Although technically a parliamentary democracy, Zimbabwe has been deemed by Freedomhouse.org to be “not free.” Indeed, Freedom of expression has been largely stifled, as the government has repressed journalists, opposition parties, and community help organizations. While the Zimbabwean Constitution establishes a universal voting age of 18, in reality, voting is neither universal, nor guaranteed for people above the age of 18. The media, however, has been unable to depict these voting restrictions, and was unable to convey the voices of President Mugabe’s opposition in recent elections. The government influenced the media’s large ineptitude to force change. “The government expanded its crackdown on the country’s few remaining independent media outlets, employing new technologies to jam radio broadcasts and introducing new legislation to monitor and intercept internet-based communications,” Freedomhouse.org reports.
The voting process itself is corrupt, and tens of thousands of eligible voters were unable to cast their ballot in recent parliamentary elections. Moreover, nearly 800,000 now deceased persons have had their names registered, allowing some to vote multiple times. Human Rights Watch notes that “the processes of registering voters, delimiting electoral districts, and providing for inspection of voters’ rolls were conducted in a non-transparent and discriminatory way.” This wide-scale voter fraud was largely responsible for the unpopular President Robert Mugabe’s re-election with a 2/3 majority. “The truth is, my vote – which I have always exercised on principle – has for a long time felt like an empty gesture and increasingly so since March 2005. Sure, I’ve always made sure that my carefully executed ‘X’ appeared in the correct box, but I’ve never really believed it had the value it’s meant to have,” one Zimbabwean blogger writes.
While general repression exists, certain groups, such as women, have been more specifically targeted. Women have been battered, and have watched their loved ones been brutalized and tortured. Although many women suffer and have been particularly afflicted by HIV/AIDS, an epidemic which has troubled ¼ of all Zimbabweans, women have not even been appealed to as a constituency in recent elections. Many view women as political nonentities. Under the General Laws Amendment Act, voting requirements were expanded, and a lodger’s card or proof of residence was mandated in order to vote. But, in light of Zimbabwe’s patriarchal nature, many married women did not have such proof, because their documentation was listed under their husbands’ names. Thus, many women were left disenfranchised.
Left without a true political voice, women know that their voices will remain unheeded, and some women who have been raped have not even bothered to report such brutalities, because rape brings shame to them. Even in a non-political sense, “one risks losing a husband once they come out in the open about being raped,” said an official from Amani Trust, a local NGO.
Other groups have been disenfranchised. The new Zimbabwe Citizenship Act prohibits those Zimbabweans living elsewhere, such as the ¼ of all Zimbabweans living in South Africa, from voting. Other people have had their voting restricted. One man, raised in Zimbabwe, schooled in Zimbabwe, and employed in Zimbabwe, had his right to vote removed, for he was born in South Africa. “Why does this apply to me? Because my parents, bless them, just happened to be in South Africa when I was born. And that small teeny-weeny fact sets me apart from generations of my family and fellow Zimbabweans,” he writes.
Finding themselves without any political recourse, many Zimbabweans were subjected to the complete will of the government. The government instituted Operation Murambatsvina, translated as Operation Restore Order or Operation Clear the Filth, a project that caused many Zimbabweans to be evicted from their homes, and many businesses to be demolished. The government rationalized this project by claiming that it was only bulldozing slums – a claim that the 700,000 people now made homeless would likely contest. Indeed, “Many analysts maintain that the operation was designed to impose control over urban areas that had proved to be MDC strongholds and sources of antigovernment agitation,” Freedomhouse.org comments.
The government limits freedom of the press in several ways. The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) establishes that the government must decide who can work as a journalist, and creates prison sentences of up to two years for any journalist who works without the government’s approval. In January 2006, the Zimbabwean government held freelance journalist Sidney Saize for three days, after he supposedly practiced journalism without a license, and filed a “false story” for Voice of America.
Although oppressive in other regards, the Zimbabwe government respects the peoples’ constitutional right to religious freedom. One’s particular religious faith does not affect one’s career in the political arena, the civil service, the military, or the private sector. In 2006, President Mugabe even reached out to religious leaders of different faiths – including those indigenous ones – in planning a National Day of Prayer. The governmentally-operated Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company allowed for “religious programming, which included statements by religious leaders, radio broadcasts of prayers, and a regular television show about religion, was representative of non-Christian groups and was not exclusive in this regard,” The U.S. State Department notes. “The television show “Traditional Voices,” for example, included a religious program aimed at Muslims. It was directed by a local Muslim leader, who was invited by the Government to put on the program twice a month.” Between 70 and 80% of the population practices Christianity, although many still follow traditional indigenous religions.
In one way, however, the oppressive Mugabe regime has managed to extend its power into the domain of religious practice. “As with humanitarian groups in general, some missionaries were considered by the Government as being potentially political and, consequently, viewed with some suspicion,” the U.S. State Department comments. “Missions generally operated without government interference, although they occasionally experienced delays in having their work permits issued.”
Religious leaders who have criticized the Government have been treated by Mugabe as any opposition has been – cruelly. Like any other group, religious ones have been disrupted by the Government’s policies towards freedom of assembly, expression, and association.
Zimbabweans have had their lives strictly regulated in other matters as well. The ruling Zanu-PF party has instituted Pfekazvakanaka (in English, “dress well”) throughout the nation, which calls for a rigid dress code. The nation has taken this policy seriously, as the police forced one seven-year-old Rastafarian to shave off his dreadlocks. In another case, the police forced one girl to change from her trousers into more modest attire.
For every 1,000 people, 59 have cell phones, and 84 use the internet. For every 100,000 people, there are 16 physicians.
The Zimbabwean literacy rate, defined as the percentage of Zimbabweans ages 15 and up who can read and write English, rests at 90.7%. Perhaps even more troubling, however, is the discrepancy between the male and female literacy rate – one which resides at 94.2% for males, yet only 87.2% for females.
The Ministry of Education sets curricula at public primary and secondary schools. Most secondary schools feature a course on religious education, which centers on Christian doctrine, but also stresses tolerance, and covers other religions. Ministry of Education officials also establish curricula at public institutions of higher education.
Private Catholic, Anglican and Methodist schools are not regulated by the government, and are free to teach whatever religious beliefs they choose. One-third of all schools are Christian.
Government Granted Rights of Age:
The voting age for Zimbabweans is 18 (see general freedoms). One must be only 15 to legally drink alcohol. The birth control age in Zimbabwe is 16, as adolescents under 16 years of age must obtain parental consent to access contraceptives. Zimbabwe’s law permits girls to marry at 16 years of age and boys at 18.
Legislation permits abortion to protect the woman’s life and physical health.
37.2% of the population is anywhere from 0 to 14 years old. 59.3% is from 15 to 64 years old. The split between males and females is largely even.
80% of Zimbabweans are unemployed, and 80% live below the poverty line. 56.1% of all Zimbabweans live on less than $1US dollar per day. Obviously, these economic factors deeply affect the lives of teenagers. 17% of children are under weight for their age, and 47% of the population is malnourished.