Tomorrow marks the presidential inauguration of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Mr. Mugabe’s fifth consecutive term as ultimate leader will be validated at a soccer stadium seating 60,000 people, and is a public holiday here.
But it comes amid uncertainty about the policies and tone of the 89-year-old’s future rule: The inaugural takes place after the high court, hand-picked by Mugabe, ordered the arrest of lawyers for the opposition who are contesting the July 31 election. Yesterday, the opposition withdrew the case.
The inaugural also comes as new power cuts in the suburbs and a shaky stock market roil the country. And in the economic community, concern is growing over potential government appropriation of foreign banks and mining firms – part of Mugabe’s old program of national liberation.
Outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who ran against Mugabe, has called the elections rigged. He will not attend the swearing in, which his aides described yesterday as “a party held by a robber.”
Yet in some ways, an atmosphere of dismay after the elections in many quarters is most powerfully symbolized by the death in police custody last week of a young political activist, Rebecca Mafukeni.
Ms. Mafukeni, who was 29, worked for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Mr. Tsvangirai. She was well known in Harare civic society circles. She died after being refused medication at Harare’s maximum security prison where she was incarcerated. She faced charges involving the death of a policeman in 2011 in a case described as ludicrous by human rights groups, and which is seen as an attempt to sideline opposition voices, since some 29 other opposition MDC activists were also inexplicably charged.
Makfuni is one of five suspects held on remand since the policeman’s death, and in conditions, including solitary confinement for nine months that the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights described last week as “the worst of prison’s inhumane conditions,” that include raw sewage flowing into her cell.
The announcement of Makfuni’s death sparked immediate anger from civil society groups, some of which had been silent following the elections that were officially described as a 61 percent landslide, but that may have involved irregularities of up to 2 million out of 6 million voters.
“The reason why the death of activist Rebecca Mafukeni has sparked outrage is because this is yet another death of an activist whose crime is being a member” of the opposition, says Harare writer and social commentator Phillip Pasirayi.
“People no longer trust state institutions because they have become hostile to their own people. This is just but a small reflection of the extent to which [Mugabe’s ruling party] ZANU PF goes…Jail in Zimbabwe is not for the faint-hearted, as it is a death sentence in itself,” writes veteran journalist Banarbas Thodhlanas.
Gladys Hlatshwayo, head of the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust, says the sudden fury over a death in prison, following the deliberate withholding of treatment, is “an indictment of the state in Zimbabwe. Is it not a shame that in this day and era, we still have people dying because the state, which is supposed to be No. 1 protector of human rights, has denied rights holders their constitutionally guaranteed right?”