Zimbabwe's next 30 years must herald a new dawn for human rights

You may have already spotted a few stories marking 30 years of independence in Zimbabwe which falls this Sunday. Petina Gappah provided a thoughtful account of Zimbabwe over the last 30 years in the Guardian, where she highlighted some less-reported but positive steps made by the country over the past three decades, such as the country’s high literacy rate and legal equality for black women.

Petina however doesn’t make reference to the police crackdowns on peaceful protests faced by hundreds of women activists who dare to speak out about the system. For example just a few days ago more than 60 Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) activists were arrested after taking part in a peaceful demonstration outside Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority in central Harare.

As I write it looks as though four of the activists are likely to spend Independence Day in police custody. 

This level of intimidation and repression of freedom of speech has been a real issue for those who dare to defend human rights across Zimbabwe.  You can show your support for WOZA activists here.

In recent years the world has focused on a few massive human rights abuses in Zimbabwe – media repression, unfair detentions and abduction of human rights activists are just a few of the abuses which Zimbabweans have dealt with in recent years.

During the political turbulence in 2008, there was dreadful state-sponsored violence that saw at least 250 people killed and thousands injured.  And it’s hard to forget the awful pictures from 2007 which showed the country’s now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai assault after an attack during the crackdown on opposition activists. 

Since the unity government was formed in 2008 though, the situation has become much calmer across the country. But some abuses persist. Trade unionists and human rights defenders are still being persecuted.

Intimidation tactics are still being used to silence human rights defenders and five years on from the mass forced evictions which occurred during President Mugabe’s ‘Operation Drive Out the Rubbish’ in 2005, thousands are still without adequate housing and are still trying to rebuild their lives.

Zimbabweans have taken many knocks over the past few years, not least in the area of human rights repression. The next 30 years must herald a new dawn for human rights across Zimbabwe – it’s vital for the country’s very existence.

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