Zimbabwe is constitutionally a republic. The country elected Emmerson Mnangagwa president for a five-year term in 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 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 Party with a supermajority in the National Assembly but not in the Senate.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police maintain internal security. The Department of Immigration and police, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs, are primarily responsible for migration and border enforcement. Although police are officially under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Office of the President directed some police 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 and report to the minister 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. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces; torture and arbitrary detention by security forces; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious 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; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; 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 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In August the nongovernmental organization (NGO) ZimRights suspected members of the security forces in the extrajudicial killing of Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance councilor Lavender Chiwaya. Police ruled there was no foul play. In September the Zimbabwe Republic Police reported killing two men they claimed shot two members of the security forces, killing one and injuring the second. Security officials claimed they tracked the two men and killed them in a shootout when they resisted arrest. Government officials praised security forces’ “swift response,” while human rights organizations, such as ZimRights, questioned security forces’ version of events and called the incident an extrajudicial killing.
Impunity for politically motivated violence remained a problem. The government did not establish an independent complaints mechanism to investigate allegations of security force misconduct as called for in the constitution. Investigations continued into violence from previous years, including state-sponsored violence, that resulted in the deaths of 17 civilians in January-February 2019 and seven during postelection violence in 2018. As of year’s end, there were no arrests or charges in the cases.
There were no new reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
In 2018 the High Court ordered the government to provide updates on the 2015 disappearance of democracy activist Itai Dzamara, but officials failed to do so, without consequence. There were no reports of authorities punishing any perpetrators of previous acts of disappearance.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, there were reports that security forces engaged in such practices with impunity and with the implicit support of government officials. NGOs reported security forces abducted, assaulted, and tortured citizens in custody, including targeted assault on and torture of civil society activists, labor leaders, opposition members, and other perceived opponents of the government. Throughout the year police used excessive force in apprehending, detaining, and interrogating criminal suspects. In some cases police arrested and charged the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators and accused abduction victims of filing false reports.
Human rights groups reported government agents continued to perpetrate physical and psychological torture on labor leaders and opposition party members during abductions. Reported torture methods included sexual assault; beating victims with sticks, clubs, cables, gun butts, and sjamboks (a heavy whip); falanga (beating the soles of the feet); forced consumption of human excrement; and oral chemical poisoning, as well as pouring corrosive substances on exposed skin. As of November there were a minimum of five reports of short-term abductions and assaults or torture allegedly performed by state security actors. These instances typically occurred at night, although some happened in broad daylight. The abductors forcibly removed persons from their homes, parking lots, and press conferences and assaulted them for hours before abandoning them, usually severely injured and naked, in a remote area.
National Assembly member Joana Mamombe and opposition party members Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova reported being removed from police custody, then abducted and tortured by unknown individuals whom credible sources believed to be government security agents, after they were arrested at a protest at a roadblock on May 13. The three women sustained severe injuries from 36 hours of physical, sexual, and psychological torture. After the three women reported the crimes to police, they were rearrested and charged with making false statements to police and for faking their own abductions. The case remained pending.
From March to September, during a government-mandated lockdown due to COVID-19, uniformed and plainclothes soldiers and police officers systematically used clubs to beat civilians in the Harare central business district and suburbs for violating curfews, failure to wear masks, or failure to exercise social distance.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces and the civilian authorities who oversee them, including police, military, and intelligence officers. To date, no one has answered for disappearances, civilian deaths, rape, abduction, or torture allegations from the 1980s to as recently as November. Security forces were firmly under the control of the ruling party and were often directed against the political opposition.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The 2013 constitution added prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society to ZPCS responsibilities. The ZPCS provided inmates with opportunities to participate in sewing, mechanics, woodworking, and agricultural activities. The ZPCS also allowed churches and other organizations to teach life-skills training.
Physical Conditions: Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers were often harsh. While some prisons operated below capacity, NGOs reported that most were overcrowded due to outdated infrastructure and judicial backlogs. The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS) did not provide adequate food, water, and sanitary conditions as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) during the global pandemic. The ZPCS sometimes allowed faith-based and community organizations to help address these problems.
Prison guards occasionally beat and abused prisoners, but NGOs reported the use of excessive force by prison guards was not systematic. Relations between prison guards and prisoners improved during the year as part of a positive trend NGOs observed during the past several years. As of year’s end, no investigation of the death of Hilton Tamangani in October 2019 had begun. Tamangani was found dead in his cell in the Harare Remand Prison. His lawyers claimed he was severely beaten by police and then denied medical treatment.
NGOs reported female prisoners generally fared better than did male prisoners. Authorities held women in separate prison wings and provided female guards. Women generally received more food from their families than male prisoners. The several dozen children younger than age four living with their incarcerated mothers shared their mothers’ food allocation, rather than receiving their own. NGOs were unaware of female inmates reporting rapes or other physical abuse. With support from NGOs, prisons distributed feminine hygiene supplies. Officials did not provide pregnant women and nursing mothers with additional care or food rations out of the ZPCS budget, but the ZPCS solicited and received donations from NGOs and donors for additional provisions.
There was one juvenile prison, housing boys only. Girls were held together with women. Authorities also held boys in adult prisons throughout the country while in remand. Officials generally tried to place younger boys in separate cells, but NGOs reported older prisoners often physically assaulted the younger boys when left together. Authorities generally sent juveniles to prison rather than to reformatory homes as stipulated in the law, as there was only one adequate reformatory home in the country, located in the Harare suburbs. Juveniles remained vulnerable to abuse by prison officials and other prisoners.
Prisoners with mental health issues were often held together with regular prisoners until a doctor was available to make an assessment. Psychiatric sections were available at some prisons for these individuals but offered little specialized care.
According to the ZPCS, remand prisons were overcrowded. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners until their bail hearings. Due to fuel shortages, the ZPCS was at times unable to transport pretrial detainees to court hearings, resulting in delayed trials and longer detentions. While an estimated 4,200 prisoners were released under an amnesty program in March and April to address COVID-19, NGOs and other contacts as well as several news outlets reported some remand prisons had 70 persons to a cell in August. Inmates at remand prisons were not tested before admittance but instead were only tested when sent to nonremand prisons.
Although hurt by the economic downturn associated with COVID-19, NGOs helped provide prisoners with disinfectant, PPE, and information about the virus, but distribution decreased during the year. The economic downturn shuttered small, community-based NGOs that once supported prisoners. These organizations had steady streams of outside and community-based donations but suspended operations due to a lack of funding because of the country’s protracted economic crisis.
The ZPCS ignored requests from medical personnel to isolate journalist Hopewell Chin’ono when he exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 while incarcerated in August (see section 2.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
According to NGOs, food shortages were widespread in prisons but not life threatening. Prisoners identified as malnourished received additional meals. The harvest of prison farm products provided meals for prisoners. Protein was in short supply, particularly meat. Prisoners’ access to clean water varied by prison. NGOs worked with prisons to provide enhanced water-collection systems.
Diarrhea was prevalent in most prisons. Diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS-related illnesses were highest in those with the poorest conditions. Lighting and ventilation were inadequate. There were insufficient mattresses, blankets, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, and hygiene products.
Prisoners had access to very basic medical care, with a clinic and doctor at nearly every prison. In partnership with NGOs, the ZPCS offered peer education on HIV/AIDS. The ZPCS tested prisoners for HIV only when requested by prisoners or prison doctors. Due to outdated regulations and a lack of specialized medical personnel and medications, prisoners suffered from routine but treatable medical conditions such as hypertension, tuberculosis, diabetes, asthma, and respiratory diseases. The ZPCS was at times unable to transport prisoners with emergency medical needs to local hospitals.
Administration: The inspections and audit unit of the ZPCS, intended to assess prison conditions and improve monitoring of prisoners’ rights, did not release the results of its assessments. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) conducted monitoring visits when conditions allowed. There was no prison ombudsman. There were statutory mechanisms to allow alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, but the number of nonviolent offenders benefitting from these mechanisms was unknown.
Prisoners and detainees had relatively unrestricted access to visitors before COVID-19, except in maximum-security prisons, where remoteness hampered access by prisoners’ relatives. The COVID-19 lockdown cut off prisoners from most people and organizations.
Independent Monitoring: The law provides international human rights monitors the right to visit prisons. Church groups and NGOs seeking to provide humanitarian assistance, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, gained access. Some organizations working in prisons reported that meetings with prisoners occurred without third parties present and with minimal restrictions, but some political prisoners reported no privacy for visits, even with their legal representatives. Monitoring missions were extremely limited during the COVID-19 lockdown. One NGO reported prisoner authorities authorized a few prison visits for special donation missions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, although other sections of the law effectively weaken these prohibitions. The government enforced security laws in conflict with the constitution. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, particularly political and civil society activists, labor leaders, and journalists perceived as opposing the government. Security forces frequently arrested large numbers of persons during and following antigovernment protests.
The law stipulates that arrests require a warrant issued by a court or senior police officer and that police inform an arrested person of the charges before taking the individual into custody. Police did not always respect these requirements. A preliminary hearing must be held before a magistrate within 48 hours of an arrest. This was not followed consistently. According to the constitution, only a competent court may extend the period of detention.
The law provides for bail for most accused persons. The government amended the law to include provisions that allow prosecutors to veto judicial bail decisions and keep accused persons in custody for up to seven days, despite a prior Constitutional Court ruling declaring this power unconstitutional. Prosecutors relied on these provisions to extend the detention of opposition leaders, civil society activists, and labor leaders, some of whom were denied bail for almost two months.
Authorities often did not allow detainees prompt or regular access to their lawyers and often informed lawyers who attempted to visit their clients that detainees or those with authority to grant access were unavailable. The government also monitored, harassed, intimidated, and arrested human rights lawyers when they attempted to gain access to their clients. An indigent detainee may apply to the government for an attorney in criminal cases, but only in capital cases. Some opposition party members, civil society activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens had limited or no access to their legal counsel. In one instance a magistrate attempted to revoke prominent human rights attorney Beatrice Mtetwa’s license to practice law during her defense of a journalist who had written articles exposing government corruption and made social media posts encouraging peaceful protests against corruption. As of November the magistrate’s petition to revoke the law license remained pending.
Arbitrary Arrest: The government regularly used arbitrary arrest and detention as tools of intimidation and harassment, especially against political activists, civil society members, journalists, attorneys, and ordinary citizens asserting their rights. The government sometimes used COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to arrest individuals perceived as threats against the government. Police and media reported that security forces arrested more than 105,000 political and civil society activists, journalists, labor leaders, and ordinary citizens from March 30 to September for their alleged violation of COVID-19 lockdown measures or alleged involvement in planned demonstrations in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, and other cities. For example two journalists were arrested in May for violating COVID-19 measures during their interviews with abduction and torture victims. After four months of enduring strict bail conditions, such as weekly reporting to police stations and surrender of passports, the case against the journalists was dismissed in September. Police arrested more than 20 individuals who organized, promoted, or participated in a July 31 anticorruption demonstration, including opposition party Transform Zimbabwe president Jacob Ngarivhume, who was arrested and charged on July 23 with inciting the public to commit violence. As of November several human rights defenders remained in hiding after police issued a list of persons wanted for questioning in connection with the July 31 protest.
After more than a year of strict bail conditions, including weekly reporting to police stations and surrender of passports, the government dismissed the cases of seven civil society activists charged with subversion in 2019.
The law absolves individual security agents from criminal liability regarding unlawful arrests and detention. Police officers routinely argued that they merely followed orders in conducting arrests and were not responsible for compensating victims of unlawful arrests.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was rare for nonpolitical prisoners. Delays in pretrial procedures were common, however, due to a shortage of magistrates and court interpreters, poor bureaucratic procedures, and an insufficient number of court officials to hear many cases. The constitution provides for the right to bail for detained suspects. Despite this provision, the government routinely opposed bail for political detainees, and judges generally upheld these motions. When judges issued bail rulings, they would often delay announcing their rulings until after the court cashier closed on Fridays to ensure political detainees remained in prison over the weekend.
Other prisoners remained in prison because they could not afford to pay bail. Magistrates rarely exercised the “free bail option” that authorizes them to waive bail for destitute prisoners. Lawyers reported juveniles usually spent more time in pretrial detention than did adults because they could not attend court unless a parent or guardian accompanied them. Sometimes their parents could not be located or did not have the funds to travel to court. Authorities occasionally did not notify parents of a juvenile’s arrest or the closest kin of an adult detainee’s arrest.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but executive influence and interference remained a problem. There continued to be some instances where the judiciary demonstrated its independence despite being under intense pressure to conform to government policies.
The government often refused to abide by judicial decisions and routinely delayed payment of court costs or judgments awarded against it in civil cases. Judicial corruption was widespread, extending beyond magistrates and judges. For example, NGOs reported senior government officials undermined judicial independence, including by giving homes, farms, and agricultural machinery to judges.
Magistrates heard the vast majority of cases. Legal experts claimed defendants in politically sensitive cases were less likely to receive a fair hearing in magistrates’ courts than in higher courts. In lower courts justices were more likely to make politicized decisions due to the use of threats and intimidation to force magistrates, particularly rural magistrates, to rule in the government’s favor. In politically charged cases, other judicial officers such as prosecutors and private attorneys also faced pressure from high-ranking judges and officials of the ruling party, including harassment and intimidation. Some high court justices demonstrated a greater degree of independence and granted opposition party members and civil society activists bail against the government’s wishes. There were reports of instances where judges or magistrates should have recused themselves from politically charged cases but failed to do so.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but political pressure and corruption frequently compromised this right. By law defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, although courts did not always respect this right. Magistrates or judges held trials without juries. Trials were usually open to the public except in cases involving minors or state security matters. Government officials liberally interpreted state security matters to include trials and hearings for defendants who protested against the government or reported on government corruption. Assessors–usually nonlawyers who sit together with a judge to provide either expert advice or guidance on local practices–in lieu of juries, could be appointed in cases in which conviction of an offense could result in a death penalty or lengthy prison sentence. Defendants have the right to a lawyer of their choosing, but most defendants in magistrates’ courts did not have legal representation. In criminal cases an indigent defendant may apply to have the government provide an attorney, but requests were rarely granted except in capital cases, in which the government provided an attorney for all defendants unable to afford one. Individuals in civil cases may request free legal assistance from the Legal Resources Foundation or Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). The Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association also provided some free legal assistance to women and youth. The law provides for free interpretation, and Shona-English and Ndebele-English interpretation was generally available. The right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense is also provided for by law but was often lacking. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf and to confront adverse witnesses.
Any person arrested or detained for an alleged offense has the right to remain silent and may not be compelled to confess. There were no known cases of torture-induced confessions used in court. Authorities did not always respect these rights. Authorities sometimes denied or significantly delayed attorneys’ access to their clients or falsely claimed the attorneys’ clients were being held at another facility.
Conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the prosecution bears the burden of proof. The right to appeal both conviction and sentence exists in all cases, and it is automatic in cases in which the death penalty is imposed.
Government officials sometimes ignored court orders, delayed bail and access to medical care, and selectively enforced court orders related to land disputes favorable to those associated with the government.
The public had fair access to the courts of law, particularly the magistrates’ courts, although observers reported occasional physical and procedural impediments, such as limited available seating areas and arbitrary rules about note taking during hearings.
There were reports of individuals arrested for political reasons, including opposition party officials, their supporters, NGO workers, journalists, civil society activists, and labor leaders. Authorities sometimes detained such individuals for one or two days and released them without charge. Political prisoners and detainees did not receive the same standard of treatment as other prisoners or detainees, and prison authorities arbitrarily denied visitor access to political prisoners. There were reports police beat and physically abused political and civil society activists while they were in detention.
Unlike normal criminal proceedings, which move from investigation to trial within months, prosecuting agents regularly took abnormally long to submit for trial cases involving members of the political opposition or civil society critics of the government. Hearings were sometimes scheduled when presiding judges were on vacation. Prosecutors in political cases were often “unprepared to proceed” and received numerous continuances. In many cases where authorities granted bail to government opponents, they did not conclude investigations and set a trial date but instead chose to “proceed by way of summons.” This left the threat of impending prosecution remaining, with the accused person eventually being called to court, only to be informed of further delays.
In July police arrested opposition party leader Jacob Ngarivhume and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono for their alleged roles in planning and promoting a July 31 protest against government corruption. They were held for approximately six weeks before being released on strict bail conditions that included surrendering their passports, agreeing not to use social media to promote public violence, and reporting regularly to police stations. On November 3, authorities rearrested Hopewell Chin’ono for abusing social media and detained him until November 20, when he received bail. Both Ngarivhume and Chin’ono’s cases remained pending.
In 2019 the government charged 22 persons with subversion for their participation in organizing demonstrations or attending civic engagement trainings. As of November courts had dismissed charges against 10 of the defendants. The government alleged the defendants intended to take over a constitutionally elected government. As of year’s end, the Mnangagwa administration had not fully prosecuted anyone for subversion, but those charged with subversion must surrender their passports and report to local police stations regularly.
There were credible reports that for politically motivated purposes the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on another country to take adverse action against specific individuals or groups. In September media reported government officials secured an extradition treaty with South Africa to allow the forcible return of some members of the “G40,” a group comprised of former Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) members aligned with Grace Mugabe, widow of the late president Robert Mugabe. As of November 30, no publicized extraditions of G40 members had occurred.
Civil judicial procedures allow for an independent and impartial judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to political influence and intimidation, particularly in cases involving high-ranking government officials, politically connected individuals, or individuals and organizations seeking remedies for abuses of human rights.
The constitution stipulates the government must compensate persons for improvements made on land taken by the government, but it does not set a timeline for the delivery of compensation. The government rarely provided restitution or compensation for the confiscation of private property, and police generally did not take action against individuals who seized private property without having secured authorization from the state to do so.
Support was uneven and inconsistent for more than 1,800 households resettled in the past decade from the diamond mining fields of Marange in Chiadzwa to a government-owned agricultural estate outside Mutare. Each household was entitled to receive $1,000 for relocation, although reportedly only a handful received the money. Most of the relocated families had not received compensation of any kind, including agricultural land, while the government classified them as “people with no recognizable legal rights or claim to the land they are occupying,” stating that their former land became state land, despite customary and traditional rights to the contrary.
A majority of commercial farmers reported the government had not compensated them for losses suffered from the land resettlement program that began in 2000. According to the attorney general and Ministry of Lands, beginning in 2000 a description of every white-owned farm in the country was published in state media and the farms effectively became state property. According to the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe (CFU), after authorities published a description of the property, it was usually transferred to a politically connected individual at the first available opportunity.
The CFU reported that since 2000 most titleholders who lost their homes or properties, where most of their life earnings were invested, were not compensated. As a result of evictions, there were scores of destitute elderly former farmers and former farm workers. In July the government, the CFU, and other farmers’ groups signed a $3.5 billion compensation deal for farms expropriated in the decades following independence. The deal promised half of the payments after one year and the remainder over the course of the next four years. Despite the negotiated agreement, government officials continued to seize farms without compensation as recently as September 11.
The CFU estimated there were fewer than 400 active white commercial farmers still living in the country. Those remaining continued to be targeted, harassed, threatened with eviction, and evicted by unemployed youth and individuals hired by politically connected individuals standing to benefit from the farm seizures.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, or home, but local NGOs reported the government did not respect these rights. Throughout the year government officials pressured local chiefs and ZANU-PF loyalists to monitor and report on persons suspected of supporting political parties other than ZANU-PF. Through threats and intimidation, local chiefs and ZANU-PF loyalists also compelled individuals, mostly in rural areas, to contribute money and public resources, such as school buses and school meeting spaces, toward ZANU-PF political rallies.
Government entities manipulated the distribution of government-provided food aid, agricultural inputs, and access to education and other assistance programs to exclude suspected political opposition supporters and to compel support for ZANU-PF. ZANU-PF supporters threatened to withhold food aid to citizens in Glenview, Mangwe, and Nyanga during the period preceding each area’s constituency by-election in 2019.
The law permits the interception and monitoring of any communication (including telephone, postal mail, email, and internet traffic) in the course of transmission through a telecommunication, postal, or other system in the country. Civil liberties advocates claimed the government used the law to stifle freedom of speech and target political and civil society activists (see section 2.a.).
Security forces sometimes punished family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives. On July 29, police searched the Bulawayo home of news site ZimLive.com editor Mduduzi Mathuthu for information on subversive materials linked to protests scheduled for July 31. Mathuthu was not at home when police arrived and remained in hiding as of November. Police detained his sister, Nomagugu Mathuthu, at the Bulawayo Central Police Station, then released her after arresting Mathuthu’s nephew, Tawanda Muchehiwa, on July 30. Muchehiwa reportedly disappeared from police custody and then was left at his residence on August 1, badly beaten by individuals suspected of being state security agents.
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 some corrupt officials, often those who have fallen out of favor, without ever convicting them.
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.”
The constitution mandates the Zimbabwe Anticorruption Commission (ZACC) to conduct corruption investigations. In 2019 President Mnangagwa appointed nine new commissioners to the ZACC and gave the commission the power to arrest. It does not have the power to prosecute. In August a separate Special Anti-Corruption Unit was created within the Office of the Presidency. Concerns remained that the ZACC primarily targeted high-profile officials who had fallen out of favor with President Mnangagwa and that the government’s anticorruption efforts were highly politicized.
On July 9, President Mnangagwa fired the Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo for corruptly awarding a multi-million-dollar contract overpaying for medical equipment related to fighting COVID-19. Moyo, arrested on June 19, was released on bail the next day, unlike the journalist who raised public awareness of the scandal, who was denied bail for six weeks. As of December 1, the courts had not set a date to hear Moyo’s case.
In June, in addition to Obadiah Moyo, President Mnangagwa fired Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi pending his investigation by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission. As of December neither case nor investigation had concluded. Police frequently arrested citizens for exposing corruption while ignoring reports implicating high-level businesspersons and politicians.
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 conducted a comprehensive land audit in 2018 to reflect land ownership accurately, but the commission had not completed the exercise. 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. ZANU-PF officials continued to seize farms without compensation throughout the year.
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 implemented a biometric registration system for civil servants to reduce improper salary payments.
In its 2019 report, the Office of the Auditor General exposed corruption, including payment for undelivered goods such as motor vehicles, generators, excavators, and biometric cards. It reported that between 2016 and 2018, the government failed to account for how it spent $29.6 million in the maize distribution portion of its Command Agriculture program. Anecdotal reports indicated a significant portion of this total was lost to corruption. The auditor general also reported $417 million of accounts receivable that remained outstanding for extended periods, making their collectability doubtful. Notable cases in the report included the Zimbabwe Electrification Transmission and Distribution Company, which had not taken delivery of transformers nine years after making a payment of $4.9 million to a supplier. 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 flagged 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 7. Worker Rights
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 to make 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.
Although the law does not permit national civil servants to bargain collectively, the Apex Council, a group of public service associations, represented civil servants in job-related negotiations with the Public Service Commission. The Apex Council, representing 14 government health-care unions, declared a strike on June 18 demanding that the government raise salaries to October 2018 levels, pay salaries in U.S. dollars, and provide adequate PPE in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, the largest teachers union in the country, began a strike on September 21 to demand higher wages and adequate PPE. Nurses ultimately reached an agreement with the health services board on September 9 to end their strike. The agreement called for nurses to work two days a week to reduce exposure to COVID-19 and as a compromise regarding nurses’ salary demands. Vice President Chiwenga announced an end to flexible working conditions and a return to a five-day workweek for nurses on October 23. The teachers strike continued as of mid-November.
The Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare did not effectively enforce the laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other violations of civil rights. Those charged with violating the law were subject to lengthy administrative delays and appeals.
The government did not respect workers’ right to form or join unions, strike, and bargain collectively. Parliament enacted a bill establishing the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) in 2019 to formalize dialogue efforts among government, labor leaders, and employers to discuss social and economic policy and address worker demands. The forum met once during the year. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) stated the TNF had done little to address its workers’ 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. In July the Zimbabwe Republic Police published a list of 14 prominent government critics wanted for questioning, including the presidents of the ZCTU and the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), regarding planned anticorruption demonstrations on July 31. In the lead-up to the planned protests, the ZCTU president accused state security agents of slashing his car tires and unsuccessfully trying to abduct his relatives. The ARTUZ president alleged armed suspects confronted occupants in his home and the home of a relative, demanding to know his whereabouts. Some union leaders remained in hiding as of December.
Although the law does not require unions to notify police of public gatherings, police demanded such notification. Under the law the government could fine and imprison union members for organizing an illegal strike.
When unions exercised their right to strike, the government often met their efforts with violence and excessive force. Police arrested three ARTUZ members following a June 22 protest in Masvingo to demand increased salaries paid in U.S. dollars. Police also arrested 13 nurses at Harare Central Hospital on July 6 and charged them with contravening COVID-19 lockdown regulations; photographs of police holding clubs and chasing uniformed nurses circulated widely on social media.
At the 108th session of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conference in 2019, the Committee on the Application of Standards noted concern regarding serious violations of fundamental rights by government 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 direct contacts mission to assess progress before the next conference. After initial resistance, the ILO persuaded the government to support a direct contacts mission, which was originally scheduled for May but was postponed due to COVID-19. Ultimately, however, the government did not accept the direct contacts mission.
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 not commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The laws against forced labor were neither effectively nor sufficiently enforced. Forced labor occurred in agriculture, mining, street vending, and domestic servitude. The full extent of the problem was unknown.
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. The government made moderate advancements in efforts to combat human trafficking. The government adopted a national action plan to combat trafficking, and the government continued to investigate and prosecute traffickers, to train law enforcement and the judiciary, to identify and refer victims, and to conduct awareness-raising activities. Under a COVID-19 amnesty program to reduce prison populations, the government released a convicted human trafficker after serving only two years of a 20-year sentence.
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 commensurate with those for comparable serious crimes.
As a result of COVID-19’s negative impact on the economy and worsening economic conditions, more children worked to supplement family incomes. Children participated in hazardous activities or other worst forms of child labor in agriculture (including small-scale subsistence agriculture, sugarcane, and tobacco, the latter cited by NGOs as posing significantly adverse health effects for child workers), domestic services, prostitution, street begging, informal trading, and artisanal gold mining.
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, took place 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).
It was unknown if there were 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. The government did not respond to international organizations’ requests for information on the criteria used to evaluate candidates for public-sector employment or 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 men and women 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. It was unknown whether there were official reports of discrimination against migrant laborers in the formal sector.
Labor law does not differentiate among workers based on sector or industry. The labor law does not apply to the informal sector, which was estimated to include more than 90 percent of the labor force. The law applies to migrant laborers if they are in the formal sector.
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. Employers paid many agricultural and domestic workers below minimum wage. Many public servants earned salaries that put them below the poverty line due to rampant inflation and currency depreciation.
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. 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.
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, regulated working conditions. Staffing shortages, as well as its status as an advisory council, made it largely ineffective. The law permits unannounced inspections. Penalties for violations of wage or hours-of-work restrictions were not commensurate with penalties for comparable offenses. Penalties for occupational safety and health violations were inconsistent and fall within the jurisdiction of numerous ministries.
The government sets safety and health standards on an industry-specific basis. Occupational safety and health standards were up to date and appropriate for the main industries in the country. Although the law provides for workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, 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 Chinese-owned enterprises and companies were common, including reports of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of workers; unsafe working conditions; underpayment or nonpayment of wages; unfair dismissal; and firing without notice. In February a group of local miners in Matabeleland South Province petitioned a labor court to protest their firing by their Chinese employer. In June the Chinese owner of a Gweru mine shot two employees after they confronted him about his failure to pay wages in U.S. dollars. The owner was arrested on two counts of attempted murder and granted bail of approximately $100; his case remained pending as of December 1.
While official statistics were not available, most work-related injuries and deaths occurred in the mining sector due to low investment in occupational safety and health, noncompliance with rules and regulations, and low levels of awareness of occupational safety and health matters. Due to the growth of the informal mining sector, artisanal miners, including children, had increased exposure to dangerous chemicals and environmental waste. A gold mine collapse killed two persons in February and was described as a common event by artisanal miners in the area. 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.