as a “moment of madness” and Mnangagwa previously stated that Gukurahundi was a closed chapter. On assumption of power after the coup, Mnangagwa signed into law the National Peace and Reconciliation Act (NPRA) of 2018 which gave rise to the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) (Silika 2020). The Law and the Commission have not been effective ever since they were established. The Act gives too much power to the President and Home Affairs minister with regards calling witnesses, there is lack of funding, and the process is not victim centred (Silika 2020). This makes it even more significant as the current President is an interested party in the atrocities as outlined.

Drawing upon Green and Ward’s (2005) conceptual framework of state crimes, this paper unearths the intricate web of state-sponsored illegitimate activities, revealing how political violence, lawfare, electoral fraud, and propaganda synergistically constitute the bedrock of state crimes within Zimbabwe. By scrutinizing the organizational structure, intent, magnitude, and illegitimacy of these various facets, this study illuminates the disheartening trajectory of a nation gripped by enduring turmoil.

Political violence and abductions

Since 1980, Zimbabwe has held seven presidential elections, eight parliamentary elections and two constitutional referendums, all of which have been marred by political violence with opposition members enduring most of the violence (Sachikonye 2011). When Zimbabwe achieved its independence in 1980, the Mugabe regime inherited most of the security and intelligence apparatus that was responsible for human rights abuses for the previous two decades, particularly the dreaded Central Intelligence Agency (CIO) (Silika 2021). Besides the use of the 5th Brigade as seen in the previous section, Mugabe also had Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) youth militia, war veterans, and serving Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) members. Former (and some current) serving ZNA members would, during election times, be drafted into campaigning on the behalf of the party in rural areas (HRW 2009). Some of the rural areas will often be declared as no-go areas for opposition (Mpofu 2018). In those areas roadblocks and torture bases would be established, and local villagers forced to attend all night vigils (called pungwes), singing and dancing, eulogising the ruling party and denigrating opposition. These methods being reticent of the ZANU-PF/ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army) liberation war methodology of forcing rural populations to support the liberation war efforts (Makanda 2013).

During the first democratic election in Zimbabwe in March 1980, there was widespread electoral violence, which was of concern to opposition members and other international groups, a trend that has continued for decades since then (Nkomo 1984). Every election follows a certain pattern of violence with government aligned groups such as Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), CIO & ZNA being implicated in majority of the cases. War veterans sometimes are in complicit with ZNA and ZRP who set up “bases” in rural areas where people deemed to be opposition members are arbitrarily detained, tortured, and in some instances killed (Sachikonye 2011). The most violent elections in Zimbabwe were the 2000 presidential and parliamentary elections and the 2008 presidential election (Samkange 2011). Opposition claims over 2,000 of its supporters have been killed in various parts of the country because of election violence (Silika 2021).

Abduction is a tool that has been used by various rogue states around the world as a method of intimidation, obfuscation of information, circumventing national laws and as a tool for negotiation (Richardson 2021). According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), over 5,894 people have been abducted by the state between 2000–17 by the state apparatus such as ZNA, CIO, ZRP, Military Intelligence (MI), War Veterans, and the ruling ZANU-PF supporters (ZLHR 2017). This issue of abductions did not stop during the Mugabe era but also continued unabated during the Mnangagwa regime as the paper will demonstrate.

Samantha Kureya, a well-known local comedian, was kidnapped by six masked gunmen in August 2019 after she performed a sketch criticising police abuse. Kureya was assaulted during her kidnapping and made to drink raw sewage. The suspected state agents accused Ms Kureya of undermining the government in her sketches (The Independent 2019). Up until present day, none of her assailants have been identified or brought to court despite the publicity and amount of forensic evidence. The same month, gunmen also kidnapped activist Tatenda Mombeyarara, accusing him of planning anti-government demonstrations. Mombeyarara was beaten with iron rods by his captors while being interrogated, resulting in a shattered leg and several broken fingers. Dr Peter Magombeyi, then-leader of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, who had organised a series of protests to demand higher pay for government health workers, was kidnapped and tortured by three unidentified men on September 14, 2019. He was tortured for 4 days and then dumped 33 kilometres outside Harare. Magombeyi is now currently living in exile (Amnesty International 2019).

In May 2020, three opposition members, Cecilia Chimbiri, Netsai Marova, and Joanne Mamombe were kidnapped, subjected to torture, and sexual assault by suspected state agents. They were missing for 2 days and were finally abandoned 80 kilometres outside of Harare in Bindura. When they reported the kidnapping, the state accused them of stage managing the abduction and assault (ZIMLIVE 2020). Chimbiri and colleagues were accused of publishing falsehoods prejudicial to the state, treason, and undermining police authority as defined in section 177(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform). Netsai Marova managed to go into exile in Sweden whilst Mamombe and Chimbiri spent the best part of 3 years fighting the case. The trio were finally acquitted in July 2023. At the time of writing, no perpetrator has been brought to court for their ordeal.

The home of journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu in Bulawayo was raided by alleged security personnel on July 30, 2020, his nephew Tawanda Muchehiwa was abducted, and his sister was taken into custody. After being kidnapped and tortured, and released, Tawanda Muchehiwa, revealed that the notorious Ferret Team, a secretive alternative state security organisation, was responsible. Muchehiwa is now living in exile in the United Kingdom. No one has been brought to court for this abduction.

One abduction team was unwittingly unmasked in 2019 when they raided and robbed a local drinking den known locally as a shebeen (The Zimbabwe Mail 2019). Unbeknownst to this team, the drinking den belonged to David Kandawasvika, a soldier with the ZNA 1 Commando Battalion. Kandawasvika, was notified of the burglary and did his own investigations. This resulted in the identification and arrest of a team known colloquially as Team Ferret. A Ferret Team is a security multi agency team that is put together to conduct various covert and clandestine operations (Silika 2020b). The team members of this group were led by Sergeant Wellington Mushosho of the ZRP Police’s Internal Security Intelligence (PISI) but also included Pride Ziwenga, Wilson Masvayamwando, and Admire Gasva (Military Intelligence); Matthews Tshuma, Fidel Marume and Simbarashe Bwititi (CIO); Henry Banda (PISI) and Dennis Muroyiwa (ZRP Law and Order) (The Zimbabwe Mail 2019). Despite the overwhelming evidence in regards this robbery, no charges have been brought against this team for any offence at the time of writing. The victim was later arrested in 2021 for selling illicit drugs.

Under the Mugabe regime, abductions were also a tool that was used frequently to silent critics, journalists, opposition political leaders, and human rights activists (Silika 202b). If we consider individuals who have been abducted, tortured under Gukurahundi, various elections cycles, the diamond and gold rushes there is a considerable number of people missing (Silika 2021). Human Rights activist and government critic Jestina Mukoko. Mukoko was abducted by unidentified armed men from her home in Norton on 3 December 2008, and her whereabouts together with two colleagues Broderick Takawira and Pascal Gonzo, who were also abducted later in December 2008 remained unknown until December 24, 2008. Mukoko was accused of plotting to topple Robert Mugabe’s administration through recruiting people to undergo military training in neighbouring Botswana. Like similar cases discussed under the Mnangagwa regime, the case went through the courts for over a year and Mukoko was acquitted and successfully sued the state for her abduction. Again, no offenders were brought before the courts over this case (Mukoko and Sisulu 2016).

Enforced disappearance is specifically prohibited by Zimbabwe’s Constitution in addition to being regarded as a crime against humanity on a global scale. Chapter 4, Part 2, 49 of the 2013-adopted new Zimbabwe Constitution stipulates that “every citizen has the right to liberty, which includes the right (a) not to be detained without trial; and (b) not to be deprived of their liberty arbitrarily or without cause.” (Zimbabwe Constitution 2013) Interestingly, Zimbabwe signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on July 17, 1998 but has not ratified the statute. Zimbabwe also signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance on December 14, 2006, but has failed to ratify the convention (OHCHR 2019).


Lawfare is the use of legal systems and institutions to damage or delegitimize an opponent, or to deter individual’s usage of their legal rights (Kittrie 2016). Mathews (2023) offers a different definition which can be apt within the context of Zimbabwe in that lawfare is the “instrumentalization of the rule of law by private and public actors to achieve undemocratic aims.” (Mathews 2023: 1) Lawfare can take many forms such as litigation, regulatory complaints, request for government investigations of persecution, slowing down of criminal justice processes to frustrate certain individuals and de-platforming (Guanine 2021). Each of these elements have been present within the Zimbabwean criminal justice system both under Mugabe and more so under the Mnangagwa regime. In contemporary contexts, this can be demonstrated with new legislation such as the Data Protection Act (2021), Private Volunteers Act, and Patriotic Act (2023), and the selective persecution of opposition members, human rights defenders, and journalists.

The Data Protection Act (Chapter 11, section 22) was signed into law by President Mnangagwa in 2021 and the Act amends provisions of three pieces of legislation: the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) (Chapter 9, section 23), the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (Chapter 9, page 7) and the Interception of Communications Act (Chapter 11, section 20). The Bill was gazetted in May 2020 and underwent public hearings in July 2020 when it was known then as the Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill (MISA Zimbabwe 2021). This legislation formally introduces The Cybersecurity and Monitoring of Interception of Communications Centre (CMICC). The CMICC being housed in the President’s Office is a serious cause for concern. The President’s Office has a long history of human rights violations, and the CMICC’s powers to monitor and intercept communications give the sitting president unprecedented control over the flow of information in Zimbabwe. This is especially worrying considering the Patriotic Act 2023, which further consolidates power in the President’s Office.

Section 31 of the Data Protection Act 2021, which is supposed to protect whistle-blowers, falls far short of the requirements that were set out in the public hearings on whistle-blower protection legislation. The section does not provide for the necessary safeguards to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation, such as confidentiality, no-reprisal clauses, and protection from legal liability. As a result, whistle-blowers who come forward with legitimate concerns are at risk of being punished by their employers or even criminalized. President Emmerson Mnangagwa officially opened the country’s National Data Center in 2021 proclaiming that the Chinese-built data hub was key to the country’s economic advancement. Whilst the law has been enacted, the Zimbabwe state has been using its mobile network (NETONE) and other private companies to shut down or slow down internet when there is either protests or rallies by the opposition as reported by Netblocks in 2022 (Netblocks 2022). Former government minister exiled in Kenya Professor Jonathan Moyo asserted that the National Data Center opened to denounce it as a tool for snooping on citizens’ phone and internet use (Chimhangwa 2022). The Chinese state has been responsible for several infrastructure projects in Zimbabwe including building the Data Centre and a new Zimbabwe parliament. Interestingly the Chinese government has previously been accused of bugging the African Union headquarters, which they built it, however the Chinese government denied the accusation (Reuters, 2018). Essentially the Data Protection Act 2021 will be weaponised against the citizens as the government increases its grip on power towards elections.

The Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act 2023 (Chapter 17, section 5) is another controversial law that, at the time of writing has passed through both houses of parliament and waiting for Presidents Munagagwa’s assent. This Act will affect mostly opposition members, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), journalists, and human rights activists. Some of the provisions of The Act includes having responsible minsters have power to make an application to the High Court to appoint people of his or her own choice as trustees to run the affairs of a designated PVO. These are similar regulations which are found in the Urban Council Act which have been used by the government to dismiss appointed mayoral candidates of Zimbabwes big cities. This thrust to regulate the operations of non-profit organisations has been raised by special rapporteurs for the UN (Chimhangwa 2022). According to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (2022), if the PVO Bill passes, it will sanction NGO’s and members over offences such as political involvement, receipt of foreign funds, unauthorised collection of charitable funds from the public. The Bill also gives a nominated minister the authority to suspend and replace management of NGO’s and registration and re-registration of all organisations. The NGO and PVO space in Zimbabwe have been a vital lifeline for individuals who have been persecuted and prosecuted by the state. These organizations have provided free legal aid, counselling, medical aid, and human rights monitoring to victims of state crimes. They have also played a key role in documenting and exposing human rights abuses, and in advocating for the protection of human rights in Zimbabwe. There is so good argument therefore that the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act 2023 is directed at those groups. It is also ironic that most of the main government funding around health, education and emergency assistance is dependent on foreign funding, donations, and grants (Taylor 2022).

The Zimbabwe Senate passed on 7 June 2023 the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill 2022, commonly referred to as the “Patriotic Bill”, which criminalizes wilfully acting in a way that undermines the authority and integrity of Zimbabwe. The ZANU-PF government passed the Act due to their majority seats in the parliament of Zimbabwe. President Mnangagwa assents to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Act, 2023 (No.10, 14 July) just 6 weeks shy of a crucial presidential election. The law lists offences such as “wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe” or “active participation by Zimbabweans in meetings inside and outside Zimbabwe on issues of military intervention, subverting/upsetting/overthrowing or overturning the constitutional government, or on economic sanctions and trade boycotts.” (Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Act 2023: 22a.2) The Act fails to meet the requirements of legality, proportionality, and necessity. In addition, its interpretation can be vague and therefore can be weaponised like other legislation discussed in this paper.

Zimbabwe’s Criminal Codification and Reform Act is another piece of old legislation under the Mugabe regime which has been used to curtail any form of dissent within the country previously. The Act deals with acts which are deemed to undermine the authority of the President or insulting the President and has been used several thousand times by the state (ZLHR 2022). The insult statute was declared unconstitutional by the Zimbabwe Supreme Court in 2013. The decision was challenged, and President Mnangagwa, who was minister of justice at the time, supported the law. The insult law is still in effect despite a case to have it repealed being filed five years ago and the Constitutional Court has not yet heard the issue. The use of The Criminal Codification Act has its roots in the colonial era under the Ian Smith regime. It is the re-enactment of section 16 of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), and the repressive colonial Law and Order (Maintenance) Act (LOMA) of 1960, which was used by the colonial regime to suppress civil unrest as the liberation struggle intensified (ZLHR 2022). In addition, The Patriotic Act violates Section 61 of the Zimbabwe Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Act will allow the National Prosecuting Authority to institute criminal prosecution against anyone who, in its discretion, is undermining the country or using false statements to paint a certain “bad” picture of Zimbabwe to foreign governments. According to Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, the Act criminalises conduct that undermines Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, dignity, independence, and national interests (Dlamini 2022). Citizens Coalition for Change deputy leader Tendai Biti deems the legislation unconstitutional and desperate fascist law which will be used as an instrument to proscribe alternative views and values (Dlamini 2022). Some state officials have even tried to link the Act with the Logan Law in America whereby it is an offence for American citizens to negotiate with foreign governments in a dispute with the US. The association is weak as The Logan Act has never been successfully prosecuted, and its constitutionality has been challenged in court. The pending signing of the Patriotic Act is another attempt by the Mnangagwa administration to curtail any form of dissent amongst the citizens of Zimbabwe and to tighten the governments grip on power.

Persecution of dissenting voices

Since independence from Zimbabwe in 1980, various human rights groups and other non-Governmental organisations (NGO) have emerged in Zimbabwe to support victims of various democides that have occurred. Most of the organisations are in the religious, human rights and journalistic realms. Significant organisations include Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace Zimbabwe (CCJPZ), Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (Zim Rights), Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT), and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) to name but a few. Individuals and members of these groups have been subject to physical and personal attacks by state security organs. For example, most directors of the respective PVO or NGO has either been subjected to either threats, kidnapping, assault, or having tramped up charges levelled against them. An example is the kidnapping and assault of Justina Mukoko by the CIO in 2008 (Mukoko and Sisulu 2016). Mukoko is one of the few who managed to sue the state for their abduction and was awarded Z $150,000 by the courts for her ordeal. Other abduction victims are not so lucky as some have never been seen again like Itai Dzamara, and journalist and human rights activist who was abducted by state agents in 2015 and has never been seen again.

According to the data from the Zimbabwe Peace Project, for example, between the coup in November 2017 and November 2020 there were over 7,962 human rights violations by the state which include abductions, torture, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, and harassment and intimidation. These acts have targeted opposition activists, government critics, and human rights activists (Maravanyika 2022). Overall, ZPP reported a total of 9,953 violations over the period 2019 to 2021. In the past year (2022–2023) the monthly average of violations in non-election years was 365 reported violations as opposed to 706 in election years.

There are dozens of other cases that can be cited to demonstrate how the Zimbabwean state uses lawfare to persecute individuals, using the judiciary system to keep certain individuals either on bail, unable to travel, and in detention without trial. This paper is going to look briefly at the case of Job Sikhala, The Maldives 7, and human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa. Job Sikhala has been an opposition member of parliament for over 20 years representing various opposition groups but currently a member of the Citizens Coalition for Change. Sikhala was considered a threat under the Mugabe regime and more so the Mnangagwa government due to his outspoken approach to human rights abuses and corruption. Sikhala is also a lawyer by profession. At the time of writing, he has been in custody for 3 months for the charge of inciting violence which he has denied. The allegation by state of inciting violence was based on the allegation that that vehicle was seen in a location in which CCC, and ZANU-PF members had started fighting each other. Sikhala was in the vicinity representing his client More Blessing Ali who had been murdered by ZANU-PF supporters in St Marys (Amnesty International 2022). Ali was abducted on May 24, 2022, and her body was found on June 11, 2022. Sikhala had been vocal in his criticism of the government’s handling of the case, and he had threatened to avenge Ali’s death. At the time of writing Sikhala is still in prison and Ali has not been buried by her family in protest of Sikhala’s incarceration. Police have also accused Mr Sikhala with “obstructing the course of justice” under section 184(1)(e) of the Criminal Reform and Codification Act. Interestingly Sikhala has been arrested over 70 times by both regimes and has no single conviction. This speaks volumes in regards his present incarceration being politically motivated.

Beatrice Mtetwa is an internationally renowned human rights lawyer who has defended various organisations, human rights groups, and journalists in Zimbabwe in the last 30 years. In 2020 Mtetwa was defending renowned journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, one of Zimbabwe’s most prominent critics who was detained for apparently “communicating falsehoods” via a tweet. Mtetwa was then removed from representing Chin’ono on the allegations that “she has become personally involved so as to diminish her objectivity as an officer of the court.” (Rickard 2020) The source of this allegation being a Facebook page about Beatrice Mtetwa that she does not even own or run. Instead, the Facebook page was operated from the United States by a fan Lorie Conway. Later, 65 NGOs and 60 individuals which included lawyers and judges signed a petition condemning the suspension (Law and Society 2020). The persecution of Mtetwa was linked to her client Chin’ono, so her persecution served 2 purposes, to stall and frustrate both client and lawyer through appeals and continued detention of Chin’ono. Both Mtetwa and Chin’ono later had all charges dismissed.

The Maldives 7 is a group of young civil society activists from Zimbabwe who travelled to the Maldives in May 2019 for a workshop by Center for Non-Violence Action and Strategies (CANVAS) (Amnesty international 2019). The 7 were detained upon their return to Zimbabwe and accused of receiving training to overthrow the government. The charges against the Maldives 7 have been widely criticized by human rights groups, who say that the charges are politically motivated (Magaisa 2020). They spent 15 months on remand, they could not travel outside the country and their bail conditions included surrendering their passports. The government of Zimbabwe has denied that the charges are politically motivated, but they have refused to provide any evidence to support their claim. All 7 were released without charge after 15 months.

State capture of religious sects

Zimbabwe is a deeply religious society with statistics indicating that 74.8 per cent identify as Protestant (including Apostolic (Vapositori) – 37.5 per cent, Pentecostal – 21.8 per cent or other Protestant denominations – 15.5 per cent), 7.3 per cent identify as Roman Catholic and 5.3 per cent identify with another denomination of Christianity. Religion has often been deployed as a useful tool in Zimbabwe for state propaganda, influencing congregations, holding on to power, contesting power, rebuking leaders, and silencing opponents (Mpofu 2021). Religious sects have also been used by the Munagagwa administration to sanitise the so-called new dispensation, vilify its critics, and prevent the investigation of crimes committed by certain sects (Magezi and Tagwirei 2022). Political elites in Zimbabwe frequently use African and Christian religion for similar purposes. The use of religious and cultural sects survived under the late President Robert Mugabe, and it is still in place now under President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Religion in this setting is especially potent and attractive because it dogmatically sacralises laws and practises, giving them a fixed, unchangeable character. Thus, sacralization ends policy discussion (Yabanci 2020).

To illustrate this point, we can look at one of the popular sects known as Vapositoti or “white garment congregants.” Vapositori are a popular sect in Zimbabwe whose members often gather outdoors in white robes to worship. This sect has been growing steadily in Zimbabwe as the sect as pseudo-Christianity values mixed with local beliefs. The white garment churches are divided into two categories, namely those whose theology and spirituality is drawn from the Bible, and the other group which do not read the Bible but claim to hear from directly from the Holy Spirit (Engelke 2007; Evason 2017). The sect practices child marriages and do not register births or deaths, and often refuse hospital treatment. There has been an increase in the number of female minors being raped by members, some bearing children and others dying whilst pregnant or giving birth (United Nations 2022). According to the Girl Child Network (GCN), a civic organisation whose mission is to shelter, educate, and empower female victims, an estimated 8,000 girls have been forced into early marriages or were held as sex slaves since 2008 (Sibanda 2011). The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) recently reported that between 2019 and 2022, there were about 1.7 million pregnancies recorded in Zimbabwe and out of that, 21 per cent happened amongst adolescents that are between the ages of 10 to 19 years and that translates to around 350,000 teenage pregnancies (UNPF 2023).

Because the Vapositori sects sings the praises of the ruling party, and have often endorsed ZANU-PF in elections, hardly any investigation takes place around thousands of sexual offences committed by these sects. Recently President Mnangagwa has been visiting various denominations, they regularly welcome him at the airport, state events, and he has even bought them vehicles. In addition, in 2022 only over 700 children belonging to the sect died due to measles outbreak within the group. (Marima and Nolen 2022).

In May 2023, President Mnangagwa gazetted clemency Order 1 of 2023 which saw over 4,270 prison inmates being released to reduce overcrowding in Zimbabwe prisons (Clemency Order 1 2023). Such clemency orders had been issued by the previous Mugabe regime to pardon state security personnel who had committed politically motivated crimes (Samkange 2011). The latest clemency was problematic in that within the group of prisoners released, there were various men who had committed rape and other serious offences. Many the male group of offenders belong to the Vapositori and practice child marriages (Chamisa et al. 2019). Some offenders who were released had served sentences of less than 2 years including one Boby Makaza who was sentenced in 2019 for 16 years for raping a 10-year-old (ZLH 2023). This release was in contravention of Section 12(d) of the Clemency Order No.1 of 2023 read with 13(c) which provides that some categories of offences to be excluded from the proposed general amnesty. This includes specified offences such as rape, treason, robbery, and murder. The appeal was dismissed by the court on the grounds that Makaza had reached 60 years of age (Ndoro 2023). Makaza was later seen nationally campaigning for Mnangagwa and even coined a phrase which was used locally by ZANU-PF youths.

Police are regularly blocked from investigating some of their practices. The clemency orders were insidious as the release has the effect of appeasing the sect and contributing towards election numbers in terms of votes. Zimbabwe local and presidential elections were scheduled for August 2023. The timing of the clemency orders is suspicious, as it appears to be a strategic move to appease the sect and secure their support in the upcoming local and presidential elections scheduled for August 2023. In the previous presidential election in 2018, President Mnangagwa narrowly avoided a run-off by a margin of 31,000 votes (Matyszak 2018).

Another significant capture of religious leaders was in the form of the appointment of a popular Pentecostal miracle “prophet” Urbet Angel as the ambassador at large for Europe and Americas. Angel has a large following in Zimbabwe and internationally and performs various miracles such as weight loss, miracle bank deposits, cure diseases and speaking in tongues to name but a few. By appointing and creating a position within the state for Angel, the Mnangagwa regime is again trying to give religious legitimacy to their rule through religious affiliation. The state is unperturbed by the fact that the tactics of these prophets have never been verified, have been widely exposed as trickery elsewhere. During the Mugabe regime prophets were used peripherally and not centrally as in the Mnangagwa regime. At one point two of the most popular prophets were asked to meet the previous reserve bank governor Gideon Gono to discuss “miracle money.” The governor had been previously critical of their miracle money however backed off ostensibly because of pressure from ZANU-PF (The African Report 2013; Newsday 2013). People have also died of other natural diseases in the country whilst waiting to be cured by these men. By accommodating and giving space to these Pentecostal prophets, the state is indirectly facilitating their enrichment through tithes and subjugation of the poor (Mapenzauswa 2020).

Electoral fraud

Since 1980, Zimbabwe presidential, council, or parliamentary elections have been marred with violence and startling elements of electoral fraud. There always been consistent widespread cases of vote buying, manipulation of voters, suspicious behavior of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), abuse of state resources, manipulation of traditional leaders, and state capture (Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa 2022). ZEC is the government organisation that oversees general elections in Zimbabwe. It directs and controls the registration of voters, compiles the voters’ roll, and keeps the public informed of other electoral issues such as the delimitation of constituencies. For the past 43 years various local, regional, and internal human rights groups have been questioning the composition and appointment of commissioners, operation, and partisan nature of the organisation (Razao 2022; Rickard 2022). The current Chairperson of the commission, a former High Court Judge Pricilla Chigumba has on one occasion seen wearing the ruling ZANU-PF regalia for example (Coltart 2018). This is in contravention of section 236 of the Zimbabwean Constitution (2013) which prohibits members of independent commissions from being partisan or furthering the interests of any party.

Another significant issue concerning operations of ZEC is its failure by ZEC to avail any opposition group a verifiable electronic voters’ roll as required by Section 21(1) of the Electoral Act. A copy of the voter’s roll should be made available to those who request it upon payment of the prescribed fee. There are various local and international groups who have made applications for the voters’ roll however there has been consistent obfuscation of the requests by the state (Cropley 2013; Pachedu 2022). At one time, the ZEC offered opposition the voter’s roll on A3 paper and compiled in no fewer than 1,958 binders weighing well over two tons. This then makes the process of electronic analysis of data nearly impossible. For example, previous analysis of the voters’ rolls in 2013 revealed that there were over 116,000 people aged over a 100 in a country with an average life expectancy of 60 (Shipman 2013). On another occasion in 2008, ZEC gave the opposition, a voters’ roll on CD which did not open (Cropley 2013). In a recent analysis of a paper copy of the Zimbabwe voters’ roll, a Zimbabwean diaspora group Pachedu found some glaring absurdities. Some coordinates for voting stations provided by the ZEC pointed to locations outside Zimbabwe. This included distant places like Antarctica and the middle of the Indian Ocean as well as in neighbouring South Africa and Zambia (Pachedu 2023). The paper voters’ roll which costs US $140 000 to access is not cheap too to get hold of for local groups which further exacerbates the validity of any Zimbabwean election.

The Zimbabwe government availed the opposition in July 2023 a copy of the presidential voters’ roll but not the ward and constituency roll which has most of the data (CCC 2023). A preliminary check of this copy by a Zimbabwe pressure group, Pachedu, revealed that on 8 July, ZEC announced that the final voters’ roll had 6,619,690 voters. However, on 10 July, ZEC published a voters’ roll which had only 6,443,631 voters which is equivalent to 176,059 voters who are now missing from the voter’s roll (Pachedu 2023).

In the 2018 Presidential challenge of the election result brought by the opposition leader Nelson Chamisa in the Constitutional Court, various electoral irregularities and discrepancies were brought before the court as evidence (Chamisa V Mnangagwa et al. CCZ 42/18). For example, there was a huge discrepancy (8,944 votes) between election results announced by ZEC on live TV and official results. The ZEC did not explain the discrepancy in court. In addition, the number of votes cast in the presidential election did not tally with the voter turnout claimed by ZEC. There was also a discrepancy of over 70,000 votes, the total voter turnout was 4,847,233 yet the total valid votes were 4,774,878 (Chamisa V Mnangagwa et al. CCZ 18). The case of Mashonaland Central Province was also startling. ZEC announced that as of 17:30 hours on voting day, only 105,000 people had voted. At the close of voting, just 2 hours later, ZEC stated that 370,000 people had voted. Every election cycle, members of the ZRP vote early on the premise that they will be working the elections. The process of the police officers voting is however marred in controversy. Some junior officers have reported being forced to vote in front of senior officers were there is no voters roll, privacy, or ink marks to ensure the voting process is transparent (Mandivengerei 2023). Some 75,000 police officers have been made to vote in front of their superiors. The author of this paper witnessed such events in 2002 when working as a Police Officer. There were also 8 polling stations around the country which had more votes cast than the number of registered voters (Chamisa v Mnangagwa et al. CCZ 42/18). In the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections, the same issues encountered in 2018 reappeared. The Southern African, European, and Commonwealth election observer groups all noted issues including voting delays, the banning of rallies, biased state media coverage and the failure of the electoral commission to give candidates access to the voters’ role (Banya and Chingono 2023). This is in addition to various acts of violence and intimidation against opposition members. ZEC announced the presidential results without tallies and proclaimed Mnangagwa the winner of the elections with 52.6 per cent of the vote and Chamisa with 44 per cent (Banya and Chingono 2023).

In summary, Zimbabwe elections are marred with these issues including double counting of polling stations, incorrect polling station codes, duplicated results, vote casting exceeding registers voters, and disparities between votes cast in the simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections (Brickhill 2018; Chamisa v Mnangagwa et al. CCZ 18). Despite such overwhelming evidence, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe dismissed the application. The Court unanimously dismissed the challenge on the basis that the applicant, Chamisa, ought to have applied either for a re-count or to re-open the ballot boxes to adduce primary evidence (Chamisa v Mnangagwa et al. CCZ 18). In 2023, the opposition, if they wish to go to court, face the same issues outlined plus a captured judiciary as the following section will elucidate.

Judicial capture

This decision around electoral fraud leads to other state orchestrated manoeuvres around judicial capture. Judicial capture is the opposite of judicial independence, signalling a loss of autonomy within the judiciary where the institution or individual judges are controlled by political and private interests (Magaisa 2020). Section 164 of the Zimbabwe constitution outlines the independence of the judiciary, stating that the courts are independent and subjected to the constitution and the law (Zimbabwe Constitution 2013). The judicial capture of Zimbabwean judges is in the form of capture through appointments, grants, loans, suspension of benefits, administrative fiats, and over familiarity with the political elite.

On the 16th of July 2020, Chief Justice Luke Malaba had issued an order directing all senior judges to submit judgements to superiors prior to passing the judgement in court. This was controversially issued in the form of a memorandum addressed to the Supreme Court, High Court, Labour Court, and Administrative Court of Zimbabwe. The Africa Judges and Jurists Forum (AJJF), a network of judges and jurists who are committed to promoting justice and development in Africa by providing legal expertise to governments, later issued a statement condemning the move. This resulted in Chief Justice Malaba withdrawing the directive (AJJF 2021). This move alludes to administrative fiat, rule by decree which is issued from a higher office without the authority of law.

Chief Justice Malaba had his term of office extended beyond the age limit set by the constitution which is 70 years. Amendment 2 to the Constitution increased the age limit to 75 in early May 2021 allowing him to remain in office (Reuters 2021). The increase in age for judges was in breach of section 186 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe as it benefited the persons who held or occupied the office at any time prior to the amendment (Kika v Minister of Justice & Ors, HH: 664–21). Despite a constitutional challenge to the amendment by local human rights lawyers, which the court dismissed, the ZANU-PF party used its majority in parliament to amend the constitution, allowing the president to extend the retirement age of senior judges to 75 years if they proved they were in good health. Chief Justice Malaba sits both on the Constitutional and Supreme benches of Zimbabwe where most electoral and political cases are heard. Chief Justice Malaba’s previous rulings include that Mugabe had freely resigned-despite the coup, and declared that there was not electoral fraud in the 2018 elections (The Herald 2018). Electoral fraud is further supported by a captured judiciary. Lastly, in June 2023, 3 months before elections, President Mnangagwa awarded over a quarter of a million dollars to Supreme and High court judges as housing loans (Ndoro 2023). These awards and payments are not unusual under the ZANU-PF government as they previously made direct payments to judges under the Mugabe era through the reserve bank (Magaisa 2020). These payments and awards are often not budgeted for and are a method to compromise the judiciary ahead of political violence cases and electoral challenges. Under the Mugabe regime, the government forced the removal of judges who were not favourable to the land reform program. The Chief Justice at that time, Justice Gubbay, who had declared land reform illegal was forced to resign through personal attacks by state officials. Chief Justice Chidyausiku who was appointed by Mugabe immediately reversed the previous court’s decision on the legality of the infamous Zimbabwe land reform (The Guardian 2001).

Due to the perennial issues pertaining to the voter’s roll, Harare North MP Allan Norman “Rusty” Markham made an application to the High Court demanding the release of the voters’ roll. In a judgement received in March 2023, the judge ruled that in his ruling, Justice Katiyo said ZEC was mandated to safeguard the voter’s roll, especially the electronic ones, claiming it can be tampered with “in this age of social media.” (Ndoro 2023) This ruling contradicts Section 62(1) of the Zimbabwe Constitution. This right entitles citizens to request any record of information held by the State which is obliged to provide the requested information if that information is needed by the requester for purposes of fostering public accountability (Zimbabwe Constitution 2013). Hence the indicators of judicial capture have been demonstrated in Zimbabwe under both regimes via systematic bias, predictability, selective application of the law, and absence of dissent (Magaisa 2020).

In a recent case which encapsulates judicial capture, an aspiring presidential candidate, Saviour Kasukuwere had to apply to have Justice David Mangota removed from his electoral challenge case at the High Court. Kasukuwere, a former ZANU-PF government minister, was applying to register as an independent presidential candidate in the 2023 election. He was barred from contesting on the grounds that he had lived outside the country for 12 months (ZIMLIVE 2023). The application was brought forward by a ZANU-PF proxy, Lovedale Mangwana. Three days before Justice Mangota was supposed to hear the case, he was given a house by the government (ibid.) Kasukuwere in his affidavit was calling for the judgement to be suspended as the judicial officer had been compromised. It also emerged that Judges of the Constitutional Court had their contracts for purchase of houses cancelled by sellers as the Zimbabwe treasury did not release the funds. However, Justice Mangota, in an unprecedented move, became the only beneficiary. Mangota’s judgement against Kasukuwere was important as the latter had the chance to split the ZANU-PF vote in the upcoming 2023 election.


Propaganda is defined as the purposeful spread of false, exaggerated, or falsified information to support a political movement or individual (Huang and Cruz 2021). Studies describe propaganda as persuasion and contend that it works by convincing individuals of the virtues of the government or its policies, boosting citizens’ support for the regime and decreasing their propensity to resist (Guriev and Treisman 2020; Rozenas and Stukal 2019). According to Huang and Cruz (2021), totalitarian regimes use political propaganda to impact citizen behaviour, notably protest, and understandings of political choices and socio-economic issues. Most of these caveats are present within the Mnangagwa regime as this paper will outline. Propaganda can be detrimental in that it can sometimes work not by influencing individuals’ own preferences or beliefs but by making them think that other people’s preferences or beliefs may have been influenced. The Zimbabwean government’s ability to spread propaganda and conspiracy theories is aided by its monopoly on state-run television- Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). The government’s refusal to grant broadcasting licenses to dissenting voices further silences opposition viewpoints.

Under the Mnangagwa regime, propaganda was used to justify the coup in 2018 under the guise that the Zimbabwe National Army was trying to arrest criminals surrounding President Mugabe (Brickhill 2018). Years later after the coup, no individuals around the former President were arrested, a few senior cabinet members went in exile and no warrants were issues against them. Even within the midst of the coup, there was deliberate attempt to frame the military assisted takeover as a “soft coup” (Tshabangu and Salawu 2022). From this narrative, the government then started promulgating the mantra that they are the “second republic”, this being an attempt to distance themselves from the Mugabe regime.

Propaganda has also been used by the Zimbabwe government around the European Union  and United States sanctions on Zimbabwe since 2000 to justify corruption, economic mismanagement, and poor standard of living. The US introduced The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act in 2001 which is the law that introduced targeted sanctions against certain Zimbabwe political elites, human rights abuses, and a few companies associated with those individuals. The EU introduced similar sanctions under the Common Position Regulation 2002/145/CFSP. Both the US and EU sanctions were in response to chaotic land reform, human rights abuses, corruption, and election fraud (Magaisa 2021). The EU has restrictive measures around arms exporting, asset freezes of certain individuals, restriction of admission of certain individuals into the EU, and also restricts the purchase of equipment that can be used for repression (EU 2023). As of June 2023, the list includes 17 individuals and 4 entities (ibid.) The US sanctions list has 17 individuals and 44 entities (United States Department of State 2022). Australia and Canada also have similar albeit minor sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Despite this minimum number of individuals and entities on both the US and EU’s sanctions lists the issue of sanctions has been used by the state as propaganda to cover up economic mismanagement, corruption, and fraud. Under both the Mugabe and Mnangagwa regimes, sanctions have been used to explain the lack of equipment in hospitals, lack of investment in the country and even immigration of Zimbabweans to South Africa (The East African 2022; The Herald 2022). The Zimbabwean government has frequently criticized the US and EU, alleging that they are interfering with their internal affairs, which is a violation of its sovereignty. In addition, the state alleges that sanctions are a tool used by the West to punish Zimbabwe for its land reform policies which resulted in the loss of over 4,000 white owned farms as well as associated deaths and violence (Mararike 2018). In addition, the Zimbabwe government has claimed that sanctions are meant to destabilise the economy, are a form of racism, and that the US and EU have double standards, for not imposing similar sanctions on other countries with worse human rights records (The Herald 2022). The Zimbabwe government even roped various US companies such as Ballard Partners to lobby on their behalf (Meyer 2019). Both the US and EU have provided over US $ 4 billion in development aid for Zimbabwe since 1980. In 2021, the US provided over US $317 million in bilateral assistance to support democracy and governance, agriculture, and health programming (United States Department of State 2022). Despite the propaganda campaigns regionally and internationally by both the Mnangagwa and Mugabe regimes, individual and directed sanctions remains in place.


Crimes by the state in Zimbabwe have had a significant and detrimental impact on the country within psychological, cultural, and political contexts. Political violence and abductions have created a climate of fear and insecurity, making it difficult for citizens to exercise their rights to freedom of speech and expression which is guaranteed under the Zimbabwe Constitution. Additionally, these abductions have resulted in physical and mental harm to the victims, often leading to long-term trauma and psychological distress. This is true for all the democides that have occurred in Zimbabwe since 1980. There have not been any differences between the respective regimes under discussion.

The late leading Zimbabwean academic, Dr Alex Magaisa aptly summed up the use of lawfare in Zimbabwe when he said “[o]ne might use the analogy of the knife. In the hands of a chef, it is a useful instrument in the kitchen, but in the hands of a murderer, it is a weapon to kill. The law is a good thing, but in the hands of an abusive people, it is a crude weapon of abuse.” (Magaisa 2021: 1) Lawfare in Zimbabwe as demonstrated is facilitated by a captured judiciary and partisan judiciary. And as one commenter noted “[i]f you judicialize politics you ultimately politicise the judiciary.” (Tsunga 2023)

The impact of electoral fraud that has been committed by the old and new Zimbabwe governments is demonstrated presently in the legitimacy of the election of the Mnangagwa administration over two elections. The same issues that plagued the rule of Mugabe since he become leader in 1980. Because of electoral fraud there has been polarisation within the Zimbabwean community, a feeling of disenfranchisement, damage to democratic institutions, lack of representation of minority groups, and political instability.

The Zimbabwean government state capture of religious institutions has led to the manipulation of  beliefs and teachings for political gain, the exploitation of religious institutions for votes, and the sacralization of politics. With regards the Vapositoti, this has led to the non-persecution of sect members who have relationships with or raped young girls and the deaths associated with their various beliefs. Furthermore, state capture of religious communities can lead to a deterioration of trust in the state and its institutions.

The government under President Mnangagwa, if it must be taken seriously around its mantra of being a new dispensation should endeavour to curb state excesses around political violence, stop interfering with the judiciary, and have transparent organisations that investigate human rights issues and elections. They should also consider their use of propaganda machinery which has been found to be inept. The use of propaganda by the state as not yielded anything around corruption, human rights abuses, or turning around the economy which is in perpetual doldrums.

The use of lawfare, persecution of dissenting voices, state capture of religious sects, judiciary, electoral fraud, and the use of propaganda and does not give credence to President Munagagwa’s administration of being a new dispensation, instead they are simply old wine in new bottles.


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