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The Mugabe years are back

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is becoming even more heavy handed in dealing with dissent than the autocratic Mugabe, who ruled with an iron fist for about four decades.

The latest wave of arrests targeting pro-democracy activists and opposition politicians is yet another demonstration that the fall of Robert Mugabe nearly five years ago was a false dawn for Zimbabwe.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is becoming even more heavy handed in dealing with dissent than the autocratic Mugabe, who ruled with an iron fist for about four decades.

On Friday police arrested the leader of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) Obert Masaraure for allegedly tweeting and commenting about the arrest of his colleague Robson Chere.

Chere was arrested last week and was charged with the alleged murder of his friend Roy Issa in 2016.

Masaraure was arrested over the same offence last month despite the fact that an inquest ruled out any foul play in Issa’s death. He was out on bail when he was rearrested.

The ARTUZ leader is now being charged for allegedly obstructing justice by commenting on Chere’s detention.

Both Masaraure and Chere have been very vocal in demanding a living wage for teachers and it is tempting to link their arrests to the activism, which Mnangagwa’s government is clearly uncomfortable with.

The persecution also extends to members of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) led by Nelson Chamisa with at least 13 from Chitungwiza in detention following the violence that erupted after the brutal murder of Moreblessing Ali.

Those in detention include legislators Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole, who were instrumental in demanding justice for Ali following indications that a Zanu PF activist was linked to her abduction before her mutilated body was found two weeks later.

Both Zanu PF and CCC members were implicated in the violence, but not even a single person from the ruling party has been charged.

Some of the detained CCC activists are said to be victims as they had their properties destroyed by Zanu PF members.

The selective application of the law was a hallmark of Mugabe’s dictatorial rule and it is worrisome to see Mnangagwa walking the same path after promising Zimbabweans a “new and unfolding democracy” following the coup against his mentor.

After serving as Mugabe’s right hand man for such a long time, the Zanu PF leader knows that human rights violations, arbitrary arrests and other anti-democracy tendencies invite international isolation and can ruin an economy.

Zimbabwe is still struggling to shake off its pariah state status and the path that Mnangagwa’s government has chosen to crush dissent will certainly perpetuate the international isolation.

Mnangagwa had an opportunity to create a legacy as someone who ushered in democracy after Mugabe’s disastrous rule, but he seems determined to squander it and this is a tragedy.

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