Forced patriotism as Zanu-PF moves to entrench police state

Harare – Zanu-PF is pushing the controversial Patriotic Bill to entrench a police state and quash any dissenting voices ahead of the 2023 elections, analysts have said.

The government has been previously accused of political abductions and violence against opposition party members, especially the MDC-Alliance. The so-called new dispensation has shamefully failed to reform from the autocratic rule of the late former President Robert Mugabe, exposing the incumbent rulers as pseudo-reformists.

On March 2, 2021, the late Zanu-PF legislator Alum Mpofu tabled a controversial motion that sparked fierce debate on the adoption of the Patriotic Bill.

Critics say the proposed law exposed President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s quest to unleash “lawfare” against citizens.

The Patriotic Bill, whose desired outcome has been discounted by critics, comes in the wake of a crackdown on dissent by state security agents 41 years after independence.

In 2018, armed security personnel killed civilians during protests in the aftermath of a disputed election. Mnangagwa set up the Kgalema Motlanthe Commission to probe circumstances around the fatal shootings of the civilians but the government is yet to implement the recommendations.

The commission, among other recommendations, suggested that victims of the shootings be compensated.

This further taints Mnangagwa, who, at first, posed as a reformist but is proving to be a hardliner. In 2019, security officers shot dead unarmed civilians during protests over a sharp rise in fuel prices by more than 150%.

Analysts suggested that the ruling Zanu-PF party should resolve the Gukurahundi issue where North Korean-trained 5 Brigade killed an estimated 20 000 in the 1980s in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.

According to Wikipedia, patriotism, sometimes referred to as national pride, is the feeling of love, devotion and sense of attachment to a homeland and alliance with other citizens who share the same sentiment.

The attachment, Wikipedia says, can be a combination of different feelings relating to one’s homeland, including ethnic, cultural, political or historical aspects.

Analysts say a strict adherence to the Constitution, would nurture the desired patriotism rather than pushing for legislation that ultimately violates freedoms. The controversial proposed legislation will disqualify citizens accused of campaigning against the interests of Zimbabwe from holding public office. Over the years, Zanu-PF has blamed leaders of the opposition MDC-Alliance for calling for sanctions against the country.

Zanu-PF also cites sanctions as a major cause of the debilitating economic crisis that began in 2000.

In part, the Bill seeks to prohibit “any Zimbabwean citizen from wilfully communicating any messages intended to harm the image and reputation of the country on international platforms or engaging with foreign countries with the intention of communicating messages intended to harm the country’s positive image and or to undermine its integrity and reputation”.

Commentators argue that once passed as law, the Patriotic Bill will entrench Mnangagwa’s military backed regime in Zimbabwe, while decimating the opposition and civic society.

Mnangagwa rose to power in 2017 following a military coup that toppled Mugabe.

The new legislation will constrict the shrinking democratic space while bolstering authoritarian rule, analysts say.

If the legislation sails through, Mnangagwa will be insulated from public scrutiny, which forms the hallmark of constitutional democracy. With a majority in Parliament, gifted through the recalling of a number of MDC-Alliance MPs, the Patriotic Bill will soon sail through.

Lawyer Daniel Molekele said the Patriot Bill will result in the “conflation of the state”, criminalisation of dissent and closure of the democratic space.

“The Bill is meant to criminalise everyone who has a different view from Zanu-PF. There is now a conflation between the ruling party and government. When a government is in place, it should differentiate itself from the ruling party. This Bill has nothing to do with patriotism. It is a political weapon that Zanu-PF is using against civil society and against the opposition,” Molekele said. “In this particular case, when they want to criminalise dissent, they will say if you criticise the government especially on international fora, it discourages investors from coming to Zimbabwe; you are attracting sanctions, so we will arrest you.”

Political analyst Prolific Mataruse argued that while the Bill’s intention to foster patriotism was commendable, the law will definitely be used against opposing voices.

“The Bill has great potential for national interest protection but also adds to government’s ability to crush dissent. The experience of the Patriot Act in the United States shows this ambiguity the executive can pry into private lives, while having incredible flexibility in protecting the public.

“Unfortunately, it may not give a good impression in our re-engagement efforts. We will continue to be maligned as stifling space and seen as continuing practices from the old dispensation,” Mataruse said.

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