Pressure grows in Zimbabwe to release detained student leader

A campaign focusing on the detention of 22-year-old Takudzwa Ngadziore, who has been held for 30 days in a remand prison, is gaining momentum in Zimbabwe, putting pressure on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to release the student.

Ngadziore, president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu), was arrested and jailed last month for protesting outside a car hire company, Impala Car Rental. The company has been under pressure from campaigners to release details of the alleged use of one of their vehicles in the suspected abduction of another student activist, Tawanda Muchehiwa.

Muchehiwa was snatched in July by suspected state agents in Bulawayo and was tortured for three days. His abduction appeared to have been caught on CCTV.

The hashtags #freetaku and #FreeTakudzwaNgadziore are attracting wide international attention, as supporters call for his release.

Banned from taking part in demonstrations, Zimbabweans are using social media to petition against human rights violations. In August activists began highlighting abuses under the #ZimbabweansLivesMatter hashtag, which attracted the attention of celebrities around the world.

The arrest of Ngadziore is the latest in a series of actions against opposition figures in Zimbabwe. Fadzayi Mahere, from the opposition electoral bloc Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, is among the prominent politicians to demand his release.

“Takudzwa Ngadziore is still languishing in prison. He is innocent. Demanding justice and accountability for the abduction is not a crime. We demand his immediate release #FreeTaku,” Mahere wrote on Twitter.

Prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, jailed for 45 days at Chikurubi prison on allegations of inciting violence in July, said Ngadziore was a prisoner of conscience.

Chin’ono had published documents raising concerns that powerful individuals in Zimbabwe were profiting from multimillion-dollar deals for essential supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday he called on the international community to add their voice in demanding Ngadziore’s release.

“The world should not forget this young man, a student leader who is a political prisoner of conscience in Mnangagwa’s jail,” Chin’ono, a respected documentary maker, wrote on Twitter.

Ngadziore’s bail hearing has been postponed repeatedly and Zimbabweans expressed their outrage on social media when images of the activist in prison clothing were published.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a pressure group, also urged authorities to release Ngadziore, while MDC Alliance politician David Coltart said his imprisonment was illegal.

“The ongoing incarceration of student leader Ngadziore is illegal and vindictive. His ‘crime’ was to protest against the crime against humanity committed by the regime,” Coltart wrote on Twitter.

Ngadziore was first arrested in February this year for organising a protest to free activist Makomborero Haruzivishe. In September, as he left court at the start of his trial, he was suddenly re-arrested by armed police and charged with participating in a public gathering.

He was held for four days then released, on order not to go within 100m of Impala Car Rentals offices.

After addressing a press conference on 18 September, 101m outside the car hire company, Ngadziore was allegedly assaulted by unknown assailants in unmarked cars and before being taken away by police.

Zimbabwe has witnessed a sharp rise in human rights violations, with opposition activists arrested, imprisoned and abducted.

In July, the police arrested Booker prize shortlisted author Tsitsi Dangarembga for engaging in a one-woman protest, among other activists.

Opponents say Mnangagwa is exploiting Covid-19 restrictions to stifle dissent.