As Zimbabwe holds its next harmonized elections on the 30th of July, could it be time for the country to part ways with its dark past marred by targeted violence and intimidation by the ruling Zanu PF against opposition supporters with impunity?
The new government that came into force following the November 2017 military coup that displaced former President, Robert Mugabe has shown signs of reform and tolerance but the biggest question that has not been answered is to what extend are they prepared to tolerate criticism and opposition to their rule.
In rather loud signs that Zimbabwe could be in a ‘new dispensation’, the new administration headed by former deputy of Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangagwa has invited the international community to observe elections to be held in a few months’ time.
In addition, Mnangagwa has also opened up the political space to other parties to canvass for support even in Zanu PF strongholds including Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East.
Even the police who used to bar opposition and pro-democracy groups from demonstrating have also softened up and on two occasions, the MDC Alliance has been allowed to march and submit their petition for electoral reforms to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
Despite the drop in cases of politically motivated violence, Zimbabweans are still sceptical of the sincerity of the new administration.
They are convinced that this could be a case of window dressing and legitimizing the military coup ahead of the July 30 watershed elections.
Zanu PF’s human rights record is littered with cases of terror and persecution of dissenting voices.
One such case is prominent human rights defender and Director of Zimbabwe Peace Project, Jestina Mukoko of the Zimbabwe Peace Project.
According to Mukoko, her captors accused her of working with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as well as insurgency and recruiting MDC youths to train in Botswana in an alleged regime change plot.
Another victim of Zanu PF ruthless system is political activist and member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Obrain Mtetwa who in 2013 was tortured and left for dead.
Mtetwa was abducted by Zanu PF members at his home in the middle of the night and taken to an isolated place where his captors took turns to torture him resulting in him sustaining severe head injuries.
To this day, founder of Occupy Africa Unity Square, Itai Dzamara is still missing without any trace of what could have happened to him.
It is these and other related cases that most Zimbabweans remain sceptical of the sincerity of the new administration to uphold its commitment to respect people’s freedoms.
Political commentator, Samuel Kamanga believes Mnangagwa’s administration has not been tested to see if it will remain true to its commitment to democracy.
“Since he assumed office, he has not been tested, his true colors will only show if he is cornered.
“Remember Mugabe was once a darling for man, revered all over the world but when the MDC was formed in 1999, his power came under threat and you know what then happened, so this Mnangagwa needs a real test and only after that can we say he has opened up the country’s democratic space,” said Kamanga.
Another political analyst, Richard Sithole was optimistic that Mnangagwa was committed to opening up the democratic space saying his intention is to reverse all the wrongs Mugabe did in the hope of improving the economic standing of the country.
“I believe he is on a mission to gain support through improving the general welfare of the populace, he is alive to the fact that poverty brews uprising against the government and if you look at his desperation for international recognition and legitimacy tells you of his motives, so I would give it to him to for doing good for the country,” said Sithole.
With Zimbabwe holding elections in four months’ time, it remains to be seen if the ruling Zanu PF will stick to its commitments and respect people’s freedoms.