Zimbabwe

Not Free
28
100
PR Political Rights 11 40
CL Civil Liberties 17 60
Last Year's Score & Status
29 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Status Change

Zimbabwe’s status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to the authorities’ intensifying persecution of opposition figures and civic activists.

header2 Overview

The Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has dominated Zimbabwean politics since independence in 1980, in part by carrying out severe and often violent crackdowns on the political opposition, critical media, and other sources of dissent. President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power in 2017 after the military intervened to remove longtime president Robert Mugabe amid factional divisions within the ruling party. However, the new administration has largely retained the legal, administrative, and security architecture it inherited from the Mugabe regime, and it has stepped up repression to consolidate its authority. Endemic corruption, weak rule of law, and poor protections for workers and land rights remain among Zimbabwe’s critical challenges.

header3 Key Developments in 2020

  • Authorities used COVID-19 lockdown measures to restrict Zimbabweans’ freedom of movement, forcing travelers to undergo stringent document checks at roadblocks. Journalists were also targeted by the authorities, despite being classified as essential, with two arrested for violating lockdown measures in May.
  • Authorities forcibly dispersed an antigovernment protest in Harare in July, physically attacking and arresting participants. Earlier that month, journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and civil society leader Jacob Ngarivhume were arrested in connection with the rally; Ngarivhume was bailed in September, while Chin’ono was arrested on other charges in November.
  • In March, the Supreme Court ruled that Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC Alliance) leader Nelson Chamisa was not the legitimate opposition leader, replacing him with Movement for Democratic Change–Tsvangirai (MDC-T) leader Thokozani Khupe in a move that was regarded as a ZANU-PF attempt to fracture the opposition. Khupe recalled at least 31 MDC Alliance legislators as the year progressed, forcing them to surrender their seats.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 1.001 4.004

The president is directly elected and limited to two five-year terms under the 2013 constitution. President Mugabe was forced to resign after 37 years in power as a result of the 2017 coup. ZANU-PF then selected Mnangagwa, whom Mugabe had dismissed as vice president, to succeed him.

A presidential election, alongside parliamentary and local polls, was held as planned in July 2018. Mnangagwa was credited with 50.8 percent of the vote, followed by MDC Alliance candidate Nelson Chamisa with 44.3 percent and MDC-T candidate Thokozani Khupe with 9 percent.

International and local observers reported a peaceful campaign, but raised concerns about its overall conduct and integrity. Southern African Development Community observers noted challenges including parties having difficulty accessing voter rolls, progovernment bias by state media, contested postal voting, and the denial of the diaspora’s right to vote. A European Union mission noted similar bureaucratic challenges and problems with state media, as well as reports of assisted voting, and of inducements and intimidation meant to aid the ruling party.

Vote-tallying irregularities and delays led to postelection tensions. The MDC Alliance leadership declared victory in the presidential election before the official results and accused ZANU-PF of attempting to rig the vote during the delay. Postelection opposition protests erupted in Harare, and the military was deployed to disperse them, leading to several deaths. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) ultimately declared Mnangagwa the winner but the MDC, whose factions had reunited after the elections, refused to recognize the legitimacy of Mnangagwa’s victory.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 1.001 4.004

Zimbabwe has a bicameral legislature. In the lower chamber, the 270-seat National Assembly, 210 members are elected through a first-past-the-post system with one member per constituency, and 60 women are elected by proportional representation. The 80-seat Senate includes six members from each of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces who are elected through proportional representation. Sixteen are indirectly elected by regional councils, two seats are reserved for people with disabilities, and two are reserved for tribal chiefs. Members in both houses serve five-year terms.

ZANU-PF won 180 of the 270 National Assembly seats in the 2018 parliamentary elections. The MDC Alliance won 87, and the MDC-T won 1 via proportional representation. An independent former ZANU-PF member and the National Patriotic Front, a ZANU-PF splinter faction, each took one seat. In the Senate, ZANU-PF secured 34 elected seats, the MDC Alliance took 25, and the MDC-T took 1. Bureaucratic irregularities and media bias that affected the presidential election also marred the parliamentary elections. Traditional leaders ignored the constitutional ban on their participation in partisan politics.

In March 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that Chamisa was not the legitimate opposition leader, replacing him with MDC-T leader Khupe. Khupe subsequently recalled 31 MDC Alliance legislators of both houses as the year progressed, forcing them to surrender their seats in what observers considered a ZANU-PF attempt to fracture the opposition. Another 15 MDC Alliance members reportedly defected to the MDC-T by October to retain their seats.

ZANU-PF won most local and national by-elections held during 2019, though observers raised concerns about the interference of traditional leaders, reports of violence, intimidation, alleged ballot-box stuffing, and the distribution of food and medicine to secure votes.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 1.001 4.004

The ZEC is responsible for election management and oversight, but its independence from ZANU-PF has long been questioned. International election monitors criticized aspects of its management of the 2018 polls, noting vote-count stewardship, opaque procurement processes, and the irregular arrangement of the ballots themselves, which appeared to favor certain candidates. Political parties and civil society had difficulty accessing voter rolls, affecting audit and verification processes envisioned by the Electoral Act.

The introduction of biometric voter registration since 2017 has been problematic, and on election day in 2018 there was no biometric voter authentication. Separately, there was a noticeable decline in voter registration in Harare and Bulawayo, possibly due in part to fewer registration kits having been allocated there.

Weeks ahead of the 2018 elections, the Constitutional Court ruled that Zimbabweans abroad must return to the country to register to vote, effectively contravening constitutional provisions guaranteeing every citizen the right to vote.

In July 2019, the ZEC appointed a former military figure as its chief elections officer. The opposition criticized the move, noting his long history of overseeing flawed elections and previous tenure as acting chief elections officer during the 2018 balloting.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 2.002 4.004

Political parties may generally form without interference. However, state media tend not to cover opposition parties, impacting their competitiveness. Authorities have often suppressed opposition gatherings. While opposition groups were able to hold most meetings with limited disruption in the run-up to the 2018 elections, the MDC and its supporters faced postelection raids, arrests, and prosecutions.

MDC members were also targeted in 2020; one parliamentarian and two members were arrested in June after claiming that security agents sexually assaulted and tortured them while detaining them the month before. Also in June, several high-ranking MDC Alliance members were arrested after trying to enter a building occupied by the MDC-T. In August, MDC Alliance parliamentarian and vice chairman Job Sikhala was arrested, but was bailed in September.

Groups such as Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF) have been blocked from conducting memorial meetings for victims of Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s. The MLF is regarded by the government as a secessionist political party, and its leaders have faced persecution.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 1.001 4.004

ZANU-PF has dominated the government without interruption since independence, though the MDC held the post of prime minister as part of a power-sharing deal with Mugabe between 2009 and 2013.

The MDC managed to increase its share of parliamentary seats in the 2018 elections despite the uneven playing field, and Chamisa secured almost a million more votes in the 2018 presidential contest than the MDC candidate had in 2013. However, postelection violence and a subsequent crackdown limited the opposition’s ability to operate and gain support, as reflected in the 2019 by-election results.

The opposition has more recently been weakened by factional infighting, which ZANU-PF reportedly fostered. The conflict notably affected the MDC’s legislative presence, with MDC-T leader Khupe forcing MDC Alliance legislators to surrender their seats. That conflict was ongoing at year’s end; Khupe lost a leadership contest in December, but vowed to appeal the results in court.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to mass arrests, intimidation, and harassment targeting opposition party officials, as well as the ruling party’s alleged efforts to exploit divisions within the opposition by coopting one of the rival factions.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 1.001 4.004

The military has continued to play a critical role in political affairs since Mugabe’s ouster in 2017. Many senior military officials assumed leadership positions in ZANU-PF and the government.

Traditional leaders, who wield influence over public resources such as food aid, have intimidated villagers, restricted opposition access to their areas, and issued political statements in support of the ruling party, despite constitutional provisions and court orders requiring them to abstain from partisan politics. The president of the National Council of Chiefs, Fortune Charumbira, publicly supported Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF ahead of the 2018 elections, and he defied a court order to retract his statements.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 1.001 4.004

Zimbabwe’s ethnic Shona majority dominates ZANU-PF, and members of the Ndebele minority have at times complained of political marginalization by both ZANU-PF and the MDC.

Women and their interests are underrepresented in the political system. The 2018 elections featured a slight decline in the number of women elected outside proportional representation. After the vote, women made up 34 percent of the parliament, down from the post-2013 35 percent figure. The proportional representation quota expires in 2023, raising concerns about whether progress in women’s representation will be sustained. Four of 23 presidential candidates in 2018, or 17 percent, were women.

LGBT+ advocacy groups exist, but severe discrimination limits their ability to advance their interests in the political sphere.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 1.001 4.004

The president and parliament generally determine policies and legislation, but they lack strong electoral legitimacy, and the parliament does not serve as an effective check on executive power. In October 2019, after MDC lawmakers staged a walkout during Mnangagwa’s state of the nation address, the speaker imposed heavy financial penalties.

The military continues to play an outsized role in civilian governance. Some officers received cabinet appointments following the 2017 coup, and senior commanders were rewarded with prominent ambassadorships during 2019. The government was compelled to deny rumors of another coup in June 2020, which were prompted by the military’s involvement in seizing MDC property and in enforcing COVID-19-related lockdown measures.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1.001 4.004

Corruption is endemic, and past revelations of large-scale graft did not consistently lead to successful prosecutions. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) was disbanded in early 2019, with President Mnangagwa naming the wife of a former general, a retired major, former opposition politicians, and civil society leaders to the body that July. Despite this disruption, ZACC referred over 90 cases to prosecutors in 2020.

Corruption featured heavily in the government’s COVID-19 response. In June 2020, Health Minister Obadiah Moyo was arrested after ZACC accused him of steering a $42 million contract to a firm outside the pharmaceutical sector. While Moyo was bailed in the case, which remained ongoing at year’s end, he was dismissed from his post in July.

In September 2020, ZACC reported that the National Pharmaceutical Company allegedly violated procurement rules when acquiring equipment and chemicals for COVID-19-related work earlier in the year, and noted that Deputy Health Minister John Mangwiro unsuccessfully steered a related tender to a firm that offered inflated prices. Despite speculation that Mangwiro would be arrested, he remained in post at year’s end. That same month, several high-ranking members of the national police were arrested after ZACC accused them of corrupt acts.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1.001 4.004

Government processes are generally opaque. Access to information is constitutionally protected, but restrictive laws limit the ability of media outlets and ordinary citizens to obtain government information. In July 2020, new freedom-of-information legislation, which aimed to make some information more freely available and replace the restrictive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, was enacted.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 1.001 4.004

The constitution protects media freedom, but restrictive laws undermine this guarantee. The possibility of harsh penalties, including prison sentences, for violations of laws like the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (CLCRA) contributes to self-censorship among journalists.

The state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) has historically dominated broadcast media. Many Zimbabweans rely on radio for information, but media diversity is limited by authorities’ sustained refusal to grant licenses to community radio stations. Commercial radio licenses usually go to state-controlled companies or individuals with close links to ZANU-PF. The government controls Zimbabwe’s two main daily newspapers, though there are several independent print outlets. In November 2020, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe issued new television broadcasting licenses, breaking the ZBC’s monopoly. All six awardees were connected to the government or ruling party, and one was owned by the Defense Ministry.

Journalists continued to face detention and arrest throughout the year. In May 2020, two journalists were arrested for violating COVID-19 lockdown measures when they tried to interview MDC members who alleged abuse at the hands of the authorities, even though journalists were considered essential workers. The two were bailed later that month. In late June, a freelance journalist working with Voice of America was reportedly charged with undermining the president’s authority and was released pending a trial, though police denied he was a suspect. In July, Hopewell Chin’ono, who reported on corruption within the Health Ministry, was arrested in Harare, as authorities sought to crack down on an upcoming protest. Chin’ono, whose reporting helped prompt Health Minister Moyo’s resignation, was bailed in September, but was rearrested on contempt charges in November and remained in detention at year’s end.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of religion is generally respected in Zimbabwe. However, congregations perceived to be critical of the government have faced harassment. In August 2020, Catholic bishops criticized the government in pastoral letter, and authorities called on congregants to “ignore” the letter later that month.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2.002 4.004

The Ministry of Higher Education supervises education policy at universities, and the president serves as chancellor of all eight state-run universities. The government has the authority to discipline students and faculty at state-run universities. Students have at times faced violent police responses to campus protests.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 1.001 4.004

Zimbabweans have enjoyed some freedom and openness in private discussion, but official surveillance of political activity is a deterrent to unfettered speech. Individuals have been arrested for critical posts on social media, prompting self-censorship online. However, some social media users did criticize the government in 2020, with the brief use of #ZimbabweanLivesMatter in August.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 1.001 4.004

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed but poorly upheld in practice. In November 2019, the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (MOPA) replaced the more repressive Public Order and Security Act, though MOPA retains heavy assembly restrictions. Zimbabwean authorities instituted a strict COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, limiting the size of public gatherings. Gathering restrictions persisted through year’s end.

Opposition groups attempted to organize a major antigovernment rally in July, but authorities responded by deploying the army to patrol Harare. Scores of participants were reportedly arrested and assaulted by security forces. Journalist Chin’ono and nongovernmental organization (NGO) leader Jacob Ngarivhume were arrested earlier in the month in connection to the planned rally; Ngarivhume was granted bail in September, but was ordered to report to a police station on a regular basis through year’s end.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1.001 4.004

NGOs face restrictions under laws including the CLCRA and the Private Voluntary Organisations Act, despite rights laid out for them in the constitution. NGO leaders and members faced detentions, abductions, and continued scrutiny in 2020.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 1.001 4.004

The Labour Act gives the government broad authority to veto collective bargaining agreements it deems economically harmful, and to regulate unions’ internal operations. Strikes are banned in “essential” industries and subject to procedural restrictions, though they occur in practice. Due to the unemployment and heightened informal employment that have accompanied Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, unions are grossly underfunded. Strikes are sometimes tolerated, though authorities have been known to charge union leaders with subversion for such activity.

In March 2020, doctors and nurses working in public hospitals launched a strike over a lack of protective equipment. In June, the Zimbabwe Nurses Association launched a strike aimed at securing pay in US dollars, which disrupted hospital services. The union called for an end to the strike in September, after the departure of former health minister Moyo. In October, teachers held a strike over pay and working conditions.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1.001 4.004

Pressure on the courts to endorse executive actions and protect ZANU-PF’s interests has eroded the judiciary’s independence. Judges occasionally rule against the government in sensitive cases, but this is rare, and such rulings are not always respected.

Individual judges faced a further loss in independence when Chief Justice Luke Malaba issued a directive instructing them to clear rulings with superiors in July 2020. Malaba rescinded his directive after facing fierce criticism later that month.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0.000 4.004

Constitutionally stipulated due process protections are not enforced. Police and other security personnel frequently ignore basic rights regarding detention, searches, and seizures, and accused persons are often held and interrogated for hours without legal counsel or explanation of the reason for their arrest. Lawyers also face detention and arrest on spurious charges. Perceived opponents of the regime faced arrests and detentions throughout 2020.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0.000 4.004

Security forces backed by ZANU-PF have long engaged in acts of extralegal violence, including against opposition supporters, with impunity. Detainees and protesters often face police brutality, sometimes resulting in death. Overcrowded prisons are unsanitary, food shortages have been reported, and prisoners risk contracting illnesses including COVID-19.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1.001 4.004

While discrimination on the basis of a broad range of characteristics is prohibited under the 2013 constitution, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is not expressly prohibited. Sex between men is a criminal offense and can be punished with a fine and up to a year in prison. Land and indigenization policies have previously been criticized for discriminating against white Zimbabweans. Despite legal protections against gender discrimination, women face significant disadvantages in practice, including in employment and compensation.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2.002 4.004

Movement has been restricted by the extensive use of police roadblocks, which have been deployed in recent years to impede protests. Authorities also used roadblocks and documentation checks to enforce COVID-19 lockdown measures, which grew more stringent in July 2020 after some Zimbabweans reportedly offered forged documentation.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1.001 4.004

Land rights are poorly protected, and in rural areas, the nationalization of land has left both commercial farmers and smallholders with limited security of tenure. Controversies persist over efforts to enact new land reforms. Women face discrimination in terms of access to and ownership of land, particularly communal or family land controlled by traditional leaders or male relatives.

In August 2020, the government launched a compensation scheme to support white and foreign-born farmers affected by a 2000s land reform program. Under the program, some landowners may regain lost property.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1.001 4.004

Laws on personal status matters such as marriage and divorce are generally equitable, but customary practices put women at a disadvantage. Domestic violence is a problem, and sexual abuse is widespread, especially against girls.

Child marriages were banned in 2016, but factors including poverty, certain religious views, and lack of enforcement have sustained the practice; a third of girls are married by age 18. In June 2020, NGO CAMFED reported that more children were considering marriage in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic effects.

The Termination of Pregnancy Act makes abortion illegal except in very limited circumstances. Same-sex marriages are constitutionally prohibited.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1.001 4.004

Due to an ongoing economic crisis, many workers are not adequately compensated, and can go unpaid for months. Inflation has accelerated, with the government reporting a figure of 837 percent in August 2020. The International Trade Union Confederation Global Rights Index categorized Zimbabwe as one of the worst countries to work in its 2020 assessment.

The government has continued efforts to combat human trafficking, though it remains a serious problem. Men, women, and children can be found engaged in forced labor in the agricultural sector, forced begging, and forced domestic work. Women and girls remain particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking.

On Zimbabwe

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  • Global Freedom Score

    28 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    46 100 partly free