Student leaders and human rights activists are living in fear

Student leaders say they are living in fear after the Zimbabwe government recently arrested a number of students, including a prominent student union leader, and was accused of being behind the abduction and torture of another.

President of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) Takudzwa Ngadziore (22), a student at Great Zimbabwe University, was first arrested two weeks ago and was released on bail last week following his involvement in a protest at the Harare premises of Impala Car Rental, which supplied a vehicle allegedly used by suspected state agents to abduct and torture second-year Midlands State University journalism student Tawanda Muchehiwa.

Nine students were also arrested last week after turning up at court in Harare in solidarity with Ngadziore who was later granted bail. According to ZINASU, the students are Arnold Mazonde, Nancy Njenge, Talent Jinga, Mitchel Liyeto, Gwaze Takudzwa, Takudzwa Mukono, Donald Marevanhema, John Ncobo and Zvikomborero Mumbirimi.

Ngadziore’s freedom was short-lived as he was arrested a second time and is facing a charge of participating in a gathering with the intent to promote public violence after he held a press conference near the car rental premises to speak against Muchehiwa’s abduction in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city.

Ngadziore is still in custody after being denied bail on 21 September.

Disruption to studies

In an interview, Muchehiwa, who was released by his abductors after three days, said he has absconded from university out of fear because he had broken his abductors’ directive not to speak about his ordeal. He said they had promised him a scholarship and a job once he finished his studies if he joined the ruling party, ZANU-PF, and a student union linked to it.

“They demanded that I join ZICOSU, a ZANU-PF aligned student union, and they claimed processes would get underway to ensure that I become the Midlands State University ZICOSU president … They also pledged that if I comply, someone would pay my school fees. Failure to comply… I was guaranteed that they’ll kill me, and my family won’t be able to bury or discover my remains. As we drove back from the chamber of torture, I was instructed to prove that I was a changed person by declaring my support for ZANU-PF through some tweets,” he said.

“I am currently not learning and I am afraid I will miss my exams … I have since defied all of the [Zimbabwe President Emmerson] Mnangagwa’s terror group demands and for that for reason, I know my life is in danger. I can’t continue with my studies in Zimbabwe or lead a normal life again as the regime has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that they want me dead,” he said.

Muchehiwa claims to have been abducted at gunpoint by five security force members on 30 July, a day before planned anti-government protests, and tortured over three days. After a habeas corpus application was made before the courts, he was dumped near the house of his uncle, Mduduzi Mathuthu, barely able to walk.

He said his tormentors appeared to be under the impression that he was the leader of the protests in Bulawayo and the Matabeleland region. They also asked him about Mathuthu, who is editor of online publication ZimLive.

Muchehiwa’s abduction, including the number plates of the Impala Car Rental vehicle used, was reportedly captured by CCTV cameras. After his release, he experienced serious health complications including renal failure and was hospitalised.

On the arrest of Ngadziore, Webster Jiti of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said his client had violated no law when he sought to hold a press conference on the abduction of Muchehiwa.

He said his client was assaulted by unknown men and police officers despite being more than 100 metres from Impala Car Rental (a condition of his bail) while delivering the press conference.

Students living in fear

On Sunday, ZINASU said student leaders in Zimbabwe are living in fear.

“Our union leaders … are being followed by unknown people. We have to clearly state to all that we are a constitutionally abiding institution with a vision of ensuring the realisation of academic freedom as part of the daily lives of students. This includes political, social, cultural and economic rights,” said ZINASU spokesperson Donald Marevanhema.

He said students were demonstrating against the deteriorating economic environment that has a bearing on the quality of education as well as “unemployment [and] the hopelessness of our society”.

The All-Africa Students Union (AASU) has joined calls for the Zimbabwean government to respect students’ rights. In a statement, AASU Secretary General Peter Kwasi Kodjie urged the Zimbabwe government to find progressive steps and engage in a consultative manner.

“AASU notes with grave concern the deteriorated state of the government-students relationship in Zimbabwe … The union is dismayed at government’s approaches to genuine student problems and calls for an immediate resolution,” said Kodjie.

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