Zimbabwe is constitutionally a republic. The country elected Emmerson Mnangagwa president for a five-year term in July 2018 in general elections. Despite incremental improvements from past elections, domestic and international observers noted serious concerns and called for further reforms necessary to meet regional and international standards for democratic elections. Numerous factors contributed to a flawed overall election process, including: the Zimbabwe Election Commission’s (ZEC) lack of independence; heavily biased state media favoring the ruling party; voter intimidation; unconstitutional influence of tribal leaders; disenfranchisement of alien and diaspora voters; failure to provide a preliminary voters roll in electronic format; politicization of food aid; security services’ excessive use of force; and lack of precision and transparency around the release of election results. The election resulted in the formation of a government led by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party with a supermajority in the National Assembly but not in the Senate.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) maintains internal security. The Department of Immigration and the ZRP, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs, are primarily responsible for migration and border enforcement. Although the ZRP is officially under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Office of the President directed some ZRP roles and missions in response to civil unrest. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force constitute the Zimbabwe Defense Forces under the Minister of Defense. The police report to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the military reports to the Ministry of Defense. The Central Intelligence Organization, under the Office of the President, engages in both internal and external security matters. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces; torture and arbitrary detention by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of government restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; widespread acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting women and girls; and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although not enforced.
Impunity remained a problem. The government took very few steps to identify or investigate officials who committed human rights abuses, and there were no reported arrests or prosecutions of such persons.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and of the media, but the law limits these freedoms in the “interest of defense, public security or professional confidentiality, to the extent that the restriction is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom.” The government continued to arrest, detain, and harass critics, and journalists practiced self-censorship.
Freedom of Expression: There were no official restrictions on individuals criticizing the government or discussing matters of general public interest. Authorities, however, remained sensitive to criticism in general, particularly when directed at President Mnangagwa. Persons accused of insulting the president and his office are charged under section 33 (2) (b) of the criminal law (Codification and Reform Act), undermining authority of or insulting a president, but this was contested in the Supreme Court on the basis that the section infringed on the right to freedom of expression. The court did not make a final determination on its constitutionality, however, and the law remained in force. On August 28, the ZLHR reported assisting 10 individuals charged under the law since January. Additionally, 22 activists or government critics were charged with violating other sections of the same law for attempting to subvert a constitutionally elected government or criminal nuisance.
In February, Tendai Biti, former finance minister and senior official of the MDC, the largest opposition party, was convicted and fined 200 RTGS ($15) for unlawfully announcing that MDC leader Nelson Chamisa had won the 2018 presidential election over ZANU-PF candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa. According to the decision, Biti’s announcement was “false and unlawful.”
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent newspapers and commercial radio stations were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although with some restrictions. State-sponsored media, however, were the most prevalent. The Ministry of Media, Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting Services exercised control over state-run media.
Independent newspapers continued to operate freely, although journalists reported practicing self-censorship.
On April 4, police intentionally shot three teargas canisters into the offices of a local media organization, @263Chat, in Harare and then barricaded the doors, preventing staff from exiting. Lovejoy Mutongwiza, a reporter with @263Chat, had been filming the police arresting vendors. Police officers chased him to the media outlet’s offices and then fired a teargas canister directly at Mutongwiza, striking him in the abdomen. Two other canisters were thrown into the offices while police officers barricaded the doors. The @263Chat staff fled the offices through second floor windows. Police also confiscated a mobile phone used to record the attack.
On March 21, police arrested documentary filmmaker Zenzele Ndebele and charged him with “possession of offensive weapons at public gatherings.” Security officers claimed they found an empty tear gas canister in the journalist’s car when he arrived for a meeting between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and civil society organizations in Bulawayo.
The government used accreditation laws to monitor international media journalists’ entry into the country. The government required foreign journalists to obtain permits 60 days before travelling to the country in order to report from the country.
Foreign reporters paid more for permits and accreditation than did their local counterparts. The Zimbabwe Media Commission charged 200 RTGS ($15) for a foreigner’s 60-day accreditation, while local journalists paid 10 RTGS dollars ($0.63) for a one-year accreditation.
On January 29, state media criticized foreign media after President Mnangagwa stated he was “appalled” by an attack by the British station Sky News broadcast of Zimbabwe security officials attacking a protester. The Herald newspaper reported authorities were worried about “surreptitious reporting by Sky News and company.” It alleged a Western embassy was working with local media to besmirch the country and accused the television station of “manufacturing” stories about police brutality. It quoted Information Ministry Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana as stating the journalist who reported the story did not have accreditation to work in the country.
International media outlets such as al-Jazeera and the BBC continued to operate in the country.
Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. All urban commercial radio stations licensed in 2015 were operating during the year. Despite their perceived allegiance to ZANU-PF, these stations included independent voices in their programming. The government did not license any community radio stations during the year.
The government-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)–the country’s only domestically based television broadcasting station–operated one channel. International satellite television broadcasts were available through private firms but were too expensive for most citizens.
On July 23, High Court Judge Justice Joseph Mafusire ruled the state-controlled ZBC and Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (also known as Zimpapers) had, during the 2018 election campaign, “conducted themselves in material breach of section 61 of the constitution,” which governs freedom of expression and freedom of the media. The judge ordered the two organizations to produce impartial and independent broadcasts and ensure communications did not favor any political party or candidate over another.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces, officials, and supporters from the majority political party routinely harassed journalists.
On January 17, police arrested and detained Gift Phiri, an editor with the Daily News newspaper, for reporting that members of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) assaulted delivery drivers as they left Harare to distribute the newspaper. The ZNA accused them of writing negative stories about the government. The incident occurred after the government crackdown on the public, following protests in Harare and Bulawayo the same week.
On August 16, police assaulted local journalist Talkmore Fani Mapfumo for filming police officers dispersing protesters in Harare. Video footage showed officers in full antiriot gear charging toward Mapfumo and demanding that he stop filming. The journalist produced his accreditation card, but the officers took turns assaulting him with batons.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government maintained censorship through media registration and accreditation laws, although many provisions of the law are inconsistent with the constitution. The law provides the government with extensive powers to control media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the “abuse of free expression.” Government-controlled media practiced self-censorship and bias in favor of the ruling party.
In February independent media research organization Media Monitors published a report, Change of Guard, alleging the country’s military takeover of ZBC in 2017 still had a chilling effect on ZBC operations, a government-controlled broadcaster.
Libel/Slander Laws: The Constitutional Court ruled the constitution prohibits criminal defamation. Civil defamation laws remained in force.
Newspapers exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the prospect of prosecution under civil libel laws.
On March 12, police detained Tinashe Jonasi, leader of Ideal Zimbabwe political party, for undermining the authority of or insulting President Mnangagwa. On April 3, the High Court freed him on 500 RTGS dollars ($30) bail and ordered him to report twice a week at a police station.
National Security: The law grants the government a wide range of legal powers to prosecute persons for political and security crimes that are not clearly defined. For example, the extremely broad Official Secrets Act criminalizes the divulging of any information acquired by government employees in the course of official duties. Authorities used these laws to restrict publication of information critical of government policies or public officials.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted these rights.
In-country Movement: Police interrupted freedom of movement with checkpoints less frequently than in 2018 but continued to operate regular checkpoints nationwide along most major routes. They used these checkpoints to screen vehicle occupants for potential participation in antigovernment protests.
Foreign Travel: The constitution provides the right for citizens to enter and leave the country and the right to a passport or other travel documents. In July the government announced a shortage of special imported paper and ink supplies used to make passports. The Office of the Registrar General reported a 50,000-passport shortage in July, and applicants reported the office advised them to reapply in 2022.
In February the cabinet approved amendments to the Zimbabwe Citizenship Bill to allow dual citizenship as prescribed in the constitution. There were reports the Office of the Registrar General sometimes imposed administrative obstacles in the passport application process for dual citizens, particularly Malawian, Zambian, and Mozambican citizens.
In September the ZRP prohibited alleged abduction victim Peter Magombeyi from departing the country to seek medical care in South Africa. Magombeyi’s relatives obtained a High Court order allowing him to depart; ZRP officials defied this ruling and filed a petition to find the order erroneous. The High Court dismissed the ZRP’s petition. Magombeyi departed the country on September 26.
Exile: The constitution prohibits expulsion from the country for all citizens. A number of persons, including former government officials, prominent businessmen, human rights activists, opposition party members, and human rights lawyers, left the country and remained in self-imposed exile due to fear of persecution.
Citizenship: The 2013 constitution provides for three different classes of citizenship: by birth, by descent, or by registration. The government deprived some sections of the population of citizenship rights based on the law, which revokes the citizenship of persons who fail to return to the country in any five-year period.
Despite a constitutional provision of citizenship and having voted previously, some persons were denied the right to vote during the by-elections throughout the year because they could not adequately demonstrate their citizenship. An amendment to the Citizenship Act aligned the law with the 2013 constitution to allow dual citizenship beginning February 27.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Security forces detained irregular migrants in prisons with convicted criminals. Prolonged detention for migrants was common. Migrants complained of mistreatment by other prisoners. The government sometimes worked with international organizations to assist the voluntary repatriation of migrants, primarily Mozambicans settled on the border between the two countries.
There were no reports of physical abuse or violence directed specifically at migrants, refugee or asylum seekers, or stateless persons. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, the country hosted approximately 21,000 refugees and asylum seekers during the year. The Tongogara refugee camp hosted approximately 13,700 refugees and asylum seekers, with an estimated 100 arrivals each month, primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and Burundi.
Freedom of Movement: The government maintained a formal encampment policy requiring refugees to live at the Tongogara refugee camp. Nevertheless, at year’s end more than 840 refugees lived in urban areas, including Harare and Bulawayo, and more than 8,080 Mozambican asylum seekers lived among host communities along the border with Mozambique.
Employment: Refugees in the informal sector had limited employment options due to the encampment policy requiring all refugees to reside in the Tongogara refugee camp. UNHCR partners and Julia Taft Fund grant recipients continued to set up banana farming, livestock production, and soap production for livelihood activities in the camp.
Durable Solutions: While the government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement, it facilitated the voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries by recognizing the Voluntary Repatriation Declaration Form as a valid document for travel purposes. The government also allowed Rwandan refugees, who lost prima facie refugee status following implementation of the 2013 Rwandan cessation clause, to remain in the country pending final arrangements by the government. Additionally, the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees stated that Rwandans with Zimbabwean spouses would be permitted to regularize their stay in the country. Many refugees were unwilling to return to their home countries voluntarily, and resettlement remained the only viable solution for many of them.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, this right was restricted. The political process continued to be heavily biased in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF party, which dominated politics and government.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively or impartially, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Despite government pronouncements, corruption remained a severe problem that experts described as “catch and release” where the government arrested corrupt officials but never prosecuted their crimes. Police frequently arrested citizens for low-level corruption while ignoring reports implicating high-level businesspersons and politicians.
Corruption: Corruption in both the public and private sectors persisted. The country continued to experience both petty and grand corruption, defined respectively by Transparency International Zimbabwe as an “everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- to mid-level public officials” and “an abuse of high-level power by political elites.”
In May 2018 the president created an anticorruption body within the Office of the President to conduct investigations, bypassing the constitutionally mandated Zimbabwe Anticorruption Commission (ZACC). On January 31, the president dismissed the ZACC board on allegations of incompetence and appointed Loice Matanda-Moyo as the new ZACC chairperson. Matanda-Moyo was a former High Court judge and wife of Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Sibusiso Moyo. She dismissed concerns about her impartiality due to her marriage and insisted she would take a hardline approach and do her job without fear or favor. On July 15, President Mnangagwa swore in eight new commissioners and gave the new ZACC arresting powers. A week later ZACC acted on an audit firm’s report and arrested Minister of Tourism, Environment, and Hospitality Industry Priscilla Mupfumira on seven counts of corruption linked to a reported embezzlement of more than $95 million from the National Social Security Authority. There was concern, however, the ZACC was targeting high-profile officials who were rumored to have fallen out of favor with President Mnangagwa, raising concern the government’s anticorruption efforts were highly politicized.
Implementation of the government’s redistribution of expropriated white-owned commercial farms often favored the ZANU-PF elite and continued to lack transparency (see section 1.f.). High-level ZANU-PF officials selected numerous farms and registered them in the names of family members to evade the government’s policy of one farm per official. The government continued to allow individuals aligned with top officials to seize land not designated for acquisition. The government began the mandated comprehensive land audit in 2018 to reflect land ownership accurately. Landowners connected to ZANU-PF routinely sold land to citizens but refused to transfer ownership officially or to develop the land as agreed upon in contracts. The government announced its intention to partially compensate farmers whose lands had been expropriated and began making small, initial payments to a subset of farmers most in need.
The Ministry of Finance made progress in removing unqualified persons from the state payroll by removing thousands of youth officers from various ministries. According to the most recent audit, illicit salary payments were made to large numbers of persons who were retired, deceased, or otherwise absent from their place of employment. Duplicate personally identifiable information in files indicated some persons received multiple salaries. The government was implementing a biometric registration system for civil servants to reduce improper salary payments.
The Office of the Auditor General released its annual report in June exposing corruption, including Air Zimbabwe’s inability to verify more than $13 million in spending or fully account for its fleet. It also reported six million dollars in contracts clandestinely awarded to Zimbabwe National Roads Administration officials and board members. The report received extensive media coverage, but targeted ZANU-PF officials dismissed the report as exaggerated or falsified. The report attributed 80 percent of its concerns on state-owned enterprises to “governance issues.” The report also exposed poor maintenance of accounting records in some ministries, with some diverting funds for improper purposes while others paid for goods and services not delivered.
Financial Disclosure: The law does not require elected or appointed officials to disclose income or assets.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Such groups were subject to government restrictions, interference, monitoring, confiscation of materials and documentation, arrest, and other forms of harassment. Major domestic NGOs included the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, ZESN, Election Resource Center, ZLHR, Zimbabwe Peace Project, ZimRights, Zimbabwe Legal Resources Foundation, Heal Zimbabwe Trust, Women’s Coalition, and Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise.
The government harassed NGOs that it believed would expose abuses by government personnel or that opposed government policies, and it continued to use government-controlled media to disparage and attack human rights groups, especially those believed to be in communication with western embassies or governments. State media reporting typically dismissed the efforts and recommendations of NGOs critical of government, accusing the NGOs of seeking regime change.
In September a UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association visited the country. His report encouraged the country to ratify remaining key international human rights treaties, combat corruption and impunity, follow the Motlanthe Commission recommendations, and seek support of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, among others.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The ZHRC remained underfunded but managed to fulfill some of its constitutionally mandated functions. The ZHRC conducted public outreach throughout the country. Through its website, a hotline, social media platforms, and mobile legal clinics, the ZHRC’s human rights officers conducted public outreach throughout the country and accepted complaints from the public for investigation. The ZHRC, however, did not have sufficient personnel to investigate the number of complaints it received.
The ZHRC issued a preliminary report condemning demonstration violence in January, including at least eight deaths. In March, Human Rights Watch reported the number of deaths as 17.
The government did not overtly attempt to obstruct the ZHRC’s work or deliberately withhold resources based on the commission’s criticism of the government or security services’ actions. In January and February, however, the ZHRC reported some police officers did not understand the commission’s mandate and denied them information or entry into holding cells to visit the accused.
The establishment of the constitutionally mandated National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) continued. The commission consists of nine members with offices located in Harare and Bulawayo. The NPRC established Provincial Peace Committees in all 10 provinces in July. The committees were designed to engage local stakeholders to find solutions to historically intractable issues. In March the High Court ruled to extend the NPRC’s lifespan to January 2028.
The NPRC conducted inclusive, nationwide stakeholder engagements beginning in May to engage citizens in rural areas. The NPRC was involved in President Mnangagwa’s meeting in March with Bulawayo-based civil society organizations known as the Matabeleland Collective to address legacy issues involving the Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980s. The NPRC also cochaired the president’s Political Actors Dialogue in February, which remained active. Some NGOs questioned the commission’s independence and effectiveness.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Other provisions of law, as well as the government’s application of the law, abrogated these rights. Public-sector workers may not form or join trade unions but may form associations that bargain collectively and strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, provides that the labor court handle complaints of such discrimination, and may direct reinstatement of workers fired due to such discrimination.
The law provides for the registrar of the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare to supervise the election of officers of workers’ and employers’ organizations, to cancel or postpone elections, and to change the venue of an election. The law also grants the minister extensive powers to regulate union activities such as collecting dues and paying staff salaries, and making decisions concerning the equipment and property that may be purchased by trade unions. The minister has the authority to veto collective bargaining agreements perceived to be harmful to the economy as well as to appoint an investigator who may, without prior notice, enter trade union premises, question any employee, and inspect and copy any books, records, or other documents. The law empowers the minister to order an investigation of a trade union or employers’ organization and to appoint an administrator to run its affairs.
The law significantly limits the right to strike. Strikes are limited to disputes regarding work issues. The law provides that a majority of the employees must agree to strike by voting in a secret ballot. Strike procedure requirements include a mandatory 30-day reconciliation period and referral to binding arbitration (in essential services and in nonessential services where the parties agree or where the dispute involves rights). Following an attempt to resolve a dispute of interest and a labor officer’s issuance of a certificate of no settlement, the party proposing a collective job action must provide 14 days’ written notice of intent to resort to such action, including specifying the grounds for the intended action, in order to call a strike legally. No provisions prohibit employers from hiring replacement workers in the event of a strike.
Police and army members are the only legally recognized essential services employees and may not strike, but the law allows the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare to declare any nonessential service an essential service if a strike is deemed a danger to the population. The law also allows employers to sue workers for liability during unlawful strikes, with penalties for conviction that include fines, up to five years’ imprisonment, or both.
Collective bargaining agreements applied to all workers in an industry, not just union members. Collective bargaining takes place at the enterprise and industry levels. At the enterprise level, work councils negotiate collective agreements, which become binding if approved by 50 percent of the workers in the bargaining unit. Industry-level bargaining takes place within the framework of the National Employment Councils (NECs). Unions representing at least 50 percent of the workers may bargain with the authorization of the minister of public service, labor, and social welfare. The law encourages the creation of employee-controlled workers’ committees in enterprises where less than 50 percent of workers are unionized. Workers’ committees existed in parallel with trade unions. Their role is to negotiate shop floor grievances, while that of the trade unions is to negotiate industry-level problems, notably wages. Trade unions regarded the existence of such a parallel body as an arrangement that allows employers to undermine the role of unions.
For a collective bargaining agreement to go into effect, the ministry must announce it, thus giving the minister the power to veto the agreement. The Labor Amendment Act expands the minister’s power to veto a collective bargaining agreement if the minister deems it to be “contrary to public interest.” Workers and employers at the enterprise level also may come to a binding agreement outside of the official framework. Despite this provision, the ministry could block indefinitely any collective bargaining agreement that was not announced officially.
There were reports some affiliates of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), an umbrella group of trade unions, engaged in collective bargaining with employers without interference from the government. Nevertheless, members of the ZCTU stated employers did not recognize their affiliates within the NECs. The constitution does not extend the right of collective bargaining to security forces.
Although the law does not permit national civil servants to collectively bargain, the Apex Council, a group of public service associations, represented civil servants in job-related negotiations with the Public Service Commission. Public-sector workers threatened a stay away in July unless they received a wage increase. Negotiations with the Apex Council resulted in a one-time payment in July to stave off the strike, and negotiations continued to come to terms on a permanent wage increase. On August 24, however, the Apex Council rejected the government’s offer to increase civil servant salaries as the offer fell far below their demands, leading to continued stay away threats.
The Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare did not effectively enforce the laws. Penalties for conviction of violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining laws were not sufficient to deter violations. Those charged with violating the law were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
The government did not always respect workers’ right to form or join unions, strike, and bargain collectively. Parliament enacted a bill establishing the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) in June to formalize dialogue efforts among government, labor leaders, and employers to discuss social and economic policy and address demands. The forum met only once during the year. The ZCTU stated the TNF did little to address its demands for wage increases and labor law reform, and the government showed little progress in supporting workers’ protections, fairness, and peaceful resolution of labor disputes.
Government interference with trade union activity was common. Police and state intelligence services regularly attended and monitored trade union activities such as meetings. Police or ZANU-PF supporters sometimes prevented unions from holding meetings with their members and carrying out organizational activities. Two ZCTU leaders were arrested and charged with subversion for their roles in promoting participation in January’s demonstrations. After 10 months of court appearances and strict bail conditions, to include surrendering their passports and reporting to police stations on a regular basis, the court dismissed the charges in November.
Although the law does not require unions to notify police of public gatherings, police demanded such notification. When unions attempted to hold an event not authorized by police, the ZRP attended and dispersed participants forcefully. Police in Harare forcibly ended an ARTUZ protest on August 23, arresting the ARTUZ president, seven other members, and their attorney (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly).
Under POSA and its replacement, MOPA, the government could fine and imprison union members for organizing an illegal strike.
When unions exercised their right to strike, the government met their efforts with violence and excessive force. For example, the ZCTU called for a three-day work shutdown beginning on January 14 in response to President Mnangagwa’s January 12 announcement of a 150 percent fuel price hike. Between January 14 and January 16, security forces reportedly shot and killed 17 demonstrators and injured hundreds of other protesters. In the following weeks, security forces conducted raids and beatings, and arbitrarily arrested more than 800 persons.
On September 3, the ZHDA went on strike after failing to reach an agreement on a salary increase with the government. The government responded to the action with a proposed bill to designate medical providers as essential and prohibit them from striking. The union’s leader, Peter Magombeyi, was abducted and tortured before being released amid public outcry. In October the Labor Court ordered doctors to return to work–a court order that doctors ignored–and referred the labor dispute to arbitration. In November the Ministry of Health announced the termination of 486 doctors involved in the strike.
At the 108th session of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) International Labor Conference in June, the Committee on the Application of Standards noted concern regarding the government’s failure to implement specific recommendations of the 2010 Commission of Inquiry. The commission found the government responsible for serious violations of fundamental rights by its security forces, including a clear pattern of intimidation, arrests, detentions, violence, and torture of union and opposition members. The committee also noted persistent allegations of violations of the rights of freedom of assembly of workers’ organizations. The committee urged the government to accept an ILO contacts mission to assess progress before the next conference. The government, however, did not accept the direct contacts mission.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, with exceptions for work for the national youth service and forced prison labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The laws against forced labor were not effectively or sufficiently enforced. The law does not clearly define human trafficking crimes and requires proof that traffickers transported victims, further limiting the number of crimes classified as human trafficking.
Forced labor occurred in agriculture, mining, and domestic servitude. The full extent of the problem was unknown. Forced labor was reported at Marange Diamond Fields.
The government made moderate advancements in efforts to combat human trafficking. The government continued to implement the Trafficking in Persons Action Plan, developed a national referral mechanism to assist victims of human trafficking, and established guidelines to improve coordination of antitrafficking efforts.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law fully prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for light work at age 12 and for apprenticeship at 16. The law declares void and unenforceable formal apprenticeship contracts entered into by children younger than age 18 without the assistance of a guardian. The law further states that no person younger than age 18 shall perform any work likely to jeopardize that person’s health, safety, or morals.
The Department of Social Welfare in the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but the department did not effectively enforce these laws. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government took limited steps to combat child labor during the year, mostly involving encouragement and monitoring of children’s school attendance.
Child labor occurred in the agricultural, mining, and tobacco production sectors, as well as in commercial sexual exploitation. Some children worked on their family farms, while others worked elsewhere as paid agricultural laborers. In gold mining areas, children carried ore and panned for gold. “Street children,” meaning children who live or work on the streets, often worked as beggars in urban areas. Many had parents who used the children to generate additional income.
“Street children,” meaning children who live or work on the streets, often worked as beggars in urban areas. Many had parents who used the children to generate additional income.
Working children often faced hazards to their health and safety and lacked necessary equipment and training. Working on farms exposed children to bad weather, dangerous chemicals, and the use of heavy machinery. Most children involved in mining worked for themselves, a family member, or someone in the community. Exposure to hazardous materials, particularly mercury, was on the rise in the informal mining sector.
Some employers did not pay wages to child domestic workers, claiming they were assisting a child from a rural home by providing room and board. Some employers paid with goods instead of cash while others paid the parents for a child’s work.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits employment or occupational discrimination based on race, color, gender, tribe, political opinion, creed, place of origin, disability, HIV status, and pregnancy. The law does not expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on age, language, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or non-HIV-related communicable diseases. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation (see section 6), and political affiliation for civil servants.
The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Labor legislation prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, and an employer may be held liable for civil remedies if found to be in violation of provisions against “unfair labor practices,” including sexual harassment. The law does not specify penalties for conviction of such violations. Women commonly faced sexual harassment in the workplace (see section 6).
There were no formal complaints of wage discrimination filed with the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare; however, women’s salaries lagged behind those of men in most sectors, and women faced discrimination on the basis of gender, when seeking maternity leave provided for by law, and other gender-based benefits. International organizations requested the government provide information on any job evaluation exercise undertaken in the public sector indicating the criteria used and the measures taken to ensure men and women receive equal remuneration for equal work and to monitor other gender disparities. Unions expressed their concern regarding wage disparity between management and employees.
There was a relative lack of women in decision-making positions, despite a constitutional requirement for equal representation of both genders in all institutions and agencies of government at every level.
Employment discrimination against migrant workers occurred, especially those employed in the informal sector.
Persons with HIV/AIDS and albinism faced discrimination in employment. Employers discriminated against members of minority ethnic groups whom they often perceived as opposition supporters. Persons with disabilities faced social and employment discrimination and lack of access to many workplaces. Members of trade unions and workers committees often perceived that adverse employment action targeted them and that workers feared the consequences of participating in trade unions or workers committees. LGBTI persons faced discrimination in employment.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The NECs set the minimum wage for all industrial sectors through a bipartite agreement between employers and labor unions. The minimum wage, when paid, seldom exceeded the poverty line due to the speed of inflation.
The law does not provide for a standard workweek, but it prescribes a minimum of one 24-hour continuous rest period per week. Unions and employers in each sector negotiate the maximum legal workweek. No worker may work more than 12 continuous hours. The law prescribes that workers receive not less than twice their standard remuneration for working on a public holiday or on their rest day. The law provides workers paid public holidays and annual leave upon one year of service with an employer. The government sets safety and health standards on an industry-specific basis. The public service commission sets conditions of employment in the public sector.
Labor law does not differentiate among workers based on sector or industry. The labor law does not apply to the informal sector, which included more than 90 percent of the labor force. The law applies to migrant laborers if they are in the formal sector. There were no reports of discrimination against migrant laborers in the formal sector.
Occupational safety and health standards were up-to-date and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The law provides for workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and work hours laws for each sector. The government did not effectively enforce these laws. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce labor laws, including those covering children. The Zimbabwe Occupational Safety Council, a quasi-governmental advisory body to the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), regulated working conditions. Staffing shortages, as well as its status as an advisory council, made it largely ineffective. Penalties for violations of wage or hours-of-work restrictions were insufficient to deter violations. Penalties for occupational safety and health violations were inconsistent and fall within the jurisdiction of numerous ministries.
Most work-related injuries and deaths occurred in the mining sector. The NSSA attributed the high injury and fatality rates to low investment in occupational safety and health, noncompliance with rules and regulations, and low levels of awareness of occupational safety and health matters.
Employers paid many agricultural and domestic workers below the minimum wage. Many public servants also earned salaries that put them below the poverty line, and the ZCTU stated worker salaries lost 90 percent of their real value due to rampant inflation and currency changes.
There was little or no enforcement of the work hours law, particularly for agricultural and domestic workers. Although workers were generally unlikely to complain to authorities of violations due to fear of losing their jobs, some exceptions occurred.
Poor health and safety standards in the workplace were common in both the formal and informal sectors due to lack of enforcement. Abuses by the management at certain foreign-owned enterprises and companies owned by well connected politicians were common, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of workers; poor working conditions; underpayment or nonpayment of wages; unfair dismissal; and firing without notice. Workers’ committee members of a foreign-owned mining company reported fear and serious victimization, including arbitrary nonrenewal of contracts, dismissals without charges, late payment of salaries, and insufficient provision of protective clothing. The ZCTU’s Health and Social Welfare Department engaged employers on occupational health and safety-related workplace needs. No information was available on the treatment of foreign and migrant workers. The government considered many commercial farm workers to be foreigners because one or both parents were born in another country.
Due to the growth of the informal mining sector, artisanal miners, including children, had increased exposure to chemicals and environmental waste. An estimated 1.5 million persons worked in or depended on artisanal mining, defined as mining activities carried out using low technology or with minimal machinery, according to the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development.