Zimbabwe

Last Updated 3 November 2020

The Republic of Zimbabwe is an entirely landlocked sovereign state in southern Africa, with a population of approximately 14.6 million.1https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=ZW Zimbabwe is declared a secular state, but the government maintains a close relationship with Christianity.

Since acquiring its independence in 1980, the state has been dominated by the liberation party, ZANU-PF ( Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front). The party’s reign has been characterised by the systematic abuse of the freedoms of belief, expression, assembly among other human rights. Since he came to power in 2018, the current President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has failed to live up to his commitments to human rights reforms.2https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/zimbabwe

Approximately 87% of the population belong to various Christian denominations which are often intertwined with traditional indigenous animist beliefs. There are also small numbers of adherents to Islam, Greek Orthodox, Hinduism, and very few openly atheist/non-religious persons.3https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/zi.html

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The Zimbabwean Constitution4https://www.parlzim.gov.zw/component/k2/download/1290_da9279a81557040d47c3a2c27012f6e1 references a deity twice within the preamble which affirms “acknowledging the supremacy of Almighty God, in whose hands our future lies” and “imploring the guidance and support of Almighty God”.

However, there is no official state religion in Zimbabwe. Article 60 of the Constitution guarantees “freedom of thought, opinion, religion or belief; and freedom to practise and propagate and give expression to their thought, opinion, religion or belief, whether in public or in private…”

The government does not require religious groups to register; however, religious groups operating schools or medical facilities must register those institutions with the appropriate ministry. Religious groups, as well as schools and medical facilities run by religious groups, may receive tax-exempt status. Religious groups may apply for tax-exempt status and duty-free privileges with the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), which generally grants these requests.5https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/zimbabwe/

Religious Bias

There are reports of a strong and far reaching bias in the public sphere and in the political community towards Christianity. Church attendance is increasingly politicised. Many of the country’s political elites are affiliated with the churches and it is reported that the Anglican Church in particular holds a position of pronounced bilateral influence and cooperation with the state. There are also reports of religious bias making inroads into journalistic news.6archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=35012

State bias towards religion has also manifested itself during the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of presidential calls for National Prayer Days. During one such event, the President is reported to have intimated that such a pandemic comes “as a warning to people to leave their sinful ways. As such, President Mnangagwa said Zimbabweans had two choices to make in light of the pandemic; either to repent and seek God’s help or continue to live in defiance of his word.” Throughout the event, prayer was touted as the way to eradicate the pandemic.7https://allafrica.com/stories/202006160241.html

Education and children’s rights

All schools are under state control with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education setting curricula for public primary and secondary schools. The state guarantees quality education for all. However, standards of education vary widely between urban and rural areas.8https://www.herald.co.zw/the-rural-urban-education-divide

Following contentious reforms to the public school curriculum in 2017, religious education – while still primarily focussed on Christianity – now includes reference to other world religions and places an emphasis on religious tolerance. There appears to be no provision for teaching humanist or secular alternatives. 9https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1213174.pdf; https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Zimbabwe-2.pdf Many public primary schools provide compulsory religious education classes from which there is no possibility of opting out. However, students are able to opt out of religious education in public secondary schools.10https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/zimbabwe/

The government does not regulate religious education in private schools but must approve employment of headmasters and teachers at those schools.11https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/zimbabwe/ According to Zimbabwean Atheists, private religious schools are able to discriminate on the basis of religious affiliation and students are mandated to participate in the respective Christian rights. In practice, many of the best performing schools are reported to be mission schools established during the colonial era.

Family, community and society

Child marriage

Despite Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court having declared child marriage unconstitutional12https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/girls-voices/ruvimbo-child-bride-got-zimbabwe-constitutional-court-to-say-no-child-marriage/; https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-zimbabwe-childmarriage/zimbabwe-court-bans-child-marriage-after-challenge-by-former-child-brides-idUSKCN0UY27H, the government has failed to put in place structures to implement the court’s decision and ensure that girls under 18 are not forced into marriage.13https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/zimbabwe

According to Girls Not Brides, 32% of girls in Zimbabwe are married before the age of 18 and 4% are married before their 15th birthday.14https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/where-does-it-happen/atlas/zimbabwehttps://www.dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR322/FR322.pdf Among the drivers listed is religion, particularly indigenous apostolic churches and evangelical sects that mix Christian beliefs with traditional cultures.15https://storage.googleapis.com/wzukusers/user-28924863/documents/5c9b61e4a7850qfNTEEq/DRJ-JEF2019V4-2A6.pdf Men in the church are reportedly entitled to marry girls to shield them from pre-marital sex.16https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/25/zimbabwe-scourge-child-marriage

In 2017, Zimbabwe committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.17https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5; https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/where-does-it-happen/atlas/zimbabwe

Women’s rights

According to Human Rights Watch,

“The Matrimonial Causes Act18http://www.veritaszim.net/node/150 technically allows for equitable distribution of property between spouses at divorce, considering direct and indirect contributions, such as raising children and caring for the family and household. But in practice, provisions of this law have not been fully applied and many women lose their property when a marriage ends or the husband dies, while men and their families keep everything.”19https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/zimbabwe0117_web.pdf; https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/zimbabwe#e0c9cf

LGBTQ+ rights

Zimbabwe does not recognise same-sex marriage or civil unions. In 2013, the Zimbabwe Constitution Article 78(3) was amended to define marriage as being only between a man and a woman. Homophobia in the state exists mostly due to Christian and traditional values.

In May 2019, the Cabinet approved amendments to Zimbabwean marriage law, which would ban both child marriages and same-sex marriages, bringing it into line with the Constitution.20https://www.newsday.co.zw/2019/05/gays-lesbians-cant-marry-cabinet/

Section 73 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, 2004 punishes consensual same-sex conduct between men with up to one year in prison or a fine or both.21https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/zimbabwe#e0c9cf

Members of the LGBTQ+ community are subject to severe social stigma, discrimination and harassment. Many are forced to hide their sexual identity in order to secure their safety.22https://www.washingtonblade.com/2019/05/07/transgender-activist-from-zimbabwe-receives-asylum-in-us/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Despite guarantees of freedom of expression on the Constitution, this right is limited in practice, with journalists, political and human rights activists critical of the government particularly at risk of falling foul of the law.23https://ifex.org/afex-condemns-attacks-on-journalists-in-zimbabwe/

In 2019, at least five people were charged with insulting or undermining the authority of President Mnangagwa.24https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/zimbabwe/report-zimbabwe/

Freedom of expression organizations on the ground warn of a deteriorating climate for the right, highlighting the government’s increasing use of surveillance in order to crack down on perceived “subversion.”25https://ifex.org/right-to-privacy-under-threat-in-zimbabwe/

Media freedom

Despite many promises, the authorities have failed to license any community radio stations and the country still has only one television station with a broadcasting license since its independence in 1980, resulting in lack of media plurality and diversity.26https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/zimbabwe/report-zimbabwe/

Although Article 61(3c) of the Constitution affirms media freedom and the importance of being afforded “fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions”, state sponsored political violence is an ongoing and chronic problem in Zimbabwe. Human rights defenders are known to have faced harassment, arbitrary arrest and violence at the hands of the authorities. Elections have been marked by political violence, with anti-government critics, journalists and even religious leaders being harassed and oppressed.

In July 2020, the authorities arrested award-winning journalist Hopewell Chin’ono under Section 164 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act on charges of inciting violence in connection with his reports on government corruption and anti-government demonstrations.27https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/24/zimbabwe-court-denies-bail-to-hopewell-chinono-for-third-time/

The authorities have used COVID-19 as a pretext to arrest journalists seeking to cover the government’s handling of the pandemic, subjecting them to brief detentions and beatings despite displaying their press accreditation.28https://rsf.org/en/news/five-zimbabwean-reporters-arrested-while-covering-coronavirus-lockdown; https://ifex.org/two-zimbabwean-journalists-arrested-under-covid-19-lockdown-regulations/ The situation led to the Zimbabwean High Court’s intervention preventing police from obstructing the work of journalists.29https://bulawayo24.com/index-id-news-sc-national-byo-183811.html

Under one of the provisions relating to restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic adopted by the authorities on 28 March 2020, reporting “false news” about officials responsible for enforcing the lockdown is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.30https://www.veritaszim.net/sites/veritas_d/files/SI%202020-083%20Public%20Health%20%28COVID-19%20Prevention%2C%20Containment%20and%20Treatment%29%20%28National%20Lockdown%29%20Order%2C%202020.pdf

De facto “blasphemy” law

Section 42 of the Penal Code31https://www.refworld.org/docid/4c45b64c2.html stipulates that “causing offence to persons of a particular religion” which is defined as “any system of beliefs associated with practices of worship that is adhered to by any significant body of persons in Zimbabwe or any other country” could result in a significant fine and / or imprisonment for up to one year. This law is explicitly recognised and codified as Blasphemy in the Correspondence of Common Law Crimes with Codified Crimes. Though this law appears on the statute books there are no available reports of citizens being charged with this specific offense.32https://www.loc.gov/law/help/blasphemy/index.php#Zimbabwe

Crackdown on protests

International human rights organizations report that the government has routinely suppressed the freedoms of its citizens to peaceful assembly and association, using lethal and excessive force to disperse peaceful demonstrations.33https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/zimbabwe/report-zimbabwe/; https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/zimbabwe#e0c9cf; https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/03/zimbabwe-least-6-dead-post-election-violence

In January 2019, the government instructed Internet service providers to shut down the internet, ostensibly to curtail sharing of information and reporting during the public protests against fuel and food price increases.34https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/zimbabwe/report-zimbabwe/

Proposals to amend or repeal repressive laws, including the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which was widely used to quash peaceful protests, fail the adequately protect the freedom of assembly and would provide law enforcement agencies with broad regulatory discretion and powers.35https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/zimbabwe#e0c9cf

In July 2020, the authorities launched what has been described by Amnesty International as a “witch-hunt” against the political and human rights activists suspected of being behind a planned anti-corruption demonstration. The authorities are reported to have arrested or abducted at least six human rights activists suspected of involvement in the protests, leading many others to go into hiding. According to Amnesty, “[i]n the lead up to today’s planned protests, authorities have been beefing up security in main cities, including sealing off the Harare Central Business District, under the pretext of enforcing COVID-19 regulations.36https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/zimbabwe-authorities-thwart-anti-corruption-protests-launch-a-witchhunt-against-activists/

References   [ + ]

1. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=ZW
2, 13. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/zimbabwe
3. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/zi.html
4. https://www.parlzim.gov.zw/component/k2/download/1290_da9279a81557040d47c3a2c27012f6e1
5, 10, 11. https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/zimbabwe/
6. archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=35012
7. https://allafrica.com/stories/202006160241.html
8. https://www.herald.co.zw/the-rural-urban-education-divide
9. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1213174.pdf; https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Zimbabwe-2.pdf
12. https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/girls-voices/ruvimbo-child-bride-got-zimbabwe-constitutional-court-to-say-no-child-marriage/; https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-zimbabwe-childmarriage/zimbabwe-court-bans-child-marriage-after-challenge-by-former-child-brides-idUSKCN0UY27H
14. https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/where-does-it-happen/atlas/zimbabwehttps://www.dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR322/FR322.pdf
15. https://storage.googleapis.com/wzukusers/user-28924863/documents/5c9b61e4a7850qfNTEEq/DRJ-JEF2019V4-2A6.pdf
16. https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/25/zimbabwe-scourge-child-marriage
17. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5; https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/where-does-it-happen/atlas/zimbabwe
18. http://www.veritaszim.net/node/150
19. https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/zimbabwe0117_web.pdf; https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/zimbabwe#e0c9cf
20. https://www.newsday.co.zw/2019/05/gays-lesbians-cant-marry-cabinet/
21, 35. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/zimbabwe#e0c9cf
22. https://www.washingtonblade.com/2019/05/07/transgender-activist-from-zimbabwe-receives-asylum-in-us/
23. https://ifex.org/afex-condemns-attacks-on-journalists-in-zimbabwe/
24, 26, 34. https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/zimbabwe/report-zimbabwe/
25. https://ifex.org/right-to-privacy-under-threat-in-zimbabwe/
27. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/24/zimbabwe-court-denies-bail-to-hopewell-chinono-for-third-time/
28. https://rsf.org/en/news/five-zimbabwean-reporters-arrested-while-covering-coronavirus-lockdown; https://ifex.org/two-zimbabwean-journalists-arrested-under-covid-19-lockdown-regulations/
29. https://bulawayo24.com/index-id-news-sc-national-byo-183811.html
30. https://www.veritaszim.net/sites/veritas_d/files/SI%202020-083%20Public%20Health%20%28COVID-19%20Prevention%2C%20Containment%20and%20Treatment%29%20%28National%20Lockdown%29%20Order%2C%202020.pdf
31. https://www.refworld.org/docid/4c45b64c2.html
32. https://www.loc.gov/law/help/blasphemy/index.php#Zimbabwe
33. https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/zimbabwe/report-zimbabwe/; https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/zimbabwe#e0c9cf; https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/03/zimbabwe-least-6-dead-post-election-violence
36. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/07/zimbabwe-authorities-thwart-anti-corruption-protests-launch-a-witchhunt-against-activists/

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