The abduction of Peter Magombeyi, 26, the leader of Zimbabwe’s doctors, who was masterminding a strike for better pay and improved working conditions, brought the country’s crumbling health sector to a standstill. He was only found five days later, dumped in the bush some 40 km northwest of the capital, Harare, bruised and disorientated from days of abuse.
Just before Magombeyi was abducted, he had literally been walking with his back firmly to the wall and sleeping with one eye wide open as he was receiving threatening messages from unknown people on his phone over the deadlock between the broke government and the underpaid doctors.
That he was found alive was a real miracle to many because in the past none of those that have gone missing for more than a day have been found alive, if found at all. Even most of his colleagues who took to the streets daily to protest against his abduction had started referring to him – in their songs and slogans – using terms reserved only for the dead.
Magombeyi is the latest of the more than 50 Zimbabwean opposition and human rights activists who, since the beginning of the year, have been kidnapped from their homes in the middle of the night by armed men and tortured. Not a single suspect has been apprehended by security agents in connection with these kidnappings. This has left Zimbabweans, who are bitterly divided along unforgiving political fault lines, to accuse and counter-accuse each other of being behind these crimes.
The opposition and the international community blame the government, while the ruling ZANU-PF party and government officials blame it on the opposition that they accuse of working with the United States and other Western powers to pursue a regime change agenda.
There is no love lost between President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government and the opposition and civil society organisations (CSOs). The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rejected the outcome of the July 2018 elections and continues to challenge Mnangagwa’s legitimacy, while for his part Mnangagwa has threatened to go after those individuals and organisations that he accuses of trying to destabilise his government.
Since the spate of abductions started, Mnangagwa and his government and ruling party officials have taken turns to accuse the victims of faking the attacks.
“Government is disturbed by the growing trend of politically motivated false abductions in the country which are calculated to put government in negative light,” Mnangagwa said in a state address on September 20.
“Such political trickery, which in fact amounts to terrorism, will not take our country forward. New measures might have to be formulated to deal with this new threat and to severely punish those responsible for such subterfuges,” threatened Mnangagwa, who has a reputation for ruthlessness built over the more than four decades that he was Robert Mugabe’s enforcer.
Mnangagwa and his government are not just in denial, but they are also in denial about being in denial, as one moment they claim the abductions are staged, and the next they blame the same abductions they don’t acknowledge on the opposition or on a “third force” that they say is bent on tarnishing the government.