Zimbabwe activists fear post-Mugabe human rights crackdown | World news

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Activists and human rights campaigners in Zimbabwe fear a new crackdown that could roll back gains made during the eight-day crisis that culminated in the resignation of President Robert Mugabe last week.

Relatives of victims of state-sponsored violence said they were concerned about the track record of the new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was Mugabe’s righthand man and is blamed for the brutal suppression of political opposition parties during elections in 2008.

Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as president of Zimbabwe on 24 November, capping a dramatic few weeks that began when he was sacked as vice-president by Robert Mugabe on 6 November.

Mnangagwa, a 75-year-old former intelligence chief, had been locked in a battle with the first lady, Grace Mugabe, to succeed her husband as president. 

His sacking – an attempt to clear Grace’s path to power – was a tactical error that triggered a military takeover, Mugabe’s impeachment by parliament, and his resignation.

Mnangagwa has strong support within the security establishment and among veterans of Zimbabwe’s 1970s guerrilla war, when he earned the nickname “the crocodile”.

Despite allegations about his role in atrocities in the 1980s, much of the international community had long seen him as being the most likely figure in Zimbabwe to guarantee a stable transition and implement economic reforms.

Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

“Just because [Mnangagwa] has wrestled power from the devil does not mean I see him as the messiah,” said Patson Dzamara, whose activist brother Itai was abducted in 2015 and has not been heard of since.

“So many have been killed, maimed, tortured or imprisoned, and the ones who are presiding over this transition are the ones responsible.” he added.

Mugabe, whose 37-year rule over the impoverished southern African country was marked by brutal repression, stepped down after a military takeover led to mass protests and impeachment proceedings in parliament.

In his inauguration speech in a packed national stadium in Harare on Friday, Mnangagwa, the 75-year-old stalwart of the ruling Zanu-PF party, said he would govern for all “patriotic Zimbabweans” and promised elections would be held as scheduled next year.

He did not mention lifting restrictions on freedom of expression, or any measures to weaken the grip of the feared internal security services he helped set up following Zimbabwe’s independence from white-minority rule in 1980.

The new president was minister of justice when Itai Dzamara was pushed into a vehicle by unknown men, and has been accused of involvement in the killings of more than 20,000 civilians in the south of Zimbabwe in the 1980s.

Robert Mugabe planned for everything, except his own retirement. He outsmarted his rivals and blindsided his allies for decades, and so most of the country had come to accept that he would stay in office until the day he died.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new president, had boasted in May that Mugabe would die in the job. As such, there was no planning for the future.

One of the biggest questions now will be whether Mugabe can stay in Zimbabwe. Few ousted autocrats are allowed to stay on in the countries they once ruled, due to fears they may resuscitate their careers or become figureheads for opposition.

Mugabe may be an exception, because of his age and his role at the heart of Zimbabwe’s long liberation struggle. Throughout the most unusual of coups, Mugabe appears to have been treated with extreme deference by the generals holding him prisoner. Party members who ended his career have paid tribute to his historical achievements.

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