The Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has dominated Zimbabwean politics since independence in 1980, in part by carrying out severe 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 inherited from the Mugabe regime, and after an initial period of improvement, 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.
- In May, Parliament passed a constitutional amendment that eliminated direct elections for the vice president, and established a new procedure under which the vice president is appointed by the president. Opposition groups condemned the amendment, saying that it was designed to further consolidate power in the office of the president.
- The ruling ZANU-PF party continued to silence dissenting voices through arbitrary arrests of opposition leaders, human rights activists, and journalists.
- COVID-19 lockdown restrictions continued to limit Zimbabweans’ freedom of movement. Activists were targeted by the authorities for violating lockdown measures. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC Alliance) was systematically denied clearance to hold meetings due to lockdown regulations.
- In clear breach of the Provincial Councils and Administration Act and the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act, Harare provincial development coordinator Tafadzwa Muguti banned all nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and PVOs that defied his June instructions to report directly to his office. The organizations were accused of operating outside their mandates and working in opposition to the current government. This ban was lifted in September after a High Court ruling.
|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. Former president Robert 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 Movement for Democratic Change–Tsvangirai (MDC-T) candidate Thokozani Khupe, with 0.9 percent.
International and local observers reported a peaceful campaign but raised concerns about the election’s overall conduct and integrity. Southern African Development Community (SADC) and European Union (EU) observers noted challenges including parties having difficulty accessing voter rolls, progovernment bias by state media, contested postal voting, the denial of the diaspora’s right to vote, reports of assisted voting, 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 were released, and accused ZANU-PF of attempting to rig the vote. 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.
|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 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 in 2020, forcing them to surrender their seats. Another 15 MDC Alliance members defected to the MDC-T 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, alleged ballot-box stuffing, and the distribution of food and medicine to secure votes. By-elections have been suspended indefinitely since 2020 due to COVID-19-related restrictions.
|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 is questionable. International election monitors criticized its management of the 2018 polls, noting issues with vote-count stewardship, opaque procurement processes, and the irregular arrangement of the ballots themselves. 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 in 2017 remains problematic, and on election day in 2018 there was no biometric voter authentication. There was a noticeable decline in voter registration in Harare and Bulawayo, possibly due in part to fewer registration kits being 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 during his tenure as acting chief elections officer during the 2018 balloting.
|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 generally form without interference. However, state media tend not to cover opposition parties, impacting their competitiveness. Authorities often suppress 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 continued to be targeted in 2021.
Groups such as Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF) are blocked from conducting memorial meetings for victims of the 1980s Gukurahundi massacres. The MLF is regarded by the government as a secessionist political party, and its leaders have faced persecution.
|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 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 limited the opposition’s ability to operate and gain support, as reflected in the 2019 by-election results.
The opposition has recently been weakened by factional infighting, which ZANU-PF reportedly fostered. By the end of 2020, Douglas Mwonzora had taken over the MDC-T presidency from Khupe and as leader of the opposition, his faction benefits from government funding.
|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 continues 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 defied a court order to retract his statements.
|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 expressed frustration about political marginalization by both ZANU-PF and the MDC.
Women and their interests are underrepresented in the political system. The 2018 elections resulted in a 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 questions 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.
|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 interfere in civilian governance. Some officers received cabinet appointments following the 2017 coup, and senior commanders were rewarded with ambassadorships during 2019. The government denied rumors of another coup in June 2020, which were prompted by the military’s involvement in seizing MDC property and enforcing COVID-19-related lockdown measures.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Corruption is endemic, and past revelations of large-scale graft did not lead to successful prosecutions. In early 2019, President Mnangagwa dismissed the existing Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) board and appointed the wife of a former general, a retired major, former opposition politicians, and civil society leaders to the body. Though ZACC continues to refer corruption cases to prosecutors, opposition leaders have called for it to be disbanded, accusing the commission of lacking the independence, capacity, and will to carry out its mandate.
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. Moyo 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 Deputy Health Minister John Mangwiro unsuccessfully steered a related tender to a firm that offered inflated prices. Despite calls for Mangwiro to be prosecuted, he has remained in that post through 2021.
|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 freely available by replacing the restrictive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, was enacted.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
The constitution protects media freedom, but restrictive laws undermine this guarantee. Harsh penalties, including prison sentences, for violations of laws like the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (CLCRA) contribute 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 sustained refusals to grant licenses to community radio stations. Commercial radio licenses usually go to state-controlled companies or individuals connected to ZANU-PF. The government controls the two main daily newspapers, though there are several independent print outlets. In November 2020, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe broke the ZBC’s monopoly by issuing new television broadcasting licenses. 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 2021, Jeffrey Moyo, a freelance journalist working for a number of international media outlets, was arrested in Harare and charged with violating Section 36 of Zimbabwe’s Immigration Act by allegedly helping two New York Times journalists obtain false media accreditations. Earlier that month, Zim Morning Post editor Elias Mambo and reporter Farai Machamire were arrested under Section 95 of Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act of 2004, for alleged criminal insult after interviewing a politician. In September, 10 journalists were arrested for covering a demonstration against the unconstitutional exclusion of MDC Alliance representatives from ZEC stakeholder meetings.
|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, Roman Catholic bishops criticized the government in pastoral letter, and authorities called on congregants to “ignore” the letter later that month.
|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 for enforcing discipline at state-run universities. Students face violent police responses to campus protests.
|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.
In September 2021, Parliament passed the Cyber Security and Data Protection bill, which President Mnangagwa signed into law in December. Several NGOs have criticized the law for infringing on individuals’ rights to freedom of expression online and providing avenues that allow authorities to monitor private communication and target opposition figures.
|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. Authorities instituted a strict COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, limiting the size of public gatherings. While such restrictions remained in place throughout 2021, the strictest lockdown measures were lifted in September.
Opposition groups continue to struggle to organize meetings, but their efforts are routinely frustrated by authorities. The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) recorded widespread event disruption, harassment, and intimidation efforts targeting opposition groups and leaders throughout 2021.
In July 2021, well-known activist Makomborero Haruzivishe was granted bail after being arrested earlier in the year for allegedly inciting public violence. Haruzivishe has a long history of spearheading peaceful protests and speaking out against government repression; he has been arrested 38 times over the past decade, though he has never been convicted of any crime. Despite being granted bail, Haruzivishe remained incarcerated through the end of the year, making this the longest period of detention he has faced.
|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 (PVO) Act, despite rights laid out in the constitution. Any organization that engages in charitable or humanitarian work is required to register as a PVO, and the disruption of PVO and NGO activity by the authorities is relatively common. NGO leaders and members faced detentions, abductions, and continued scrutiny in 2021.
In June 2021, Harare’s provincial development coordinator Tafadzwa Muguti issued a directive ordering all NGOs to submit their work plans to his office for regulation and approval. This order directly contravened provisions made for NGOs in the PVO Act, and was met with widespread noncompliance. In response, Muguti’s office issued an order banning hundreds of NGOs. A September High Court decision reversed this ban, ruling that Muguti’s order was unlawful and declaring it null and void, removing legal constraints on NGOs that had not complied with the order.
In November, the government proposed an amendment to the PVO Act, which seeks to expand the definition of PVOs and further limit how NGOs can operate, including by prohibiting any political involvement or affiliation and requiring additional governmental oversight for certain types of organizations.
|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. Due to the unemployment and heightened informal employment that have accompanied Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, unions are grossly underfunded. Strikes are sometimes tolerated, though union leaders are often charged 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. In October, teachers held a strike over pay and working conditions.
|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 fierce criticism later that month.
In May 2021, a constitutional amendment introduced new changes affecting the judiciary. Judges of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court will now retire at 75 instead of at 70, allowing the president to extend Malaba’s contested position. Senior judges joining the bench for the first time are now appointed by the president in consultation with the Judicial Service Commission instead of being subjected to public interviews. The introduction of the amendment contravened the constitution, as it did not follow procedures requiring a 90-day notice period to allow for public input.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||0.000 4.004|
Constitutionally stipulated due process protections are not enforced. Security personnel frequently ignore basic rights regarding detention, searches, seizures, and accused persons are often held and interrogated without legal counsel or explanation of the reason for arrest. Lawyers also face detention and arrest on spurious charges. Perceived opponents of the regime faced arrests and detentions throughout 2021.
|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 are rampant, and prisoners risk contracting illnesses including COVID-19.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
While discrimination is prohibited under the 2013 constitution, it is not expressly prohibited on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. 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.
|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. Roadblocks and documentation checks have also been used to enforce COVID-19 lockdown measures.
|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. 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.
In June 2021, the government began the process of seizing a privately owned farm belonging to three Black Zimbabweans, including Siphosami Malunga, a well-known human rights activist and critic of the government, reflecting long-standing concerns regarding the security of property rights for all Zimbabweans.
|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, UK-based 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.
|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 2021 assessment.
The government has continued efforts to combat the problem of human trafficking. 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.
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Global Freedom Score28 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score51 100 partly free