IV. Background

Brief History of ZANU-PF’s Repression since 1980

ZANU-PF and its political allies have a long history of resorting to manipulation and repression to maintain themselves in power. Since the country gained independence in 1980, ZANU-PF has used its supporters, as well as the army and the police, to commit acts of violence against opponents and has also used state institutions for political ends. For instance, in an attempt to destroy Joshua Nkomo’s opposition party, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), the Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwean army carried out systematic and widespread atrocities such as torture and extrajudicial executions of more than 3,000 persons in Matebeleland and Midlands provinces between 1980 and 1987.2 Successive election periods, particularly in the years 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008, were characterized by widespread political violence mainly perpetrated by ZANU-PF and its allies.3

In 2000, with support from the government, ZANU-PF and its allies carried out violent invasions of white-owned farms in which several farmers and farm workers were killed.4 In 2005 the government carried out an unprecedented campaign of forced evictions in urban areas, causing a massive internal displacement crisis in which an estimated 700,000 people lost their shelter, livelihood or both.5 In 2007 incidents of police violence and intimidation increased significantly, culminating in the arrest and beating of more than 50 opposition activists in police custody.6

Political Situation before and after the March 2008 Elections

In response to police violence against opposition members and human rights defenders in March 2008, and an ever-deepening economic crisis, SADC mandated then-South Africa President Thabo Mbeki to mediate talks between ZANU-PF and the MDC.7 The talks failed to yield significant results and ZANU-PF and MDC went into the March 2008 general elections in an environment of increasing repression and manipulation of state institutions by ZANU-PF, thereby making the playing field uneven in ZANU-PF’s favor.8

Despite this, for the first time since independence, ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority and its presidential candidate, Robert Mugabe, lost to opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai. However, according to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) Tsvangirai did not get at least “50 plus 1” percent of votes cast, making a presidential run-off necessary.

As Human Rights Watch has previously documented, ZANU-PF and its allies unleashed a systematic and widespread campaign of terror to intimidate the electorate into voting for Robert Mugabe in the runoff election held on June 27.9 When Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the poll citing widespread political violence against MDC supporters, Mugabe went ahead with the election and declared himself the winner. For the first time, several African states voiced condemnation.

On July 21 ZANU-PF and MDC leaders signed a memorandum of understanding which led, on September 15, to a power-sharing agreement between the parties.10 However, talks stalled over how to share executive power. Efforts by the SADC, through the mediation of Thabo Mbeki, have failed to break the political impasse.

Political Impasse Persists

SADC attempted to make further progress by convening a meeting of SADC Organ of Defence and Security on October 28. The meeting failed to break the impasse and announced that it was calling for a summit of all SADC member states to try to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis. Chances of forming a government of national unity are fading fast and the situation looks increasingly precarious. Should ZANU-PF unilaterally form a government without the MDC, there is a serious risk of a resurgence in violence and human rights abuses. ZANU-PF has maintained control over state institutions that it has traditionally used to perpetrate abuses such that, even if a government of national unity is formed, ZANU-PF will most likely continue to determine Zimbabwe’s political direction.

Establishment and Functions of the Judiciary, Prosecutors and Police

Zimbabwe’s justice language is established by the country’s constitution which enshrines rule of law principles, including judicial independence and fair trial guarantees, as well as for the establishment of a professional and non-partisan police force.11 Zimbabwe has ratified the African Charter (Banjul)12 on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which obliges the government to respect due process and fair trial rights.13

Chapter 8 of the Constitution sets out the structure, jurisdiction and appointment of Zimbabwe’s judiciary.14 Article 79B guarantees the independence of the judiciary. Conditions of service for judges are set out in article 88, which provides that the remuneration of judges shall be charged to the Consolidated Revenue Fund and may not be reduced during a judge’s tenure.

The judiciary consists of the chief justice as head of judiciary, judges of the Supreme Court, judge president and judges of the High Court, as well as judges of special courts. The Supreme Court is Zimbabwe’s superior court of record and final court of appeal; it also has original jurisdiction in cases where violation of constitutional rights is alleged.15 The High Court is a superior court of record in Zimbabwe and has original jurisdiction over all criminal matters in Zimbabwe.16 Magistrates’ courts are the courts of first instance in all criminal matters.

The Office of the Attorney General (AG) is established under the Constitution and charged with instituting and undertaking criminal proceedings before any court in Zimbabwe. The Attorney General carries out this duty through public prosecutors.17

Article 93 of the Constitution provides for a police force to have the function of “preserving the internal security of and maintaining law and order in Zimbabwe.”18 The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) operates under the direct command of the Commissioner of Police, under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The administration of the ZRP and terms and conditions of service are set out in the Police Act, which prohibits serving members of the police force from engaging in partisan politics.19

2 The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and The Legal Resources Foundation, Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace: A Report on the Disturbances in Matebeleland and the Midlands, 1980 to 1988 (Harare: The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and The Legal Resources Foundation, 1997).

3 See Human Rights Watch, All Over Again: Human Rights Abuses and Flawed Electoral Conditions in Zimbabwe’s Coming General Elections, vol.20, no.2(A), March 2008,; and Amnesty International, “Terror tactics in the run-up to elections,” June 2000, (accessed November 3, 2008).  

4 David Harold-Barry, ed., Zimbabwe: The Past is the Future, (Harare: Weaver Press Ltd., 2004), p. 193; and International Crisis Group, “Blood and Soil: Land, Politics and Conflict Prevention in Zimbabwe and South Africa,” (Brussels: 2004).

5 Human Rights Watch, Evicted and Forsaken: Internally displaced persons in the aftermath of Operation Murambatsvina, December 2005,; and UN Special Envoy on Human Settlement Issues in Zimbabwe, Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, “Report of the Fact-Finding Mission to Zimbabwe to Assess the Scope and Impact of Operation Murambatsvina,” July 22, 2005.

6 Human Rights Watch, All Over Again.

7 Communiqué from the 2007 SADC Extra-Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, March 28-29, 2007.

8 Human Rights Watch, All Over Again.

9 Human Rights Watch, “Bullets for Each of You”: State-Sponsored Violence since Zimbabwe’s March 29 Elections, June 2008,

10 “Memorandum of understanding between ZANU-PF and MDC, Harare,” July 21, 2008.

11 The Constitution of Zimbabwe was published as a Schedule to the Zimbabwe Constitution Order 1979 (S.I 1979/1600 of the United Kingdom). It has since been amended 18 times. Chapters 4, 5 and 8 provide for separation of powers among three main pillars of state—the executive, the legislature and the judiciary—and the checks and balance mechanisms that keep them independent of each other.

12 African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, adopted June 27, 1981, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58 (1982), entered into force October 21, 1986, ratified by Zimbabwe May 30, 1986.

13 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), G.A.res.2200 A (XXI), U.N.Doc.A/6316 (1966), entered into force in March 1976, acceded to by Zimbabwe August 13, 1991.

14 Constitution of Zimbabwe, art. 79A.      

15 Constitution of Zimbabwe, arts. 24 and 80.

16 Constitution of Zimbabwe, art. 81.

17 Constitution of Zimbabwe, art. 76.

18 Specific duties are set out in the Chapter 11:10 of the Police Act.

19 Schedule to Police Act, art. 48.