As the crisis in human rights and the rule of law continues in Zimbabwe, its impact – and growing condemnation of the government crackdown – has spread elsewhere in the region and abroad. In Namibia, an opposition MP, visiting from Zimbabwe, fears for his life after receiving information that a squad of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation police have arrived in Namibia to abduct him. He believes the aim of the secret mission is to return him to Zimbabwe and put him on trial for treason. In other developments, confidential documents have been leaked by Zim police to The Guardian in the UK, showing police frustration at the impunity enjoyed by the military in the Harare area. And a ranking UK MP, Kate Hoey, has made a major speech condemning the Mnangagwa government for its dangerous infringement of the constitution and the rule of law.

A prominent legal firm in Namibia has written to that country’s inspector general of police asking for action to protect a senior Zimbabwe opposition figure, Chalton Hwende, on holiday in Namibia. Human rights lawyer, Norman Tjombe, told Jifa that his client, still safe in Namibia at the moment, had received credible information that members of Zimbabwe’s intelligence agency, the much-feared Central Intelligence Organisation, had arrived in Namibia intent on abducting him and taking him back to Zimbabwe.

Hwende is an office-bearer of Zimbabwe’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and an MP of that party.

Tjombe told Jifa that any unlawful kidnapping would be a police matter, and that threat of such a crime had to be investigated and prevented.

In his letter to the inspector general, Sebastian Ndeitunga, head of police in Namibia, Tjombe said that Hwende was visiting his family in Namibia while parliament in Zimbabwe was in recess. He was due to return in early February.

He said that according to the information given to Hwende, members of the CIO were already in Namibia, having arrived on or before 28 January 2019. Hwende was being sought by the CIO operatives with the intention of taking him back to Zimbabwe where he was to be charged with treason and incitement to commit public violence among other charges.

Hwende had “good reason” to believe the information, said his lawyer. In response to the dramatic increase in fuel prices, announced on 13 January 2019, protests were met by a brutal clampdown, “arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and assaults” on the public. Constant new reports of beatings, rapes and abductions were being received, and at least a dozen people had been shot and killed. Many have simply disappeared.

After police arrested at least six opposition MPs as part of the continuing crackdown, they distributed a list of wanted people which includes Hwende’s name.

Treason, with which Hwende was allegedly to be charged, was a capital offence in Zimbabwe and according to the lawyer’s letter, if Hwende were to be abducted and taken back he would “in any event not receive a fair trial in Zimbabwe”. This is a reference to ongoing protests and concern among the legal community of Zimbabwe about trials that compromise the rule of law or amount to a farce.

Ndeitunga, formerly head of police internal complaints and discipline, is well-regarded in Namibia, and is seen as someone unlikely to collaborate in any covert operation of this kind.

Meanwhile this week the UK newspaper, The Guardian, said it had been shown internal Zimbabwean police documents that suggest responsibility for the continuing brutal crackdown, the murder, rape and armed robbery now terrorizing parts of Zimbabwe, lies with the army.

More than a dozen investigation reports, shared with The Guardian, came from police officials “frustrated at the apparent impunity of the military”, according to the newspaper.

Apart from confirmation about the crimes themselves and the probable perpetrators, the leaked documents also appear to confirm growing tension between the military and “people within civilian law enforcement agencies” over army behaviour.

According to reports from inside Zimbabwe, many hundreds of detainees are being pushed through the court system via mass trials. With the rights of detainees and those standing trial much truncated, lawyers have been protesting in the capital against the sharp erosion of the rule of law.

The crisis in Zimbabwe also came under the spotlight mid-week with a well-received speech by UK MP Kate Hoey who heads the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe.

Giving statistics of the brutal crackdown in Zimbabwe, she said that country’s constitution was being ignored and the rule of law trampled on by the executive, the army, the police, the prosecuting authorities and even some elements of the judiciary.

She said the UK should work with Botswana and South Africa both of whom could play a key role in making it clear to the authorities in Zimbabwe that an end to military deployment was essential. It was very clear that any initiative on engaging with the government of Emmerson Mnangagwa over discussions on debt restructuring and related matters could not now go ahead. She commented, “We may have to look at reviving sanctions.”

“We are clearly seeing crimes against humanity” in Zimbabwe, she said, yet South Africa was “standing back and doing and saying virtually nothing”. As to the response of the UK, she said there had been a “worrying trend” that some Zimbabweans seeking refuge in the UK had been sent back on the grounds that matters had improved significantly in Zimbabwe after the previous regime of Robert Mugabe had been replaced by the new Mnangagwa government.

She said that the UK had acted too quickly in this regard and she also expressed concern that the UK embassy in Zimbabwe had become too closely identified with the ruling party.

  • Newsletter, Judicial Institute for Africa (Jifa), 31 January 2019