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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Zimbabwe

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Zimbabwe, 30 January 1998, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.


President Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) have dominated the legislative and executive branches of Zimbabwe's Government since independence in 1980. The Constitution allows for multiple parties; in addition to ZANU-PF, there are a large number of smaller parties. However, they are poorly organized and led, poorly financed, and subject to periodic intimidation by the ruling party and Government security forces. Late in 1997, the Parliament amended the election laws to allow for increased access to funding for opposition candidates, and this action should increase the size of the electorate; these changes will go into effect in early 1998. The judiciary is independent, but the Government occasionally refuses to abide by court decisions.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) are responsible for maintaining law and order. The Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force are responsible for external security. The Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) under the Ministry of State Security is responsible for internal and external security but no longer has powers of arrest. Members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

Zimbabwe's economy is agriculturally based, with strong mining and tourism sectors and a diversified manufacturing base. It has become increasingly market based following the 1991-95 structural adjustment program. Primary exports are tobacco, cotton, oil seeds, livestock, gold, and nickel. Over 60 percent of the population engages in subsistence agriculture. The formal sector unemployment rate is above 45 percent. Indigenization (black economic empowerment) is a Government priority to redress economic disparities between the majority black population and a small white elite. The estimated 1996 annual per capita gross domestic product of $588 is expected to rise or decline if another drought occurs as predicted. Due to the rapid decline in the Zimbabwe dollar and escalating inflation at year's end, the poor and working class saw a significant drop in their standard of living.

The Government respected some of the human rights of its citizens; however, there were significant problems in some areas, including incidents of police brutality, harsh prison conditions, pretrial detention, the Government's refusal to abide by several court rulings, CIO intimidation of opposition party candidates and their supporters, restrictions on academic freedom, infringements on citizens' privacy, restrictions on opposition party financing, and attempts at interference with nongovernmental organizations'(NGO) leadership selection. The political process remained heavily tilted in favor of the ruling party.

As a result of the Government's improper handling of the October 1995 mayoral elections in Harare, Bulawayo, and Gweru, the High Court nullified the results of those votes. Ruling party candidates won the subsequent 1996 mayoral elections in all three cities, and in 1997 the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the new elections.

During the December mayoral election in Chitungwiza an independent candidate, Fidelis Mhashu, campaigned strongly, but was defeated by the ZANU-PF candidate by a narrow margin. Mhashu was beaten severely in June at a local government office in the presence of government officials. There have been no reports of arrests or charges being brought against any individuals arising out of that attack. Although the small independent press was increasingly open and critical of the Government, there was some self-censorship. The electronic media--the major source of information for most citizens--remained totally Government controlled, and strict anti-defamation laws also led to self-censorship. Three new private television stations were granted broadcast rights. All three stations are likely to face financial difficulties due to limited revenue, and are restricted to broadcasting on an available channel leased from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation; creation of an independent transmission facility is still forbidden under the Broadcasting Act. Domestic violence against women remained widespread, and traditional, often illegal, discrimination against women and the disabled continued.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings by Government security forces.

Harsh prison conditions contributed to the average of 25 deaths per month of prisoners in custody (see Section 1.c.).

The Legal Resource Foundation and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) interviewed thousands of victims or relatives of victims of atrocities committed during the 1982-87 Matabeleland crisis and presented their findings to the President in March. The Government did not respond to the report nor take any action on the 1993 Simplicius Chihambakwe commission investigation of the Matabeleland crisis. Despite calls by the CCJP for an investigation into the widespread killings of civilians in Matabeleland and recommendations for compensating people in the affected area, the Government took no further action on the bodies discovered at various locations nor has anyone been held accountable for the massacres.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

In the case of the 1990 disappearance of Rashiwe Guzha a court declined to declare her dead but ordered the distribution of her estate. The former CIO Deputy Director-General, with whom Guzha had a romantic relationship before her disappearance, and who was rumored to have been involved in her disappearance, died during the year.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment. There were no credible reports of torture. The ZRP service charter and improved training have resulted in markedly better treatment of suspects and the public. However, there are still reports of occasional police brutality. In July police beat 20 female residents of a Harare housing complex and arrested 45 for alleged prostitution and loitering. Most of the women arrested were married and in their own residences at the time. Only one Government official, independent Member of Parliament Margaret Dongo, challenged the arrest and beating of these women. There have also been frequent reports that police beat detainees at Mbare Musika police station in one of the highest crime areas in Harare. A police officer also publicly beat a female bus inspector for refusing to give him a bribe. There has been no public Government reaction to this beating.

The Government has not actively pursued past allegations of torture, nor prosecuted CIO or ZRP officers for such abuses. The CIO continued to refuse to pay court-ordered damages to a 1990 torture victim.

Prison conditions remained harsh and have improved little since the CCJP issued its 1993 report describing extreme overcrowding, shortages of clothing, and poor sanitary conditions. Overcrowding and poor sanitation aggravated outbreaks of cholera, diarrhea, and AIDS-related illnesses. An average of 25 prisoners a month died in custody, 18 from AIDS-related illnesses, in 1996 (the last year for which statistics are available). The Government has established a successful community service sentencing program to try to alleviate prison overcrowding. The Legal Resource Foundation, in cooperation with the prison service, established a human rights training program for prison officials. Officials who mistreat prisoners are routinely punished.

The Government permits international human rights monitors to visit prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the Government observes these prohibitions. The law requires that police inform an arrested person of the charges against him before he is taken into custody. Warrants of arrest issued by the courts are required except in cases of serious crimes or where there is the risk of evidence disappearing. The Ministry of Home Affairs pays an average of $150,000 (Z$1.5 million) each year in damages in wrongful arrest cases.

Although a preliminary hearing before a magistrate is required within 48 hours of an arrest (or 96 hours over a weekend), the law is often disregarded if a person does not have legal representation. A 1992 amendment to the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act substantially reduced the power of magistrates to grant bail without the consent of the Attorney General or his agents. In practice, however, a circular issued by the Attorney General giving a general authority to grant bail has lessened the negative impact of the rule. High Court judges grant bail independently.

The Government still enjoys a wide range of legal powers under the Official Secrets Act and the Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA). Originally promulgated 30 years ago and widely used in the past to prosecute political opponents of the Government, the LOMA gives extensive powers to the police, the Minister of Home Affairs, and the President to address political and security crimes that are not clearly defined. The Government invoked the LOMA in July to ban demonstrations by former combatants who demanded compensation for wartime injuries. The ban was not vigorously enforced against the war veterans and was lifted after 2 weeks. In December opposition leader M.P. Ndabadingi Sithole was convicted and sentenced to 2 years under the LOMA for conspiring to assassinate President Mugabe in 1995. At year's end, no appeal had been filed nor was there any government reaction to the judge's call for a pardon in light of Sithole's age, poor health, and evidence of the Government's prior notice of the assassination plans.

The Government proposed a security bill to repeal the LOMA; however, the draft bill contains several negative elements or similarities to the LOMA, including vague definitions of political and security crimes, harsh penalties for failure to report the acts of others, and restrictions on freedom of assembly, speech, and association. Following unprecedented public debate on the bill and subsequent consultations with legal, democracy, and human rights organizations, the Government withdrew the bill for further revisions.

According to the Government, the total prison population has been reduced to 18,000 from 22,000 in 1996, due in large part to alternative sentencing under the community service program for youth offenders. The Government also reports that 6,000 prisoners are pretrial detainees. Detainees spent an average of 6 months incarcerated before their trials because of a critical shortage of magistrates and court interpreters.

The Government does not use exile as a means of political control.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the judiciary has a well-deserved reputation for independence. However, on occasion the executive branch refuses to abide by judicial decisions. The Customary Law and Local Courts Act of 1990 created a unitary court system, consisting of headmen's courts, chiefs' courts, magistrates' courts, the High Court, and the Supreme Court. With this restructuring, civil and customary law cases may be heard at all levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

Judges are appointed for life and can be removed from the bench only for gross misconduct. They are not discharged or transferred for political reasons. Magistrates, who are part of the civil service rather than the judiciary, hear the vast majority of cases and are sometimes subject to political pressure. Military courts deal with disciplinary or court martial proceedings. Police courts, which can sentence a police officer to confinement to camp or demotion, handle disciplinary and misconduct cases. Trials in both these latter courts meet internationally accepted standards for fair trials; defendants in these courts have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court. All levels of the judiciary often make rulings unpopular with the Government.

The Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary rigorously enforces this right. Every defendant has the right to a lawyer of his choosing. However, well over 90 percent of defendants in magistrates' courts go unrepresented. In criminal cases, an indigent defendant may apply to have the Government provide an attorney, but this is rarely done and rarely granted. However, in capital cases the Government provides an attorney for all defendants unable to afford one. Litigants in civil cases can request legal assistance from the NGO Legal Resources Foundation, but no longer from the government-established Citizens Advice Bureau, which was eliminated due to budget constraints. All litigants are represented in the High Court. The Supreme Court has instructed magistrates to ensure that unrepresented defendants fully understand their rights and to weigh any mitigating circumstances in criminal cases, whether or not the accused presents them as part of his defense.

The right to appeal exists in all cases and is automatic in cases in which the death penalty is imposed. Trials are open to the public except in certain security cases. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to present witnesses and question witnesses against them. Defendants and their attorneys generally have access to Government-held evidence relevant to their cases. The legal system does not discriminate against women or minorities.

The Government generally abided by court decisions even when it was strongly opposed to the rulings. However, the Government routinely delayed payment of court costs or judgments awarded against it. For example, the CIO continued its refusal to pay damages awarded by the High Court to a former opposition party official whom CIO agents had tortured in 1990.

Legal and human rights activists continued to criticize the Government's efforts to adopt constitutional amendments detrimental to human rights protections. For example, Amendment 11 (1992) changed the Constitution to allow corporal punishment of minors after the Supreme Court ruled that caning of minors constituted cruel and inhuman punishment. Amendment 14 (1996), which denies both men and women the right to confer automatic residency on their foreign spouses, was passed in response to a 1994 Supreme Court ruling declaring that women should have the same rights as men to confer residency and citizenship on their spouses (see Section 2.d.). Amendments to the Constitution are not ratified by the public but are subject to the ZANU-PF-dominated Parliament's approval only.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Human rights groups are concerned that Amendment 14 erodes these constitutional rights by repealing Section 11 of the Constitution which specifies protection for the right to the privacy of one's home and from the compulsory acquisition of property without compensation. Although Government authorities generally respect citizens' right to privacy and violations are subject to legal sanction, it is widely known that the Government sometimes monitors private correspondence and telephones, particularly international communications.

The need for land reform is almost universally accepted; however, there are problems with implementation of the 1992 Land Acquisition Act (Land Act). Under the Land Act farmers whose lands have been designated for acquisition may appeal only the amount of compensation, not the initial decision to acquire their farms. In November the Government said that it would not compensate for land, but only for improvements on the land, a position not sustainable under the act. In the past, the act was implemented largely along racial lines; the Government stated that black-owned commercial farms would not be subject to acquisition. However, in November owners of 1,471 farms, some of which are black-owned, were notified their land would be acquired by compulsory means in 1997. In some cases, land was apparently targeted for acquisition to achieve political goals. In December, 1,420 administrative appeals were filed with the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture by owners of the targeted farms, challenging the notices to acquire their lands. By year's end, the Government had not acquired any of the newly identified land. Opposition party leader M.P. Ndabadingi Sithole continued his legal battle with the Government over its 1993 acquisition of his farm.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression but allows for legislation to limit this freedom in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, state economic interests, public morality, and public health. Although the independent press is increasingly open and critical of the Government, there is some degree of self-censorship in private media and a high degree in the Government-controlled press. For example, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and Legal Resources Foundation's detailed report on the 1980's Matabeleland crisis was distributed to government and private papers. However, only one private paper commented on the substance of the report. Self-censorship is aggravated by anti-defamation laws that make no distinction between public and private persons. In addition an extremely broad Official Secrets Act makes it a crime to divulge any information acquired in the course of official duties.

The Government has shown a modest increase in tolerance for private media criticism of official corruption during the Chidyausiku Commission's investigation into fraud and malfeasance in the management of the war victims compensation fund.

The major print media (seven English language newspapers and one local-language tabloid) belong to the Mass Media Trust, a holding company heavily influenced by the government ruling party. The Ministry of Information controls the Zimbabwe Inter-Africa News Agency wire service. The Government influences mainstream media through indirect ownership, editorial appointments, directives to editors, and removal of wayward editors. In December a popular radio broadcaster was dismissed following her refusal to cease airing public calls reporting on the then-ongoing demonstrations in Harare against new taxes to fund the war veteran's compensation package. The Government controls the only two daily newspapers, the Chronicle and the Herald. The small independent press consists primarily of three weekly and three monthly magazines. They carefully monitor government policies and open their pages to opposition critics. Other minor independent publications exist with fewer than 3,000 subscribers.

All radio and television channels are entirely government owned and controlled. Following a Supreme Court ruling that the Government's monopoly on telecommunications was unconstitutional because it interfered with the right to freedom of expression, the Government granted a broadcasting license to private television station Joy Television (Joy TV). However, Joy TV's independence has been questioned because of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Commission's (ZBC) apparent favoritism both in granting Joy a license, which was denied to earlier bidders, and in speculation over possible ZBC editorial control of Joy programming. President Mugabe's nephew, Leo Mugabe, reportedly has financial ties to Joy TV. Two other broadcasting stations, MABC and LDM, was licensed in September and November, respectively. Like Joy TV, the two stations lease air time from ZBC; all three stations are likely to face difficulties due to limited advertising revenue.

Books and films are subject to review by the Zimbabwe Board of Censors. A film on the liberation struggle, which the National War Veteran's Association claimed was offensive and which was seized by the police in 1996, is now publicly available.

Following the controversial banning of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) exhibit on AIDS counseling and prevention at the 1996 Harare International Book Fair, which the High Court overturned, there was no GALZ exhibit at the 1997 fair.

The University of Zimbabwe (UZ) Amendment Act and the National Council for Higher Education Act curtail academic freedom by restricting the independence of universities, making them subject to government influence, and extending the disciplinary powers of the university authorities against staff and students. After protesting government delays in disbursement of their subsidies, UZ students were victims of teargas and arrest; they were subsequently released.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of assembly and association for political and nonpolitical organizations, including a broad spectrum of economic, social, professional, and after protesting Government delays in disbursement of their subsidies recreational activities. Permits are not required for meetings or demonstrations. The Government was sharply criticized by human rights, democracy, and labor leaders for its use of excessive force in Harare to prevent a 1-day planned national demonstration in December against new taxes to fund the war veterans compensation packages. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) had obtained a court order prohibiting the Government from interfering with its plans for a peaceful demonstration. However, violence erupted in Harare early on the day of the demonstration when police used tear gas, dogs, and sticks to disperse people who had congregated at assembly points.

The formation of unions and political parties is not restricted. Organizations are generally free of governmental interference as long as their activities are viewed as nonpolitical. In a case brought by a women's nongovernmental organization (NGO) the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional those sections of the Private Voluntary Organizations Act of 1995, which had empowered the Minister of Social Welfare, Labor, and Public Service to suspend the executive body or any member of the executive committee of an organization and to appoint persons to manage the affairs of the organization for a specified time. Following the ZCTU's successful national work stoppage in December, in which the organization urged the support of employers, government media attacked the ZCTU's leadership for allegedly aiding white employers to undermine the Government's land policy. Prior to the Supreme Court's ruling, several new NGO's decided to set up their organizations as associations connected with established NGO's so that their executive bodies would not be subject to government interference.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government generally respects them in practice.

In response to a 1994 Supreme Court ruling that Zimbabwe's law allowing men, but not women, to confer residency rights on their foreign born spouses was discriminatory and unconstitutional, the Government proposed a constitutional amendment establishing the practice in the Constitution. After an outcry from civic, particularly women's, organizations, the Government withdrew the amendment and proposed a revised bill that allows neither men nor women to confer citizenship on their foreign born spouses automatically. Parliament passed the amendment in October 1996, but implementing immigration regulations have not yet been promulgated.

The Government cooperates with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Zimbabwe provides first asylum. According to the Government, 223 asylum seekers were given refugee status, and at least five persons were denied first asylum in 1997. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status. There were reportedly 1,564 refugees in Zimbabwe from more than 20 countries; the largest groups consisted of 226 Rwandans, 166 Congolese (Democratic Republic of the Congo), 138 Burundians, 138 Somalis, and 137 Angolans.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Although citizens have the legal right to change their Government democratically; the political process continued to be tilted in favor of the ruling party. However, early next year two recent parliamentary changes will go into effect that will allow for increased access to the political process for opposition candidates and potentially increase the size of the electorate. The Political Parties Finance Amendment Act (PPF Act) will no longer base government financial grants on the number of members already in Parliament, but on a percentage of votes received in the last general election, with a minimum of 5 percent required. The new Local Authorities Election Laws Amendment Act (Election Act) amended and, in effect, replaced the Election Act, Rural District Council, and Urban Council Acts to eliminate restrictions on poor people's right to vote in local elections. The act abolished the provision in the previous Council Acts which disqualified from voting those who were not long-term residents or property owners in an area. It also abolished the old Rural District Council Act provision which gave multiple votes to property owners by allowing them to delegate voting rights based on their corporate ownership in a district, while retaining a personal vote.

Government critics have charged that the ruling ZANU-PF party delayed the December 28 and 29 mayoral election in Chitungwiza to allow the ZANU-PF's candidate more time to mount a successful campaign in the face of strong opposition from an independent. The ZANU-PF candidate won the election by 1,641 votes with less than 7percent of the total registered voters participating. President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party remained the dominant political force within the country.

President Mugabe won reelection in March 1996 with little opposition in an election considered generally free and fair by hundreds of NGO monitors. In the 1995 parliamentary general elections, ZANU-PF captured 117 of the 120 popularly elected seats. The 10 chiefs who sit as Members of Parliament (M.P.s) are elected by their peers. The President also appoints 8 provincial governors, who sit as M.P.s, and 12 nonconstituency M.P.s. All 30 of these persons are ZANU-PF members. The net result of several constitutional amendments has been to consolidate the power of the executive branch and to limit the independence of M.P.s.

There is no effective Parliamentary opposition, and the legislature remained subordinate to the executive branch. However, in 1997 Parliament had greater influence on the content of proposed legislation in ruling party caucus debates and during the committee phase than in previous years. There are many small opposition parties. However, their growth was inhibited by a variety of factors, including the Political Parties Finance Act (PPFA) (sections of which were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court), the Government's virtual monopoly of the electronic media, and credible reports of CIO harassment of opposition and independent candidates and their supporters. In addition to serious institutional problems, however, the opposition parties' lack of organization and leadership played a significant role in their poor electoral showing.

In September the Supreme Court held unconstitutional those provisions of the PPFA that provided government funding only to parties that had more than 15 Parliamentary seats, effectively giving all public funding to the ruling party. In October Parliament passed the PPFA, which authorizes the Government to fund any registered party that obtains 5percent of the votes cast. The court noted that in poorer societies, where private funding is either not available or offers inadequate assistance, the inability to obtain state funding, because the qualification is set too high, causes a reduction of the effective freedom of expression of political parties. While the Supreme Court did not order a specific alternative criteria for party funding, the Minister of Justice said that he would propose an amendment in Parliament that would base it on the total number of votes cast.

The Supreme Court rejected an opposition party challenge to the 1996 Gweru mayoral elections, called for by the President before Parliament established the post of executive mayor, ruling that Parliament's subsequent enactment of the required legislation validated the election.

There are institutional problems with the management and supervision of elections. Although the Ministry of Justice technically administers the Electoral Act, the Registrar General's Office falls under the Ministry of Home Affairs. With a meager budget and a tiny staff seconded from the Ministry of Justice, the Electoral Supervisory Commission lacks the institutional capacity to oversee all of the country's polling stations. Nor do commissioners have the executive authority to order that an irregularity be corrected. Despite an attempt to computerize the voters' roll, it contains a very large number of redundancies or errors, including misspellings, multiple entries, and names of the deceased. No date has been set for rural district elections because of a conflict between government officials and opposition parties over the Government's proposed use of a national versus local voters' roll for all elections.

Women participate in politics without legal restriction. However, according to local women's groups, husbands--particularly in rural areas--commonly force their wives to vote for the husband's preferred candidates.

Twenty of the 150 M.P.'s are women, including the Deputy Speaker of Parliament. Three cabinet ministers with portfolios, three ministers of state, and three deputy ministers are women. All major ethnic groups are represented in Parliament and in the Government.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Although the Government permits local civic and human rights groups to operate, it monitors their activities closely, in particular those of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZIMRIGHTS). Other groups that promote human rights include the Legal Resource Foundation, the Southern African Federation of the Disabled, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the Child and Law Project, the Zimbabwe Women Lawyer's Association, and the Southern African Human Rights Research and Documentation Trust. The Foundation for Democracy in Zimbabwe (FODEZI) was established in July as a watchdog organization to support independent candidates. Amnesty International, Transparency International, and the International Committee of the Red Cross operate in Zimbabwe. The Government does not discourage representatives from international human rights groups from visiting Zimbabwe.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides that every person in Zimbabwe is entitled to fundamental rights whatever his race, tribe, place of origin, political opinions, color, creed, or sex.


Domestic violence against women, especially wife beating, is common and crosses all racial and economic lines. It extends throughout the country, and at times results in death. According to Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF), domestic violence accounts for more than 60 percent of murder cases in the Harare High Court. A women's rights organization, the Musasa Project, conducted a 3-week study in all the districts of Midlands province on domestic violence against women in which 37 percent of the women interviewed said that they had been sexually abused. Thirty-two percent said that they had been physically abused since the age of 16. Human rights groups have noted that increased training has improved police community relations officers' handling of these cases. There were approximately 2,000 cases of rape reported in the first 6 months of 1997, up from 1,400 cases in the first half of 1996. Women's groups and the police believe the actual number is much higher, but the majority of cases go unreported because of the social stigma of rape. When cases come to court, lengthy sentences for rape and wife beating are generally imposed. However, a binding over order (an order to appear in court to respond to an accusation of violent behavior) is issued based only on actual physical abuse and not on threats of violence. In addition, the courts do not have the power to oust an abusive spouse from a matrimonial home. In a case that is attracting much public attention, Canaan Banana, Zimbabwe's first president (1980-1987) has been charged with sexual abuse arising out of allegations of forcible sodomy made by a former aide. This is the first case involving a prominent public figure accused of sexual abuse. The case has been referred to the Supreme Court for a ruling on the issue of pretrial prejudice from the publicity. At year's end, the court had not ruled in the case.

Since independence the Government has enacted major laws aimed at enhancing women's rights and countering certain traditional practices that discriminate against women. However, women remain disadvantaged in Zimbabwean society. Illiteracy, economic dependency, and prevailing social norms prevent rural women in particular from combating societal discrimination. Despite legal prohibitions, women are still vulnerable to entrenched customary practices, including the practice of pledging a young woman to marriage with a partner not of her choosing; the custom of forcing a widow to marry her late husband's brother; and the custom of offering a young girl as compensatory payment in interfamily disputes.

Although two women preside as chiefs in Mashonaland, a dispute erupted in 1996 over the ascension of a female chief, sanctioned by the President, in Matabeleland South. Provincial Governor Welshman Mabhena declared that under Ndebele custom a woman can never preside over a man. It is a mockery of our culture. However, the female chief in Matabeleland remains in office.

The Legal Age of Majority Act and the Matrimonial Causes Act recognize women's right to own property independently of their husbands or fathers. However, while unmarried women may own property in their own names, women married under customary law are not allowed to own property jointly with their husbands. The Administration of Estates Amendment Act, which came into effect in October, removes inheritance laws unfavorable to widows. Women's groups have praised the amendment as a major step toward ending the unfair and unequal distribution of inherited assets for women. The new inheritance amendment is awaiting the President's signature to become law. Divorce and maintenance laws are favorable toward women, but women generally lack awareness of their rights under the law.

Although labor legislation prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender, women are concentrated in the lower echelons of the work force and commonly face sexual harassment in the workplace.

Several active women's rights groups in Zimbabwe, including WILDAF, the Musasa Project, the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers' Association, and the Women's Action Group, concentrate on improving women's knowledge of their legal rights, increasing women's economic power, and combating domestic violence. There is no Government office specifically responsible for women's affairs.


The Government continued to demonstrate its strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through a system of primary health care and education overseen by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare. However, budget cuts and the lack of adequate attention to AIDS prevention are eroding the Government's capacity to address children's needs in these areas. The Children's Protection and Adoption Act, the Guardianship of Minors Act, and the Deceased Person's Maintenance Act all protect the legal rights of minor children. While there is no compulsory education, Zimbabwe has made considerable progress in providing education for girls, and overall primary school attendance has increased by more than 400 percent since independence. About 93 percent of children reach grade 5. With the reintroduction of school fees in urban schools and rural secondary schools, however, enrollment has declined. If a family is unable to pay tuition costs, it is most often female children who leave school. There are an estimated 12,000 homeless street children in Zimbabwe, many of them the children of former Mozambican refugees or AIDS orphans. Although it is not known yet whether the statistics reflect the fact that more cases are actually occurring or only that more are being reported, child abuse, including incest (long taboo in Zimbabwean society), infanticide, child abandonment, and rape is increasing but still is not widespread. There are reports of child labor (see Section 6.d.). The Ministry of Justice's Vulnerable Witnesses Committee established victim-friendly courts to improve the judicial system's handling of child victims of rape and sexual abuse. The criminal justice system has special provisions for dealing with juvenile offenders.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is rarely performed in Zimbabwe. However, according to press reports, the initiation rites practiced by the small Remba ethnic group in Midlands Province include infibulation, the most extreme form of FGM.

People With Disabilities

President Mugabe appointed a disability activist to Parliament in 1995 to represent the needs of the disabled. The Disabled Persons Act of 1992 specifically prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, admission to public places, or provision of services and is viewed by advocates of the disabled as model legislation. In practice, however, the lack of resources for training and education severely hampers the ability of disabled people to compete for scarce jobs. Although the act stipulates that Government buildings should be accessible to disabled persons, for budgetary reasons this is rarely implemented. Disabled people face particularly harsh customary discrimination. According to traditional belief, people with disabilities are considered bewitched, and reports of disabled children being hidden when visitors arrive are common.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Shona ethnic group makes up 77 percent of the population, Ndebele 14 percent, Kalanga 5 percent, whites 2 percent, and other ethnic groups 2 percent. Government services are provided on a nondiscriminatory basis, and the Government has sought to expand and improve the previously whites only infrastructure in urban areas to provide health and social services to all citizens. Nevertheless, in social terms Zimbabwe remains a racially stratified country. While schools and churches are all legally integrated, social interaction among racial groups is rare. Although intertribal relations are generally very good, the disproportionate number of Shona speaking teachers and headmasters in Matabeleland schools remained a sensitive issue.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1985 Labor Relations Act (LRA) provides private sector workers with freedom of association and the right to elect their own representatives, publish newsletters, and set programs and policies that reflect the political and economic interests of labor. Workers are free to form or join unions without prior authorization. The LRA allows for the existence of multiple unions per industry, provided that each is registered with the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare (MPSLSW). While the Government may deregister individual unions, the High Court has ruled that the LRA does not give the Minister the power to suspend or deregister the national umbrella labor confederation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

Approximately 20 percent of the formal sector work force belongs to the 33 unions that form the ZCTU. ZCTU officers are elected by delegates of affiliated trade unions at congresses held every 5 years. While the Government encouraged the ZCTU's formation, anticipating that it would form the labor arm of ZANU-PF, it no longer directly influences ZCTU actions. The Government and the ZCTU often clash on economic policy, particularly the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP). The Government usually does not consult either the ZCTU or employers before implementing policy decisions that affect the workplace. This lack of consultation often results in reactions that disrupt labor relations, thereby promoting uncertainty and even strikes. Following the Government's efforts in December to impose huge income and other tax increases without consultation, the ZCTU organized a nationwide, 1-day work stoppage, which was described as the most successful industrial action in Zimbabwe's history. While thousands demonstrated peacefully in most cities throughout the country, the aggressive police tactics (see Section 2.b.) led to street violence in Harare. The ZCTU secretary general who organized the work stoppage was attacked and badly beaten in a raid on his office 2 days later. At least one suspect was arrested for this attack by year's end.

The LRA allows for the formation of multiple national federations. A second umbrella labor organization, the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU), was launched in October 1996 with the stated purpose of providing an alternative of the ZCTU. The new organization states that its goal is to work in collaboration with the Government, and it is openly critical of the ZCTU. The ZFTU's origin, leadership, and membership remained unclear at year's end. Although key personnel have not been publicly identified, most observers believe that they are principally former senior ZCTU leaders, some of whom were involuntarily separated from that organization. No ZFTU activity has been observed.

Public servants and their associations, the Public Service Association (PSA), the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA), and the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA), are not covered by the provisions of the LRA. Instead, their conditions of employment are provided for under the Constitution. Although civil servants are constitutionally barred from forming unions, in 1995 ZIMTA stated its intention to affiliate with the ZCTU and the PSA in August. All public servants are deemed essential and are prohibited from striking. Nonetheless, a nationwide, civil servant strike rocked the country in August 1996, followed by a public sector doctors and nurses strike in October 1996. Although the Government declared the strikes illegal, arrested worker representatives, and ordered wholesale dismissals, many were ultimately rehired. However, despite promises to the contrary strike representatives were not allowed to return to their jobs. Public service wage increases above the 1997 inflation rate preempted a repeat of the 1996 strikes, but they helped set the stage for a series of private sector wage negotiation strikes that were popularly described as the winter of discontent.

The Labor Relations Amendment Act (LRAA) of 1992 specifies that workers may establish independent worker committees, which exist side by side with unions, in each plant. Worker committees must also be registered with the MPSLSW, which is free to refuse registration. Trade union officials believe that the formation of worker committees was an attempt to dilute union authority. However, the ineffectiveness of worker committees demonstrated the need for the experienced worker representation of the established trade unions.

The International Conference of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has criticized Zimbabwean labor legislation for giving wide scope to the authorities to declare that a given enterprise or industry constitutes an essential service, and then impose a ban (on strikes) on it. The authority to reclassify a previously nonessential service as essential was not used in 1997. Workers in sectors deemed nonessential have the right to strike, provided the union advises the Government 2 weeks in advance of its intention to do so. The Government has often declared strikes illegal on the basis of failure to give timely notice. If the MPSLSW finds that administrative requirements were not met for a strike, it can issue a disposal order that gives the employer the right to dismiss striking workers. There were no reports that this occurred in 1997. More than 100 collective job actions were reported during the year.

The ZCTU and its officials are free to associate with international labor organizations and do so actively. The ZCTU is affiliated with the ICFTU and the Southern African Trade Union Coordinating Council.

The American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations's American Centre for International Labour Solidarity maintains a regional office based in Harare.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The LRA provides workers with the right to organize. As originally enacted, this act was silent on the right to bargain collectively. However, the 1992 LRAA permits unions to bargain collectively over wages. Worker committees, which are by law not organizationally part of the unions or the ZCTU, are empowered to negotiate with the management of a particular plant on the conditions of labor and codes of conduct in the workplace, except for wages.

Collective bargaining wage negotiations take place on an industry wide basis between the relevant union and employer organizations sitting on joint employment boards or councils. These bodies submit their agreements to the Registrar in the MPSLSW for approval. The Government retains the power to veto agreements that it believes would harm the economy. However, it did not directly involve itself in labor negotiations unless requested to do so by one of the two parties. When no trade union represents a specific sector, representatives of the organized workers, such as the professional associations, meet with the employer associations, under the mediation of labor officers from the MPSLSW. Public sector wages are determined by the Salary Service Department of the MPSLSW, subject to the approval of an independent Public Service Commission (PSC). Each year PSC officials meet with PSA representatives to review wages and benefits. These reviews result in a recommendation that is forwarded to the MPSLSW. The Minister is not required by law to accept the recommendation.

Employees designated as being in managerial positions are excluded from union membership and thus from the collective bargaining process. There were some reports that firms designated excessive numbers of employees as being in managerial positions in order to exclude them from the collective bargaining exercises.

The LRA prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against union members. Complaints of such discrimination are referred to labor relations officers and may subsequently be adjudicated by the Labor Relations Tribunal (LRT). Such complaints are handled under the mechanism for resolving cases involving unfair labor practices. The determining authority may direct that workers fired due to antiunion discrimination should be reinstated, although this has yet to be utilized in practice.

The LRAA streamlined the procedure for adjudicating disputes by strengthening the LRT. Now, labor relations officers hear a dispute; their decision may be appealed to regional labor relations officers, after which the LRT may hear the case. Ultimately, it may be appealed to the Supreme Court. In 1993 the Government filled long vacant positions on the LRT, but at year's end the LRT boards were still not fully staffed.

The Export Processing Zones Act states the LRA shall not apply to workers in export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children. There were no reports that it occurred (see Section 6.d.). Compulsory labor is prohibited by law, and there were no reports that it was practiced.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children. There were no reports that it occurred (see Section 1.c. ). Legislation passed in March 1997 bans employment of children under the age of 12 and restricts employment of those between the ages of 12 and 17 to light work during school holidays for periods not exceeding 6 hours per day. Light work is defined as work not likely to prejudice the education, health, safety, rest or social, physical, or mental development of a child. All hazardous employment, overtime and night shift work is banned for those under the age of 18. Children work in the agricultural sector, and there were reports that children worked in the domestic worker sector, and worked as car-watchers on the streets. Although schooling is not compulsory, over 90 percent of children attend school through grade 5 (see Section 5).

Child labor in the formal agricultural sector, such as on tea and coffee plantations, reportedly involves children working in the fields after school during the planting and harvesting seasons and full-time during school holidays. Long hours are common. Children often work alongside their parents and their working conditions approximate those of adults. While some form of child labor or child work on large commercial farms is widespread, agricultural organizations maintain that the labor performed is not exploitative, involuntary, contrary to law, or outside of cultural norms that allow children to engage in field work with their families. Anecdotal evidence suggests some school schedules and calendars are tailored to allow children to work in the fields during busy farming periods. Economic hardship often makes child labor imperative for families to make ends meet.

The AIDS epidemic is resulting in increased numbers of orphans, street children, and child laborers. Similarly, increased economic hardship among the poor results in more children working. Exploitation of children as domestic workers is widely discussed, but concrete information is not available.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The maximum legal workweek is 54 hours, and the law prescribes a minimum of one 24-hour rest period per week. Working conditions are regulated by the Government on an industry-specific basis. The Constitution empowers the PSC to set conditions of employment in the public sector. Government regulations for each of the 22 industrial sectors continue to specify minimum wages, hours, holidays, and required safety measures. In recent years, in an effort to opt out of the wage bargaining system, the Government mandated wage parameters and specified minimum wage increases only for domestics and gardeners. Due to an ineffective monitoring system, many such workers are remunerated below the minimum wage.

The minimum monthly wage for domestics and gardeners of approximately $35 (Z$450 and Z$400 respectively) is the de facto minimum wage for other workers. In most instances, the employer must provide housing and food to workers or allowances for such. On commercial farms, the employer may provide schooling for workers' children. The minimum wage is not sufficient to sustain a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The ZCTU pegs Zimbabwe's poverty datum line at $200 per month (Z$2,400). Workers in sectors covered under collective bargaining agreements received wage increases averaging 28 percent following numerous strikes (inflation hovers at about 21 percent). In theory, labor relations officers from the MPSLSW are assigned to monitor developments in each plant to assure that government minimum wage policy and occupational health and safety regulations are observed. In practice, these offices are understaffed, cannot afford to routinely inspect workplaces, and must rely on voluntary compliance and reporting by employers.

Approximately 200 work-related deaths and 12,000 occupational injuries were reported in the first half of 1997. Many of the basic legal protections do not apply to the vast majority of farm, mine, and domestic workers. Unions charge that there are no general standards for the work environment, such as threshold limits for manually lifted weights or conditions for pregnant workers. Health and safety standards are determined only on an industry-specific basis. The Government intervenes on a selected basis (and often seemingly in response to the most recent accident) and sets standards by regulation in some industries. In theory workers have a legal right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment; in practice they risk the loss of their livelihood.

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