Category: Tanzania

SAHRDN 2020 Human Rights Award Nominations now open

We are seeking nominations for HRDs – an individual or organization working in any of the 16 Southern Africa region  – who have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to human rights defending. In these COVID-19 times,  human rights defenders are continuously under pressure globally, it’s never been more important to raise the profile and honor the work, of brave women and men around the world fighting to promote human dignity usually at great personal risk. To nominate individuals or organizations, please download the nomination forms below. Please use the language of your choice as the nomination forms are in English, French, and Portuguese.

The deadline to submit the nomination forms is 31 August 2020

Zimbabwean government must stop misusing the legal system to arbitrarily arrest and detain human rights defenders.

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) demands the immediate release of Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume, who were arrested earlier today and are being arbitrarily detained at Harare Central Police Station.

The arrest of Hopewell Chin’ono was captured on camera when police armed with guns, vandalized his property, breaking a glass door to forcibly gain entry. He was dragged away from his home without a warrant of arrest and no identification from the officers, in an incident that was tantamount to an abduction. Chin’ono, an award-winning investigative journalist has recently been instrumental in exposing high levels and systemic corruption in Zimbabwe.

“We deplore the increasing weaponization of the law to attack civic space and silence human rights defenders in Zimbabwe. Over the years we have seen the systematic misuse of the law by state security institutions, including the police and central intelligence agents, to target dissenting voices and those advocating for accountable governance. These were the same tactics used in pre-independent Zimbabwe and it’s unfortunate the phenomenon continues to exist in what is supposed to be a democratic and free Zimbabwe. Criminalizing defenders which undermines rule of law cannot be a good state policy and must be stopped immediately”

Professor Adriano Nuvunga, a steering committee member of the SAHRDN and Executive Director at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in Mozambique.

Leading human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa later posted a video standing in front of the shattered door of Hopewell Chin’ono’s house, confirming the arrest of her client, but unbale to verify who had taken him and where he had been taken to. SAHRDN is aware that for several hours, Chino’ono was denied access to his lawyers, nor was he promptly informed of the charges he is facing, which was in violation of his due process rights.

Preceding his arrest, Hopewell Chin’ono had reported receiving verbal threats from ruling ZANU PF members following his corruption exposé that eventually led to the firing of Zimbabwe’s Minister of Health who was implicated in the diversion of public funds meant for COVID-19 purposes.

Jacob Ngarivhume is the President of Transform Zimbabwe, an opposition political party in Zimbabwe, who has been calling for a public protest against bad governance and corruption that is scheduled for on 31 July. Prior to his arrest, he had been similarly receiving death threats from suspected government agents or sympathizers.

The arrest of Chino’ono and Ngarivhume are the most recent in a series of arrests and attacks of human rights defenders and legitimate political opponents, targeted for merely speaking out against corruption and bad governance in Zimbabwe. Just this past week suspected state security agents broke into the house of Mr Obert Masaraure, who is the President of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ). They briefly but forcibly held his wife demanding to be told the whereabouts of Masaraure. Masaraure has been a victim of abduction and torture by state agents for his activism. ARTUZ has been key in calling for better living conditions of Civil Servants, particularly rural teachers. We also saw nurses being arrested and detained for striking for better working conditions and essential protective clothing in light of Covid-19. Young human rights activists, Namatai Kwekeza, Youngerson Matete and Prince Gora were recently arrested for staging a protests against proposed constitutional amendments. This was the second arrest of Namatai Kwekeza in less than a month.

“We urge the Zimbabwean government to comply with its obligations under regional and international law, as well as the Constitution of Zimbabwe,” said Prof Nuvunga. “Section 58, 59, 60 and 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe specifically guarantee freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association”

added Professor Adriano Nuvunga

The United Nations Special Mechanisms have recently written to Zimbabwean authorities on the abuse of human rights defenders and violation of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The continued targeting of defenders especially during a global pandemic where government should be more accountable is counterproductive.

The SAHRDN strongly calls on Zimbabwean authorities to stop persecuting human rights defenders, journalists, and democracy activists who are legitimately exercising their constitutional rights. We also call for the immediate and unconditional release of Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume and that their safety be guaranteed.

For more information please contact Simphiwe Sidu the Regional Legal Adviser at or +27736202608.

Southern Africa Human Rights Round-up

The Southern Africa Human Rights Roundup is a weekly column aimed at highlighting important human rights news in southern Africa. It integrates efforts of human rights defenders and facilitates evidence-based engagement with key stakeholders, and institutions on the human rights situation across the region. The weekly roundup is a collaboration between the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and Maverick Citizen.

When the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic on 11 March 2020, most governments in southern Africa swiftly introduced lockdowns and curfews to curb the spread of the virus.

The measures slowed the infection rates, potentially preventing calamities associated with the poor state of public health facilities in Africa. However, their most severe consequences were on livelihoods and national economies in a way that threatened stability. It came as no surprise that from May, we saw most countries slowly easing restrictive measures and opening up again — even though the peak of Covid-19 infections has not yet been reached. 

In this article, we take a look at the rate of infections vis-à-vis the state of lockdowns and the challenges that are complicating reopenings across the region.  

Lockdown measures and economic carnage

Reports indicate that 15 sub-Saharan African governments went so far as to partially or fully close their borders – closing airports, ports and in some cases land borders – before they had even confirmed a single case. 

As of 30 March, 46 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 49 sovereign states had imposed partial or full closures of their borders; 44 had closed schools, banned public gatherings, or put in place other social distancing measures; and 11 had declared a state of emergency. 

On a regional level, sub-Saharan Africa arguably responded more quickly and decisively than anywhere else in the world. 

While Africa hasn’t yet suffered the ravages of the pandemic on the scale that has hit other continents like Asia, Europe and America, analysts say Covid-19 could still have a devastating impact on the continent’s already strained health systems and is quickly turning into a social and economic emergency. According to the African Union, the continent faces its first recession in a quarter-century and has lost nearly $55-billion in the travel and tourism sectors in the past three months. 

South Africa, the continent’s largest and most developed economy, is the only African country among the 10 hardest hit Covid-19 countries in the world. South Africa is expected to experience its deepest recession for a century with at least a 7.1% contraction in GDP while the collapse in oil prices has hit Africa’s third-largest economy — Angola — as well as the second-biggest economy, Nigeria, hard. 

In May, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) estimated that Africa could lose up to $65.7-billion (2.5% of annual GDP) for every month of lockdown. 

 Covid-19 update and status in the region

Worldometer reported that as of 14 July, Africa had registered 616,345 cases and more than 13,500 deaths. According to WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, “Even though these cases in Africa account for less than 3% of the global total, it’s clear that this pandemic is accelerating.” 

South Africa reported its biggest increase in Covid-19 infections on 9 July when the Health Ministry reported that there had been 13,674 new confirmed cases in one day. By 14 July, the number of confirmed cases in South Africa had surpassed 280,000. A record 192 people succumbed to Covid-19 in 24 hours on 7 July. Fatalities increased from 3,502 to 4,172 within a week. 

Reports indicate that by 14 July, DRC had recorded 8,135 cases, Malawi 2,430, Zambia 1,895, Eswatini 1,434, Mozambique 1,268 and Zimbabwe stood at 1,064. Namibia had 864, Angola 525, Tanzania 509, Botswana 399, while Lesotho, one of Africa’s least affected countries, had recorded 256 cases.

It is not clear what is driving the significant differences in infection rates, but there is belief that the differences in numbers may be a factor of the capacity to test and compile up-to-date statistics. South Africa has carried out and continues to carry out extensive testing while some countries like LesothoZimbabwe and Eswatini have limited capacity and therefore their infection-rate statistics will not be reliable.

Reopenings: Economic necessity or health suicide?

Due to the enormous stress the lockdowns have imposed on economies, governments in the region have gradually been reopening economies from May. Zero economic activity is unsustainable. The balance between maintaining some economic activity and containing the spread of Covid-19 is delicate.

The opening up of economies has been accompanied by some strict measures, including quarantining returnees, enforcing the wearing of masks in public, restrictions on public gatherings and continuation of physical distancing. 

The conditions in some quarantine zones in some countries and how they then become zones for the spread of Covid-19 is a matter for another day.

Despite experiencing the highest number of cases, which continue to rise, South Africa continues to move forward with its phased reopening strategy. In June, schools, churches and businesses such as restaurants, hairdressers, and hotels, among others, were allowed to reopen. On 6 July, more pupils returned to school after nearly four months of interruption. 

In a nationally televised address on 12 July, President Ramaphosa, however, announced that while the country would remain on Level 3, regulations would be tightened to ease pressure on the country’s healthcare system and slow the spread of the virus, adding that top health officials had warned of impending shortages of hospital beds and oxygen as South Africa reaches a peak of Covid-19 cases. Ramaphosa reintroduced a ban on the sale of alcohol, arguing that since the sale and distribution of alcohol was permitted again in June, hospitals have undergone a spike in admissions in their trauma and emergency wards. A night-time curfew was also reintroduced and he extended the national state of disaster to 15 August.

In response, the National Liquor Traders Council, South African Liquor Brand Owners Association (Salba), the Beer Association of South Africa, Vinpro, and the Liquor Traders Association of South Africa expressed concern that the ban will lead to more job losses. According to News24, the country’s alcohol industry directly employs about 90,000 people. 

In Tanzania, where President John Magufuli has been accused of taking an aggressive reopening strategy and has criticised local health officials for inflating the country’s Covid-19 numbers, larger gatherings – including weddings and at schools – were allowed to reopen from 29 June. 

Angola lifted its Covid-19 state of emergency at the end of May and reopened businesses at 50% capacity.

African authorities have also decided to reopen airspaceSouth Africa has resumed domestic flights while Tanzania and Zambia now have commercial flights. Tanzania opened its skies weeks ago, hoping for a tourism boost despite widespread concern that it is not being honest about the extent of infections. The country has reportedly not updated case numbers since April.

Tanzania was also the first country to reopen its borders to tourists and international travel as Africa’s tourism gears up for a comeback. 

Other countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe have followed suit. 

Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu addressed the nation on 25 June and announced the reopening of international airports to boost international tourist arrivals. On 30 June, the government of Zimbabwe announced the easing of regulations in the tourism and hospitality sector. Restaurants will be allowed to welcome sit-in patrons, national parks will reopen and safari operators will resume economic activity. Restaurants may only occupy 50% of their licensed capacity. However, international travel remains banned. 

Zimbabwe remains under an indefinite “partial” lockdown, with a fortnightly review to determine when to reopen. Given the allegations of violations of fundamental freedoms and the arbitrary arrests and detentions of human rights defenders and political opponents, questions continue to be asked whether the indefinite lockdown in the country is meant to achieve public health or rather political outcomes.

As more African countries open their borders, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) led Global Tourism Crisis Committee has drawn up guidelines to restart tourismSouth Africa, one of Africa’s most popular destinations, but unfortunately the epicentre of the pandemic in Africa, has however opted to reopen its tourism sector in early 2021.

Covid-19 and the informal economy

The impact of lockdown measures on the formal economy has been the largest trigger of efforts by many governments to reopen. Yet a significant number of African economies and livelihoods have been supported by the informal economy. In other words, Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on the poor and people who operate in the informal economy. 

The majority of the peopl live off the informal sector and cross-border trade. As long as the informal sector and borders remain closed, a lot of families face a humanitarian catastrophe. 

In addressing a SADC Parliamentary Forum Standing Committee on Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment meeting, Amnesty International “reckons that informal cross-border trade accounts for between $17-billion and $20-billion per annum” in southern Africa and “so if cross-border informal traders are unable to move and do business, the impact on household incomes would be dire.” 

This led Deprose Muchena, the Amnesty International Director for Southern and East Africa, to conclude that:

“While the globe is dealing with a health pandemic, Africa in general and southern Africa in particular, will be dealing with an economic pandemic.” 

The majority of the people, however, live off the informal sector and cross-border trade. As long as the informal sector and borders remain closed, a lot of families face a humanitarian catastrophe. 

In Zimbabwe, the suffering has raised political tensions with threats for a national anti-government strike on 31 July, led by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, the country’s main opposition party. Faced with a combination of increasing infection rates and threats of protests, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has extended lockdown measures indefinitely, subject to review every two weeks. The reopening of schools in Zimbabwe has also been deferred owing to the rising number of Covid-19 cases. For now, it appears that the lockdown measures will respond to both the threats posed by Covid-19 and potential demonstrations.

Covid-19 reopening setbacks

Until June 2020 Seychelles had gone for “70-plus straight days without a single infection” before “two chartered Air Seychelles flights carrying more than 200 passengers also brought the coronavirus”, resulting in a situation between 24 and 30 June, where the country’s confirmed cases shot from 11 to 81. This made authorities “delay the reopening for commercial flights for its lucrative tourism industry until 1 August, if all goes well”. 

In Eswatini, the reopening suffered a huge setback when judges of the Mbabane High Court contracted the virus on 6 July, forcing the courts to close just a week after a cabinet minister had also tested positive. Schools are still closed and government plans to reopen them has sparked a fierce debate. So serious is the standoff between the government and civil society that the Swaziland National Association of Teachers has filed a court appeal against the government’s plan to reopen schools. The association argues that independent inspections at more than 22 schools had established that conditions were not conducive to learning. 

After easing restrictions for the first time in 48 days on 21 May, Botswana was forced to bring back a strict lockdown in its capital city, Gaborone, and surrounding areas after recording 12 new cases on 12 May. The lockdown was to be lifted on 16 June. On 3 July, the government announced the Ministry of International Affairs and Co-operation was being shut “due to Covid-19 exposure”.  

With Covid-19 being a poverty, inequality and human rights violations multiplier, serious questions continue to be raised on the adequacy of the Covid-19 lockdown measures and current efforts at tweaking such measures in order to facilitate the reopening of the economies. 

At the beginning of July, the president was back in quarantine for the fourth time “due to the discovery of a positive Covid-19 test result on one of the officials closely serving His Excellency the President Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi”.

On 15 July, BBC News reported that as doctors, unions and management fight over scarce resources in South Africa, one senior doctor described the situation as “an epic failure of a deeply corrupt system”, while another spoke of “institutional burnout… a sense of chronic exploitation, the department of health essentially bankrupt, and a system on its knees with no strategic management”.

RFI reported on 28 May that more than 400 people escaped from Kamuzu Stadium quarantine centre in Malawi — at least 46 of them had tested positive for the virus. Reasons for desertion included complaints of inadequate food, not enough bathrooms or other facilities at the stadium they were placed in while others simply bribed the police to escape. On 6 July, Malawi, which took to the polls on 23 June in a fresh presidential election, cancelled its independence celebrations that had been scheduled to coincide with the new president’s inauguration ceremony owing to a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases. 

In South Africa, teacher unions have strengthened calls for schools to close again after President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that the country’s Covid-19 peak is yet to come. Several teachers and students were infected with the virus at schools.

“Covid-19 is a global public health challenge, but in Africa, the malady has metamorphosed into an “economic pandemic” requiring bold and innovative parliamentary and governmental responses.” 

Deprose Muchena of Amnesty International says

While governments have been pushed to reopen economies largely by the impact of Covid-19 measures on the formal economy with estimated losses of $65.7-billion per month for each month of lockdown, according to Uneca, it is the carnage on the poor who rely on the informal economy worth $17-billion to $20-billion a year in southern Africa alone that the greatest impact on household incomes is felt. 

With Covid-19 being a poverty, inequality and human rights violations multiplier, serious questions continue to be raised on the adequacy of the Covid-19 lockdown measures and current efforts at tweaking such measures in order to facilitate the reopening of the economies. 

The predominantly weak economies in the region cannot cope for long without opening up. Yet without measures to enforce the conditions necessary for safe reopenings, it appears there is a looming danger of a further spike in infections and with it a possible return to strict lockdowns. The cost of another wholesale lockdown in southern Africa is economically unfathomable and a potential human rights disaster of incalculable proportions. 

Arnold Tsunga is a human rights lawyer and the technical and strategy adviser of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network. Tatenda Mazarura is a woman human rights defender (WHRD), a professional rapporteur and an election expert. Mark Heywood is editor of Maverick Citizen.

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Condemns Xenophobic Attacks against Foreign Nationals in South Africa

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) calls on the Government of South Africa to immediately adopt measures that guarantee the protection of foreign truck drivers from the ongoing violence, intimidation, and harassment that is occurring in the country.

Since the start of July 2020, calls were made by several local organizations, including the All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF), for a national truck shutdown over the hiring of foreign nationals in South Africa. Actions taken by the ATDF thus far have included blocking several roads across the country, looting, torching of trucks and attacks of foreign national drivers. Furthermore, several reports indicate that there are also widespread plans to attack foreign-owned shops across the country. 

“The attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa, particularly those who come from other parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, are not new”, said Simphiwe Sidu, Legal Advisor of the SAHRDN. “What we are witnessing is part of a larger societal issue concerning the ongoing systemic challenge of achieving an equal society, particularly in relation to race, class and nationality”, added Miss Sidu

The Constitution of South Africa is founded on the values of equality and the creation of a non-racial and non-sexist society. Section 9 of the Constitution guarantees the right to equality and equal protection and benefit of the law for every person, including foreign nationals who are within the borders of South Africa. In addition, South Africa is a party to a number of international human rights instruments, which promote the right to equality and non-discrimination. Some of these instruments include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which all prohibit discrimination and guarantee the equal protection of every person according to the law.

According to previously published reports by Xenowatch, more than 300 deaths and 900 physical assaults related to xenophobia have occurred since 1994 in South Africa. Additionally, more than 100 000 foreign nationals have been displaced within this period. Although the South African Government has recently adopted a National Action Plan to combat xenophobia, research shows that the attacks continue to worsen, and little has been done by the criminal justice system of the country to hold perpetrators of such actions accountable.

While President Cyril Ramaphosa has previously spoken out against the attacks on foreign nationals, we believe that there further needs to be a strong demonstration of leadership from all sectors of government in order to protect the rights and interests of all foreign nationals in the country. The SAHRDN embraces the spirit of Ubuntu and Pan-Africanism, and we call on Mr. Ramaphosa as both the President of South Africa and Chairperson of the African Union to safeguard the unity and protection of all Africans, by ensuring that:

  1. The Police and every other relevant stakeholder to immediately investigate the criminal acts and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice for the harm done.
  2. Government needs to take urgent measures in reforming and implementing the National Action Plan to combat Xenophobia, by inviting all relevant stakeholders, including Civil Society Organizations and the public for comments.
  3. Government needs to urgently tackle the root cause of Xenophobia in South Africa, including eradicating inequalities in the country in order to promote peace and stability, within the framework of the South African Constitution and any other relevant instruments.
  4. Government should promote the founding values of the Constitution by seeking to ensure the need for equitable access of services for every person who lives in the country.

Southern Africa Human Rights Round-up

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and Maverick Citizen launched the Southern Africa Weekly Human Rights Roundup, aimed at highlighting important human rights news in Southern Africa. The Human Rights Roundup integrates efforts of human rights defenders and facilitates evidence-based engagement with key stakeholders, and institutions on the human rights situation across the region.

This issue focuses on the impact of Covid-19 on workers’ rights across Southern Africa.

The restrictive measures imposed by governments to combat the spread of the pandemic has resulted in economies shrinking, businesses closing and severe deindustrialisation across Southern Africa.

As a result there has been large scale job and livelihood losses. Those who have been lucky to preserve their jobs have been forced by lockdown measures to work from home.

Workers in the essential services have experienced long hours. In many countries, workers in such essential services, which are often also high risk, have not been given adequate personal protective equipment (PPEs) that protects them from exposure to the virus. This has resulted in workplace tension manifested by strikes in many countries. 

Covid-19 added pressures to an already battered workforce in a region characterized by a large informal sector, eroded earnings, high unemployment, casualization of labour, gender inequalities. Vulnerable workers such as vendors, informal traders (self-employed), migrant workers, asylum seekers and undocumented people have suffered the most including facing evictions for non payment of rentals and starvation because they are not normally covered by social grants restricted to citizens.

At this point, there is only anecdotal evidence on the true cost of this devastating impact, especially from the private sector because, other than in South Africa, no governments offered stimulus packages for industry nor financial support to workers. Whilst concrete evidence will be too early to expect, we present a preliminary gloomy picture of how workers’ rights, safety and well being in Southern Africa have been affected. Regrettably, the situation is expected to deteriorate further. 

Health Workers and Protective Personal Equipment (PPE)

Southern Africa is notorious for weak health systems characterised by poor public health infrastructure and inadequate number of health workers. Many countries failed to ensure PPE was available in adequate quantities for health workers. Most governments did not adhere to directives on working safely in line with WHO guidelines on Getting your workplace ready for Covid-19: How Covid-19 spreads

The failure to provide public health workers with PPE resulted in strikes, picketing and demonstrations. In Tanzania, for example, one nurse summed up the situation facing thousands of health workers across Southern Africa when she had this to say:

“I have been working at Amana Regional Referral Hospital for 10 years. Here is what my normal day looks like: I do not have any PPE, but I commute in public transport. How am I supposed to protect myself and others? How am I supposed to protect my family? We are struggling… people are demoralised.”

In March, doctors and nurses in Zimbabwe protested against the government’s failure to provide them with PPE and adequately equip public hospitals to combat the Covid-19 outbreak. In an application filed on 5 April, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) approached the High Court, arguing that they were at risk of contracting the virus. 

The Food Federation and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (FFAWUZ) was forced to approach the Ministry of Labour and Social Services with an urgent appeal to get adequate PPE and other necessary amenities during the 21 day lockdown as some employers failed to protect workers especially in the food industry. 

In April, healthcare workers in Lesotho went on strike following failed attempts to engage the government on how to obtain protective gear, training and a risk allowance.

Also in April in Eswatini the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (Swadnu), resolved to take the Eswatini government to court for gross negligence, and to compel the government to supply adequate PPE to all healthcare workers. This came after a nurse at Raleigh Fitkin Memorial (RFM) hospital tested positive for Covid-19 and 10 other nurses were isolated.

On 28 April, South Africa’s Department of Employment and Labour issued a directive giving clear guidance on mandatory safety measures that employers needed to put in place to protect employees. 

The C-19 People’s Coalitionrepresenting more than 300 civil society organizationshowever raised concern that the directive, while welcome, came over a month after lockdown commenced, thereby endangering people in the workplace. The Coalition also noted that many workplaces continued to ignore worker’s rights with some workplaces failing to provide basic safety measures. 

On 1 May, a number of trade unions in South Africa, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and community health workers picketed outside Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in commemoration of workers’ day. They too cited incidents of healthcare workers not being given the requisite PPE to protect themselves. 

They also called for the proper training of community health workers and that all frontline healthcare workers be screened and tested for Covid-19 as a matter of priority, absent of which industrial action would follow.  

Mineworkers’ rights violated

Thousands of mine workers in the DRC were subjected to enforced quarantine at Tenke Fungurume copper and cobalt mine for two months. They held a successful strike on 23 May that led to the payment of a special allowance of US$600 to the 6000 mineworkers forcibly quarantined. The workers were also demanding to be paid for the overtime that they worked during the quarantine period. Work continued at the mine during the quarantine because mining is considered an essential service under Congolese law.

In March, IndustriALL Global Union reported that the Mineworkers Union of Zambia successfully campaigned for alcohol breathalyzer tests to be discontinued as they can easily spread the coronavirus resulting in some mining companies that include Mopane Copper Mines, Lubambe Copper Mine, Kanshanshi and Barrick Lumwana complying. Additionally, biometric systems in which workers used fingers were also reported as unsafe.

With the complicity of the unions, around two-thirds of South Africa’s 450,000 mineworkers returned to work to face the dangers of coronavirus on pain of starvation when the first stage of lockdown ended on 16 April. During the first 21 days of lockdown, employees were paid, but when it was extended a further 14 days, the employers in the Mineral Council refused to extend wage payments.

Mine owners say they have “plans” to operate safely at the pits. Work conditions in the pits, however, preclude social distancing. Workers go down into the pits packed in cages and work closely in teams at the face without visors or facemasks. 

Lay offs and unpaid leave in the transport industry

Travel Bus Company Intercape sent letters to its employees in Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe notifying them it will temporarily lay them off starting 1 May 2020. The April letter informed employees they would receive their April salaries and that the temporary layoff would be for May, June and July 2020.  Employees affected were told not to expect a salary for these months.  

Forced paid leave has become the most direct consequence of Covid-19 on the labour market and no industry symbolises this than the airline industry.

Restrictions to international travel affect African airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines, Egyptair, Kenya Airways, and South African Airways, which are large employers and have linkages to other domestic businesses.

The first effects were the immediate partial unemployment of airline staff.  Zimbabwe’s state-owned airline put workers on indefinite unpaid leave after revenue dried up. The perennially loss-making national carrier said it would retain skeleton staff for ad hoc operations and airworthiness compliance, adding that wages remained its biggest cost. 

At South African Airways (SAA), the majority of the national carrier’s estimated 4,708 employees have not been paid for May. Most staff are on unpaid absence. Zazi Nsibanyoni-Mugambi, President of the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca), one of the major unions at the flagship carrier, told The Africa Report that workers have not been paid for May. “And not even the benefits have been paid – like, medical aid subsidies, Unemployment Insurance Fund contributions, pensions and all of those things. That’s also been stopped.”  

Workers rendered redundant overnight 

The United Nations says about 20 million jobs could be lost globally.

In April, 216 companies throughout Mozambique notified the Labour Ministry that they were suspending or reducing their activities in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, affecting 6,400 workers, according to the General Inspector of Labour, Joaquim Siuta.

Siuta added that, under these circumstances, companies should pay their workers 75% of their wages for the first month they were laid off, 50% for the second month, and 25% for the third month. The National Social Security Institute (INSS), he insisted, would only pay sickness benefit to workers with a hospital document proving they were ill. Siuta thus dashed hopes that the INSS might cash in its investments in order to pay wages to workers who have lost their jobs.

The majority of countries in the region rely heavily on the tourism sector and Covid-19 has hit this sector the hardest.

In April, the leading hotelier in Zimbabwe closed 21 of its hotels and strategic business units around the country. In an internal memo signed by the company’s acting human resources director, Believe Dirorimwe, and addressed to senior managers and staff, every affected employee’s salary was cut by 50%.

Eswatini’s Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Moses Vilakati, on 19 May, spoke to CNBC Africa on how Covid-19 has impacted the country’s recovery plan. He reported that some hotels have closed indefinitely, resulting in retrenchments and huge job losses. Over 26% of employment in the country is via the tourism industry. 

South Africa‘s biggest non-food retailer Edcon, on 11 June, served 22,000 of its employees with notices of retrenchments. This is more than half of the group’s 39,000 full-time and temporary employees.

So far, a number of African startups have announced layoffs, placed staff on indefinite unpaid leave or implemented salary cuts exclusively and this is in addition to job cuts. For example Yoco which claims over 150 employees on its payroll, announced that it was downsizing significantly.  

One of the first indigenous movie streaming platforms in Africa, iROKOtv, announced that, as from May 2020, 28% of its employees will be put on an indefinite unpaid leave of absence. 

Salary cuts 

Faced with reduced business, employers across the region also arbitrarily imposed salary cuts.

In May, Lesotho Times reported that factory workers were being issued M800 salary subsidies by the Lesotho government to cushion them from the closure of businesses which were deemed non-essential such as textile companies.

On 13 May, The Patriot on Sunday reported that the government of Botswana was headed for a fresh showdown with employees following its decision to freeze overtime payments for the essential public servants.

In South Africa, President Ramaphosa announced taking a 33% pay cut motivating his entire executive and all nine provincial premiers to also take a similar percentage in pay cuts for three months. The cumulative cuts, estimated to be worth around R13.4m, were donated to the Covid-19 Solidarity Fund.  

Leading hotelier African Sun also cut salaries for most of its employees including executives and senior managers by 50% as the effects of Covid-19 took a toll on the hospitality industry. 

The plight of migrant workers 

7.9% of workers in Africa are migrant workers and the majority of migration is intra-continental. In Southern Africa, South Africa is the magnet for millions of migrants but countries like BotswanaNamibiaTanzaniaDRC also host many. Migrants already face a slew of challenges, including accessing healthcare, even in normal circumstances due to lack of health insurance, cost, administrative hurdles, lack of access to facilities, and language barriers. Additionally, many migrants are frontline workers who keep people healthy, safe, and fed. Social protection for these workers, if received at all, is typically limited to some work injury compensation or health benefits, and almost never includes unemployment assistance.

It has been the South African government’s long-standing objective to reduce migration, and the pandemic has provided a cynical opportunity to do so.

On 24 April, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni urged companies to allow more South Africans to participate in the economy than foreign nationals, citing businesses such as restaurants, spaza shops, informal trading and so on. These are the very spaces occupied by most migrant workers.

There is a danger that post Covid-19, most migrant workers from the region will find themselves jobless if countries insist on inward-looking policies to try and placate local populations with populist, nationalist solutions. 

What do the Unions say?

The Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council (SATUCC) acknowledged that the pandemic had been very disastrous to workers’ rights. The council further noted that the impact was worse on un-unionised workers such as migrant workers, domestic workers, farm workers and those in the informal sector.

As a result SATUCC is now working on including these categories of workers in its work. In an interview on 4 May, the Executive Secretary of SATUCC, Mavis A Koogotsitse, admitted that the pandemic caught trade unions napping. She stressed that unions should now think beyond the traditional ways of mobilising in the workplace.

The European Network of Equality Bodies (EQUINET) expressed concern over what it referred to as “a new and scary discrimination trend,” that has arisen worldwide against those that are in the frontline of action noting how the daily lives of nurses, doctors and healthcare workers are increasingly being affected by discriminatory attitudes and harassment.

The International Labor Organization noted with concern how Covid-19 containment measures have threatened to increase relative poverty levels among the world’s informal economy workers thereby exacerbating already existing vulnerabilities and inequalities. Among other recommendations, the ILO emphasised the need for policies that reduce the exposure of informal workers to the virus; ensure that those infected have access to health care; provide income and food support to individuals and their families; and prevent damage to the economic fabric of countries. 


The impact of Covid-19 on the labour market has been huge. The healthcare shortfalls exposed by Covid-19 in Africa, led Human Rights Watch to call on governments to urgently address healthcare deficiencies in line with international human rights law, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It is highly important that labour policies, laws and regulations be revamped to make them as pandemic-proof as possible if workers are not to bear the same brunt in future. Meanwhile, mechanisms aimed at redressing a litany of labour infringements against workers during the Covid-19 pandemic need to be urgently conceived and implemented. As Guy Ryder, the Director-General of the International Labor Organisation (ILO) aptly said:

“Workers and businesses are facing catastrophe, in both developed and developing economies …We have to move fast, decisively, and together. The right, urgent, measures, could make the difference between survival and collapse.” 

Arnold Tsunga is a human rights lawyer, the director of the Africa Regional Programme of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the technical and strategy adviser of the SAHRDN. Tatenda Mazarura is a woman human rights defender (WHRD), a professional rapporteur and an election expert. Mark Heywood is editor of Maverick Citizen. 


The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN or the Defenders Network), DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights and Africa Judges and Jurists Forum (AJJF) wrote to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives to highlight the ongoing recurrent pattern of unlawful arrests and killings of persons of color by the police. The petition was presented on behalf of civil society organisations and individuals from across the African continent where the letter that was signed by 78 organizations and over 1036 individuals calling for the United States of America to address the ongoing structural and systemic inequality, racism and injustice.


We, the undersigned organizations, are writing this letter to bring to your attention the worrying restrictive COVID-19 regulations presenting concerning ramifications for enjoyment of human rights, including livelihoods.

As the international community strives to combat the spread of COVID-19, a number of states in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have adopted varied measures that have concerning ramifications for the enjoyment of human rights, including livelihoods for people in the informal economy. States have, in some instances adopted declarations of states of emergency and [others declared] states of disaster or other measures that limit the exercise of certain human rights. While some states have begun gradually relaxing these regulations, the business environment remains restrictive and this means that millions of people within SADC, especially those who are in the informal economy, cannot work, with the poor mostly affected. While the challenges presented by COVID-19 are enormous and compel States to employ unprecedented measures to protect populations from this global pandemic, it is important all measures comply with applicable international human rights standards. Human rights must be at the centre of all prevention, preparedness, containment and treatment efforts, in order to best protect public health and support the groups and people who are most at risk.

Legal measures in response to COVID-19

In southern Africa, several countries have declared states of emergency or taken exceptional measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.  Those that have declared states of emergency include, Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique and Namibia. These are of varying periods and it is concerning that unduly prolonged periods or extensions of state of emergency have been declared in some countries where parliamentary oversight is not guaranteed without providing reasons to justify the length. Only Botswana and Namibia have subjected the declarations to parliamentary oversight. States of emergency must be limited to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, “relating to the duration, geographical coverage and material scope, and any measures of derogation resorted to because of the emergency.

All relevant safeguards under international law must be adhered to, including the official proclamation of the state of emergency and its international notification with full information about the measures taken and a clear explanation of the reasons for them; that it must be temporary and subject to periodic and genuine review before any extension; and to narrow down any derogations of human rights to those for which this is actually allowed under international law, and strictly necessary in the situation. The undersigned organization are concerned that this may lead to human rights violations, including related to freedom of movement and livelihoods. While States can derogate from certain freedoms and rights during a state of emergency, they cannot derogate from certain rights including the right to life; the prohibition from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment  medical or scientific experimentation without free consent; freedom from slavery or involuntary servitude; imprisonment for failing to fulfil a contractual obligation;  equal recognition before the law;  and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The states of emergency and the measures taken under then must not become a “new normal”. States must lift all emergency measures as soon as it is no longer warranted by the pandemic-related emergency and ensure that related restrictions or derogations of human rights do not become permanent.

Excessive use of force to enforce COVID-19 response measures

Across the SADC region, governments have deployed security forces to enforce compliance with COVID-19 response measures. Coercive enforcement approaches contradict evidence-based public health best practice, and often target disadvantaged communities which are marginalized, impoverished or at risk of discrimination resulting in stigma, fear and thwarting trust in authorities.

The imposition of penalties as enforcement measures must be the last resort after other alternatives have proven unsuccessful or if it becomes clear that the objective cannot be achieved by those other means. Sufficient steps need to have been taken to make sure the public is aware of the reasons for the restrictions and the need to comply with them. States must also put in place measures for people to be able to comply with the restrictions, including by enabling them to satisfy their essential needs, and take into account the situation of marginalised groups who may require support in order to be in a position to comply with the restrictions. In some cases, security personnel have used excessive force against people allegedly breaching such measures, including beating and humiliating them in public. Police have  been accused of entering people’s homes and assaulting them. In some cases, government officials are reported to have encouraged use of force.

In Zambia, Lusaka Province Minister Bowman Lusambo was reported to have threatened people with whipping if they did not respect the Presidential Directive to stay home, while police have been beating people with baton sticks on the streets. National police spokesperson Esther Katongo said in a television interview that police in Zambia had adopted a strategy to “hit and detain” anyone found on the streets.  Police have been documented beating people with baton sticks on the streets. In Zimbabwe, police officers raided a vegetable market forcing more than 300 vendors to flee and leave behind their produce. Police carried out the raid despite the agriculture sector being flagged as an “essential service” during the 21-day lockdown. They later disposed of the food, and vendors are yet to be compensated.

In Mauritius, police officers are under investigation for torture following reports of police brutality while enforcing the lockdown. In Mozambique, a local television station has accused police of taking advantage of the lockdown to raid vendors’ shops and steal their goods. In South Africa, there are reports of abuse, heavy-handed policing and the use of excessive force by the police and military.

Legality of new legislation on surveillance

While legislative initiatives are critical to the fight against COVID-19, in some cases there are concerns about their legality and susceptibility to abuse during and after the pandemic is contained. Some states are using increasing and different forms of surveillance, including those aimed at movement tracking, contact tracing, and the creation of “health apps”. To date, only South Africa has put in place surveillance specific legislation. On 2 March 2020, South Africa issued revised regulations, which mandate various entities to provide the Director General of the Department of Health with personal information of persons for inclusion in the COVID 19 contact-tracing database. This includes persons who have tested positive for COVID-19 or persons that have come into contact with those confirmed or suspected to be infected. 

In addition, the Director General of the Department of Health may direct an electronic communications service provider to furnish the location or movements of any person known or reasonably suspected to have contracted COVID-19, and the location or movements of any person known or reasonably suspected to have come into contact with such a person. 

While efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 may necessitate innovative approaches, surveillance laws or regulations can and have been used to violate citizens’ rights to privacy. Increased surveillance measures will only be lawful if they can meet strict criteria. Governments must be able to show that measures implemented are provided for by law and are necessary, proportionate, time-bound, and that they are implemented with transparency and adequate oversight. In promulgating the regulations, the South African government has rightly included safeguards to minimise threats of breaches to the right to privacy and other fundamental rights and freedoms. Such measures include the appointment of a designated COVID-19 Judge to provide oversight over the implementation of the regulations and provide recommendations to the government to address any real or possible breaches of citizens’ rights.

In addition, the gathering of the surveillance information is led by health authorities and not state security authorities who might use it for other purposes including policing. Similarly, the lead role by health authorities provides a level of protection to individuals such as human rights defenders who are often the subject of surveillance by state security authorities. Importantly, the regulations state that the data collected will only be used for the purposes of controlling COVID-19, and will be destroyed or anonymised after the state of disaster terminates. Moreover, the concerned individuals will be informed if they were subjects of surveillance during the state of disaster.

Persons deprived of liberty

The conditions of prisons and prisoners in many African countries are afflicted by severe inadequacies including high congestion, poor physical, health, and sanitary conditions, as a result special attention needs to be drawn to the severe risk these conditions pose to the spread of COVID-19. Urgent and holistic preventive measures are required that focus on the most marginalized groups in our society, particularly prisoners. If COVID-19 penetrates prison systems in the sub-region, this will not only rapidly contribute to infections, but it risks high prison mortality rates. Authorities must ensure prompt and regular access to medical attention and adequate health care for people who are deprived of their liberty at a standard that meets each person’s individual needs and is similar to what is available in the community. Prison health is public health and, therefore, effective COVID-19 responses should address the risk that congestion poses to both the prison population and the broader community. In order to de-congest prisons, governments in the sub-region should adopt an urgent strategy for the protection of the rights of people deprived of their liberty, including through addressing overcrowding in prisons, through the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience; reviewing decisions to retain people in pre-trial detention as well as to detain children; considering the early, temporary or conditional release of those convicted of minor offences and people at higher risk, such as older people, pregnant women and those with underlying medical conditions; and adopting alternatives to detention. Efforts should be made to release older detainees if they no longer pose a threat to public safety and they have already served a portion of their prison sentence.

In addition, those convicted of minor offences should also be considered for release. Individuals arrested on immigration-related charges should not be detained in prisons. Judicial institutions should be provided with the necessary support and mandate to enable them to consider release of prisoners, especially those who have spent excessively long periods in detention pending judgment or sentencing. Judiciaries should also pay specific attention to the release on bail of older persons, persons who are chronically ill and whose state of health is exacerbated by prison conditions. Equally, special attention should be paid to children in prison and reformatory centers and women who are pregnant or remanded with their children. Importantly, on 25 March, the UN Committee on the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment also called on governments to reduce prison populations wherever possible by implementing schemes of early, provisional or temporary release.

Gender-based violence

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the risk and exposure of women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Confinement due to stay-at-home orders or lockdowns has increased the risk of women and girls to domestic, sexual, economic, psychological and other forms of gender-based violence by abusive partners and family members. Poor housing and poverty in most countries of the sub-region exacerbate this phenomenon. Increasingly, hotlines in the sub-region have been inundated with calls from women reporting abuse and seeking assistance.

In South Africa, the Department of Social Development’s Gender-Based Violence Command Centre received about 2,300 complaints in the first four days after the lockdown came into effect. Accessing help can also be difficult due to confinement with the abuser.  It is, therefore, imperative that States adopt innovative ways in exercising their due diligence obligation to prevent and protect women and girls from SGBV during the pandemic. States must ensure that prevention of and protection from gender-based violence and domestic violence is an integral part of their national response to the pandemic.

The unique challenges that COVID-19 presents to addressing SGBV due to confinement require bold responses from States including re-prioritizing access to support and protection services, helplines and shelters for survivors States should also ensure that women, girls and people who can get pregnant can access sexual and reproductive health services, especially ones that are time-sensitive such as emergency contraception, pre-natal testing and counselling, abortion, post-abortion care and miscarriage treatment as well as the prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Victimization of human rights defenders

COVID-19 has increased threats to civic space and human rights defenders. Some of the emergency measures to combat the novel coronavirus have severely restricted the civic space and led to violations of human rights, including targeted attacks on human rights defenders. The rampant arrests and detention of grassroots human rights defenders across Africa including Southern Africa as well as journalists and those involved in trying to disseminate information resulted in the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa, Honourable Commissioner Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, expressing concern in a statement on 12 May 2020. For example, in Malawi human rights defenders were forced to institute what we refer to as firewall public interest litigation to stop the imposition of lockdown measures that would pose a threat of generalised harm to women vendors and informal traders and grassroots defenders including police brutality and detentions.

In Eswatini police reportedly harassed Swaziland news editor, Zweli Martin Dlamini’s wife and children for spreading “fake news,” that suggested that King Mswati III had contracted the coronavirus, insisting that the King “is well and in good health.” In Zimbabwe, President Mnangagwa has indefinitely extended the lockdown. And three young women political leaders from the Movement for Democratic Change – Alliance, Cecilia Revai Chimbiri, Netsai Marova and Joana Ruvimbo Mamombe, a Member of Parliament were abducted, tortured and sexually abused after having participated in a flash protest against rising levels of  hunger and abuse of government sourced food aid during the lockdown.  In addition, a freelance journalist, James Jemwa was temporarily detained by soldiers and police officers and forced to delete the footage he had recorded at Gwenyambira shops, Harare. The Zimbabwe police Commissioner went on to say that journalists should stay at home and be bound by national lockdown regulations, arguing that they are not providers of an essential service and claiming that only journalists from “broadcasting services” (usually government controlled) are exempted.  Opposition officials were also arrested and fined for providing food relief to the poor and hungry in Mutare notably Regai Tsunga a member of Parliamnet for Mutasa South.

In Malawi threats have been made against the chairperson of Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition Mr Gift Trapence before he was later involved in a serious accident. In Zambia on 9 April 2020the government controlled Independent Broadcasting Agency cancelled the broadcasting/television license of the popular Prime Television Station citing “public interest … safety, security, peace, welfare and good order” as the reason for such action. Civil society see this conduct as part of the wider government policy of systematically closing civic space ahead of the 2021 elections.

Rather than resort to intimidation, states should provide human rights defenders on the frontline of the pandemic with the necessary information, tools and protective equipment they need to carry out their human rights activities in safety.


While noting the enormous social, economic and other challenges presented by COVID-19, the respect for human rights is key in ensuring that responses are humane and do not negatively impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. We therefore call on States in southern Africa to:

  • Ensure that declarations of states of emergency respect international human rights law, particularly to the provisions of article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including (i) notifying the Secretary General of the United Nations of the rights derogated: (ii) ensuring institutional oversight to curb abuse of emergency powers; (iii) undertake regular reviews to assess if emergency powers are no longer required in the circumstances;
  • Ensure that only permissible limitations under international human rights law are imposed if they decide to restrict the rights and freedoms of individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Take appropriate measures to prevent the excessive use of force by security and other personnel in the enforcement of COVID-19 measures including by ensuring that regulations establish clearly circumscribed responsibilities and tasks for law enforcement officials, avoiding overly broad discretion that may lead to arbitrary or otherwise excessive use of police powers. and that those responsible should be held accountable and sanctioned with commensurate penalties;
  • Avoid responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with increased digital surveillance, unless these measures meet strict criteria. States must ensure that any surveillance regulations adopted to curb the spread of COVID-19 contain appropriate legal safeguards to protect citizens’ rights to privacy and other rights; and that such measures should not be used to gather any information un related to the containment of COVID-19 and to crash dissent or surveil the activities of human rights defenders; Measures implemented are provided for by law and are necessary, proportionate, non-discriminatory, time-bound, and that they are implemented with transparency and adequate oversight; And that such data are not used for any other purpose, that collection is limited to the minimum possible and is securely stored and subject to mandatory, time-bound deletion;
  • Take urgent steps to de-congest places of deprivation of liberty to protect prison populations and communities from COVID-19 by taking urgent action to protect people in detention from COVID-19, including guaranteeing access to healthcare and sanitation products in all facilities and releasing prisoners of conscience and others in arbitrary detention, reviewing cases of pre-trial detention, and considering release for children, women and girls who are in detention with their dependent children or who are pregnant, and other prisoners specifically at risk, such as older prisoners or those with underlying medical conditions.
  • Urge the Government of Zimbabwe to conduct a swift, thorough and credible investigation into the abduction, torture and sexual assault of opposition Member of Parliament Joana Ruvimbo Mamombe, along with Cecilia Revai Chimbiri and Netsai Marova. We expect justice and accountability on this egregious and heinous violation of human rights.

States must ensure that women survivors continue to have access to police protection and justice as well as to shelters, helplines, community-support services, including by designating these as essential services and ensuring they receive the necessary support and resources to continue operating during the pandemic. Sufficient resources must be available to scale up services when necessary and provide information about their availability while also responding to the specific challenges and needs of certain groups of women and girls such as migrant and refugee women, minority and Indigenous women, LGBTI women, women experiencing discrimination based on work and descent, and women living in poverty.


Advancing Rights in Southern Africa (ARISA)

Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)

Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)

Amnesty International

Tanzania: Joint CSO letter to Tanzanian President to de-congest prisons and protect rights of detainees

His Excellency

President John Pombe Magufuli United Republic of Tanzania Dar es Salaam Tanzania

May 20, 2020

Your Excellency,

Re: Immediate and urgent measures to protect the rights of prison detainees in Tanzania

We the undersigned non-governmental human rights organizations, welcome your government’s measures to halt the spread of COVID-19, including closing schools, discouraging public gatherings, informing the public, and establishing three Cabinet committees to lead the response.

We particularly welcome recent steps to decongest Tanzania’s prisons, where 3,717 prisoners were pardoned in line with recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, we believe it does not go far enough to alleviate the risk to Tanzania’s prison population and the community at large. Tanzania’s prison conditions make it practically impossible to maintain social-distancing for all detainees and self-isolation for those possibly, or are, infected. Also at risk are prison staff, medical and food service providers, their families, and the communities they interact with. Like many of Tanzania’s regional counterparts, places of detention are overcrowded, have limited access to healthcare, and face hygiene challenges. The WHO has warned that “people deprived of their liberty, and those living or working in enclosed environments in their close proximity, are likely to be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease than the general population.” In order to implement strict social distancing, Tanzania’s prison population must be reduced such that the general prison population can maintain at least one meter or greater distance in all directions at all times, in line with current guidelines. In addition, facilities must have enough space to self-isolate those who are ill or have come into contact with infected persons.

On several occasions, your Excellency has noted with concern the overpopulation of Tanzania’s prisons. More than half of the country’s detainees are awaiting trial, many of whom have been detained for years. Effective measures to decongest the country’s prisons need to include releasing many members of this group. As other countries’ experiences show, the failure to take measures to decongest prisons can lead to

prison riots. In response to COVID-19 and the threat to prison populations, neighboring countries like Uganda, in addition to pardoning certain convicted persons, have undertaken to urgently review cases of pre-trial detainees. In Kenya, by fast-tracking hearings through video conferencing, courts were able to release over 5,000 prisoners, including “remandees”. Given the rising numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Tanzania, extraordinary measures are required.

We, therefore, call on you to prevail on the relevant authorities to urgently review cases of those in pre-trial detention, including individuals detained on non-bailable offenses and those whose cases are still at the investigation stage.8 Further, the authorities should refrain from custodial arrests for low- level offenses that do not involve the infliction or threat of infliction of serious bodily injury, sexual assault, or a known likelihood of physical harm. Where the arrest and detention of a person is unavoidable, screening measures must be put in place to prevent the infection of persons in detention as well as members of the police.

While taking immediate measures to decongest the prisons and detention centers as recommended above, we urge your government to ensure that facilities continue to adhere to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules). Authorities have directed the lockdown of detention facilities to limit interaction with the outside population. This means prisoners are no longer allowed public visitors, including family members and their legal representatives. Restricting lawyers from meeting their clients jeopardizes the fundamental right to legal representation. Furthermore, the complete isolation of prisoners from friends and family may have an impact on the mental well-being of detainees.

We recommend that Tanzania implement alternative measures, such as video conferencing, allow increased phone calls with family and legal representatives, and permit email and communication at a distance or behind glass partitions.

Currently, while measures are in place for courts to continue to hear some criminal matters through video conferencing, there has been no publicized directive or collaboration between the offices of the Prosecutor General, the Judiciary, or the legal profession to prioritize reducing the number of detainees, particularly those in pre-trial detention. The failure to further decongest prisons, coupled with the restrictions of legal counsel and family visits as detailed above, could aggravate what is already a tense, difficult and potentially dangerous situation.

We therefore respectfully urge that you consult with relevant stakeholders, including the Honourable Minister of Health, the Commissioner-General of Prisons, the Honourable Chief Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Inspector General of Prisons, the Tanganyika Law Society, and other civil society organizations, to put in place a comprehensive COVID-19 plan of action to decongest Tanzania’s prisons. These bodies should agree on a plan to do this, which should be shared with all involved, including prison staff, inmates, and the general public, to minimize unnecessary fear and anxiety.

The Tanzanian government has an obligation to ensure the right to health for everyone under its jurisdiction. Article 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Tanzania is a state party, provides: “Every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health.” This right, in accordance with the 1995 African Commission Resolution on Prisons in Africa, is extended to prisoners, detainees, and other persons deprived of their liberty.

In light of the above, the undersigned organizations respectfully recommend that the government of Tanzania urgently take the following measures:

  1. Review of cases that could lead to the release of detainees. Courts should continue to hold all critical hearings, including bail hearings and habeas corpus petition hearings. The prosecution should agree to conditional or unconditional release options unless individuals are accused of a serious offense and their release would pose a specific and known risk of harm to others or they are a known flight risk. Pending cases not previously scheduled for hearing can be expedited to facilitate the early disposition of the case;
  2. During this COVID-19 period, authorities should refrain from arresting people for crimes that do not involve serious offenses, and then only arrest if the person would pose a specific and known risk of harm to others, issuing citations instead;
  3. Prisoners who do not meet the criteria for conditional or unconditional release should not be isolated from legal counsel or relatives. Any restrictions on the rights of people deprived of their liberty, including on visitations, should be strictly necessary and proportionate to the health emergency. The government should implement alternatives for prisoners to consult privately with legal counsel, during court proceedings, and within prison facilities. Prisoners must also be allowed contact with their relatives, taking into account social-distancing measures. This can include providing free and adequate access to a telephone, internet, video communication, and other appropriate electronic means, as well as measures to safely receive food and other supplies.
  4. Ensure that all detention facilities are equipped with sufficient and functioning sanitizing equipment and/or other relevant facilities for physical hygiene and that all detainees are regularly

provided (free of charge) with adequate quantities of soap, sanitizing items and access to clean running water.

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter, which bears on the health and well-being of all Tanzanians. We would be happy to talk by phone with officials involved in addressing these issues.


  1. Amnesty International
  2. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (Zimbabwe)
  3. Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA) (Zambia)
  4. CIVICUS. (South Africa)
  5. Counselling Services Unit (CSU) (Zimbabwe)
  6. Crime prevention, Rehabilitation and Reintegration of ex-prisoners (CRROA). (Lesotho)
  7. EG Justice
  8. Friends of Angola (FoA) (Angola)
  9. Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) (South Africa)
  10. Human Rights Watch
  11. Institute for Public Policy Analysis and Implementation (IPPAI.) (Zimbabwe)
  12. Lawyers for Human Rights. (LHR) (South Africa)
  13. Legal and Human Rights Centre (Tanzania)
  14. Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV (MANERELA+). (Malawi)
  15. Oasis Network for Community Transformation.
  16. Robert F Kennedy Human Rights (RFK)
  17. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  18. Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) (South Africa)
  19. Southern Africa Network Against Corruption (SANAC). (Zambia)
  20. The Rock of Hope (South Africa)


The Honorable Chief Justice

The Honorable Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs

The Director of Public Prosecutions

The Commissioner General of Prisons

Southern Africa Human Rights Roundup

Issue No: 4 3 – 8 May 2020

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and Maverick Citizen launched the Southern Africa Weekly Human Rights Roundup, aimed at highlighting important human rights news in Southern Africa. The Human Rights Roundup integrates efforts of human rights defenders and facilitates evidence-based engagement with key stakeholders, and institutions on the human rights situation across the region

Across southern Africa, lockdown measures have exposed grave inequalities in societies with a disproportionate impact on the poor and economically vulnerable. The precarious conditions in which millions of ordinary people – the unemployed, women vendors and informal traders – live without adequate food, clean drinking water, decent housing, and toilets and jobs has not only increased the risk for the spread of Covid-19 but increased the dangers of facing police brutality, given that many governments have deployed the army to help the police to enforce the lockdown measures. 

Unfortunately, the lockdown orders have also thrown millions more people into extreme poverty without the ability to work on their usual hand-to-mouth jobs. The fragile nature of the majority of livelihoods and the absence of government measures such as social safety nets to cushion poor people has produced this unintended consequence. The stay-at-home orders were imposed on a population that can ill afford and was ill-prepared to stay at home. In the desperate attempt to save lives, livelihoods have been sacrificed.  Increasingly, the Covid-19 lockdown measures are now translating for the poor into a simple question: how do you want to die, by Covid-19, by hunger and starvation or by possible police brutality? While physical distancing and good hygiene may be necessary and are good policies on paper, in reality, they are incompatible with the conditions in which most people live. The lockdown measures are now threatening malnutrition and starvation for millions of people

Regrettably, except for South Africa, measures implemented so far to alleviate the economic damage have targeted the formal economy, neglecting the informal and communal economies where the majority of people, particularly women, are located. Authorities in the region have to a large extent failed to respond sufficiently to the region’s high level of poverty, unemployment, inequality and lack of social safety nets.

Such is the scale of concern about the impact of the Covid-19 measures on the poor that on 23 April 2020, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights expressed concern: “about the precarious conditions … constituting a real risk for the spread of Covid-19”. 

Over the years, the informal economy in southern Africa has grown to unprecedented levels. For those lucky to be employed, thousands of jobs are being lost every day as small-to-medium enterprises and some big companies are folding as a result of stagnant economic activity. As people lose jobs and income, with no way of knowing when normalcy will return, rowdy scenes of people scrambling for food have become the new norm. 

The International Labour Organisation recently revealed that in the current situation, businesses across a range of economic sectors are facing catastrophic losses, which threaten their operations and solvency, especially among smaller enterprises, while millions of workers are vulnerable to income loss and layoffs. The impact on income-generating activities is especially harsh for unprotected workers and the most vulnerable groups in the informal economy.

The World Food Programme has already warned that the world is on the brink of a hunger pandemic. David Beasley, head of the WFP, reported that 135 million people are facing acute food shortages globally and that the coronavirus could increase this by another 130 million by year-end. 

The world faces “multiple famines of biblical proportions” that could result in 300,000 deaths per day – a “hunger pandemic”, he said. 

Recent estimates by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) indicate that a possible global GDP loss of 5% in 2020 could increase worldwide poverty levels by 20%, pushing another 147 million people into extreme poverty, and more than half of those at risk – 79 million people – are in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Hunger pains grow across southern Africa

Zimbabwe, with an unemployment rate of over 90%, has the second-largest informal economy in the world after Bolivia. The country was already battling a severe socio-economic crisis spanning two decades.

Many have raised concern that measures to curb the Covid-19 will hit the most vulnerable people hard. The Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) estimates that 25% of the country’s formal jobs and 75% of informal jobs are at risk from Covid-19 containment measures. 

This comes in the wake of a report that was issued by the World Food Programme (WFP) in December 2019 advising that the country was facing its worst hunger crisis in 10 years with 7.7 million people food insecure. In a country where half the population was already struggling to eat daily, and maize prices rose by a third in February 2020, the situation is dire. 

A significant population lives from hand to mouth, with limited access to basic needs such as food, water, clothing and shelter.  Social services, particularly healthcare and education, are beyond the reach of many. Many rely on support from relatives, families and friends in the diaspora. Accessing Zimbabwe diaspora remittances has been a nightmare and is worsened by the non-availability of cash from outlets. 

Parallel market money traders who operate the streets of Bulawayo, Harare and Mutare have reportedly resorted to working from home, as they cannot afford to abide by lockdown restrictions and because desperate customers are calling them. 

Since the government introduced lockdown measures, many have lost their sources of income and now depend on food aid. 

Newsday reported that close to 400 sex workers in Marondera were struggling to survive owing to lockdown restrictions, particularly physical distancing. Life Health Education Development director Primrose Fundai, whose organisation works with commercial sex workers, reported that sex workers have been greatly affected by the requirement to observe physical distancing. Some need to collect their medication for chronic conditions during this lockdown but they do not have written letters to permit them to travel. 

The ruling Zanu-PF has been accused of using food to shore up support, especially in rural areas. The Zimbabwe NGO Forum reported that cases of partisan distribution of food aid are on the rise countrywide. In Sakubva, Mutare, community members reported that government food aid distribution in the area is being conducted on a political party partisan basis. On 12 April about 200 people were allegedly summoned by the Zanu-PF Manicaland Youth Assembly at Sakubva Beit Hall to draw up a list of food beneficiaries, deliberately excluding those who are not aligned to the party. Similar reports were recorded in Beitbridge, Matabeleland province. 

The Zimbabwe Peace Project state in their monthly report that the government “announced it would disburse ZWL600-million to a million vulnerable households and the money (about ZWL200 per family (equivalent to $5 per month!) was to be disbursed through the Department of Social Welfare, which was to assess vulnerability and compile a list of deserving families”.

The government advised that 800,000 beneficiaries who would get support “were identified through the Econet platform”, while only 200,000 were identified by the Ministry of Social Welfare.

In an unusual turn of events, on 2 April 2020, Zimbabwe’s finance minister wrote to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other leading multilateral lenders, not only pleading for financial assistance but admitting to policy errors and pledging to address the issue of electoral reforms, among other issues previously raised by the international community, for the organisations to agree to reschedule the payment of arrears and allow Zimbabwe to access fresh finance that is needed for the creation of a social safety net.

Angolareports of partisan distribution of food aid have emerged after the government announced relief measures to cover businesses, informal sector workers, and families affected by the current lockdown regimes. Distribution of rations such as maize, rice, pasta, sugar and cooking oil were rolled out after the government announced a nationwide relief of over $550,000 USD through the Ministry of Social Action, Family and Women’s Promotion. 

Civil society organisations have raised concern about the lack of transparency in food distribution by the government relief assistance. Families in the Luanda and Benguela provinces have reportedly complained that they were not properly informed about who qualifies to receive food aid and how the government is deciding on who gets the relief in communities.

Mozambique. On 6 May, the Forum De Monitoria Do Orcamento (FMO) met with the IMF in light of the US 309 million emergency fund that was allocated to Mozambique to guarantee social protection and strengthen the capacity of the health sector to address the Covid-19 pandemic. FMO called on the IMF to incorporate principles of transparency and good governance in the management of the funds and ensure the involvement of civil society as an independent monitoring mechanism, given the history of corruption and diversion of government funds by the ruling elite with impunity.    

Malawiefforts to lock down by embattled President Peter Mutharika were suspended after High Court Judge Justice Kenyatta Nyirenda ruled against it. Malawi’s High Court temporarily halted the government’s 21-day lockdown pending a judicial review last week. The government was ordered to put in place necessary socio-economic protection measures to prevent harm to the poorest and most vulnerable of society. 

In response, Malawi has reportedly introduced a US$51-million emergency cash programme to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on vulnerable groups for the next six months from May to October. More than 172,000 households in the cities of Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba are expected to benefit from the programme. Other measures include a reduction of fuel prices, waiver of fees and charges on electronic payments and a moratorium on bank loan repayments. Data shows that more than 70% of the country’s population live below the poverty datum line. 

South Africaranked one of the most unequal countries in the world by the World Bank, had a 29% unemployment rate prior to the lockdown. Even among the employed, 18% – 3 million people – work in the informal sector. 

According to Africa economist Boingotlo Gasealahwe, “South Africa implemented some of the most draconian containment measures in the world. This has come at a huge cost to the economy. Even though the most stringent containment measures are being eased, large parts of the economy will remain closed. This together with the limited direct fiscal policy support means that the economy will continue to hemorrhage. The cumulative damage will depend crucially on the length of lockdown.” 

Food has become scarce, resulting in rampant looting of grocery shops and supermarkets in South Africa’s townships. On 16 April, IOL reported that 11 people had been arrested for burglary and looting of grocery stores on Cape Flats in Cape Town amid lockdown. News24 reported similar incidents where a Shoprite in Gatesville, Athlone, Cape Town was looted by 16 suspects who fled with tills, cash and groceries. In Manenberg, about 5km away, large crowds also took to the streets and broke into two wholesalers, “helping themselves to grocery items”. 

On 29 April 2020 people were shocked when The Daily Telegraph broadcast a video of poor people queuing for food parcels – in Centurion – in winding queues of over 4km just to receive food that lasts less than two days. Various private businesses donated 8,000 food hampers which were distributed in the informal settlement of Mooiplaas in Centurion. 

On 19 April City Press reported that incidents of corruption and food looting had been reported in eight provinces where there were claims that those in charge of the distributions – mostly African National Congress (ANC) councillors – were not giving the food to the families that were most in need. The councillors were accused of nepotism and unfair discrimination when distributing food parcels and other Covid-19 related essentials in North West, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape. 

The allegations of partisan distribution of food according to political party affiliation was a phenomenon reported across the whole southern Africa region, prompting Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International Director for East and Southern Africa, to warn that “the distribution of food aid along party political lines is completely unacceptable and it is undermining the protection measures that governments have committed to implement to uphold the right to food for everyone”.

Access to water

The WHO has advised and southern African countries have reaffirmed that thorough handwashing with soap and water is a key component in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, in Harare alone, one million people have no access to water, a basic human right. Crowds of more than 50 people are seen gathered at community boreholes and water points to fetch water.

Further, crowds continue to mass at markets, shops and water points in Luanda, Angola, despite lockdown, arguing that “it is better to die of this disease or a gunshot than to starve to death”, evidence that physical distancing as a measure is near impossible in relation to people’s daily struggles. While expected to stay at home, people are forced to defy lockdown regulations owing to erratic supply of water.

Covid-19, migrants and asylum seekers 

Undocumented migrants and asylum seekers constitute one severely vulnerable group in southern Africa facing severe hunger and starvation as a result of the lockdown measures. 

South Africa is home to millions of undocumented immigrants mainly from Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. They are neither eligible for any government assistance, nor can they access trading permits during lockdown, despite many of them being extremely vulnerable and food insecure. 

In April, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) called on the government of South Africa to guard against laws, policies and public statements that discriminate against non-citizens, especially during the public health emergency caused by Covid-19. ICJ added: “Lockdown regulations and directions must be conceived and implemented in a way that fully enables all migrant workers performing essential services, including informal traders, waste reclaimers and shop owners to operate on an equal basis with South African citizens.”

Status of lockdowns in Southern Africa: While most countries in the region have continued to extend lockdowns by an average of two weeks, lockdown restrictions are now being systematically relaxed in response to the devastating impact on their economies rather than as a response to declining infections. 

  • On 1 May, South Africa entered stage 4 of lockdown, allowing the phased reopening of some businesses and industries under strictly monitored precautions.
  • The President of Namibia announced that the country would gradually reopen from 5 May as the country moves to stage 2. The six-month state of emergency will remain in force subject to the obtaining situation in the country.
  • Zimbabwe extended its lockdown by two weeks from 4 May, while gradually easing restrictions in what it called stage 2. Restrictions on mining companies and agricultural and food producers were relaxed in a bid to revive the economy.
  • Botswana extended its lockdown by a week, until 7 May, ahead of a gradual easing of restrictions over a two-week period.


Despite being urged by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to put human rights at the center of their fight against the pandemic, it is apparent that southern African governments did not have a strategy to prevent the health pandemic from becoming the humanitarian crisis that it has become. They locked down and hoped for the best.  The level of disaster unpreparedness in most countries highlights the extreme vulnerability of southern Africa if infections worsen as is predicted by the WHO. Given how strong economies with developed health systems have suffered across the globe, it is unimaginable what this plague could still do to southern Africa if the infection rates pick up. Such is the scale of the impact of Covid-19 measures on poor people that a warning of a severe reduction in the lifespan of South Africans has been predicted by a professional group of actuaries who felt compelled to write to President Ramaphosa encouraging him to change strategy. 

The question is, is Ramaphosa, or any other of the political leaders across southern Africa, listening?

Time will tell. 

Arnold Tsunga is a human rights lawyer, the director of the Africa Regional Programme of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and the Technical and Strategy Advisor of the SAHRDN. Tatenda Mazarura is a Woman Human Rights Defender (WHRD), a professional rapporteur, and an election expert. Mark Heywood is editor of Maverick Citizen.

SAHRDN welcomes Malawi’s Supreme Court of Appeal ruling and calls on the authorities in Malawi

Lilongwe and Johannesburg 09 May 2020

SAHRDN welcomes  Malawi’s Supreme Court of Appeal ruling and calls on the authorities in Malawi and SADC to sincerely guarantee a peaceful and credible fresh presidential election in Malawi.

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN or the Defenders Network) welcomes the ruling by the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to uphold the ruling by the Constitutional Court on February 3, 2020 to nullify the May 21, 2019 presidential election and order a fresh presidential election within 150 days, including weekends and holidays from the day of the ruling.  Malawi has set a democratic precedent in a voter-centric ruling,  which gave a new impetus to the imperative of the separation of power as a cardinal principle in a democratic society, and the will of the voters as the flywheel of a democratic and credible electoral process.

While the SAHRDN welcomes the SCA ruling, it is however disturbed by the incidents of politically motivated violence,  which has unfortunately claimed two lives so far and the threats of targeted political assassinations as widely reported in the media.  The SAHRDN, therefore calls for a peaceful, free, fair, and credible election, which guarantees, at the minimum; the security of the voter; security of the vote; and security of the candidates. The SAHRDN acknowledges that the hallmark of a credibly free and fair election is marked by “procedural certainty” in terms of the rules of the electoral game, and equally important, “outcome uncertainty”, – that there should be a no predetermined winner.

The SAHRDN reminds all the contesting candidates that the primary focus of a  democratic contest should be “on the will to transform people’s lives, and not “on the will to power at any cost”, -including walking over dead bodies to the State House, and – ruling over a divided, bitter and broken society. This, just like any other democratic poll  should be a “let live” election not a “let die” election, where intimation, violence and political assassinations are instruments of choice to “harvest fear” on the election day. The SAHRDN abhors an election where the voters will not have to make a choice between contesting candidates but to be coerced to  vote for peace or violence, death or life.

The authorities in Malawi should demonstrate political goodwill, respect for human rights and put in place mechanisms to ensure a peaceful electoral competition with zero tolerance to and no room for the “margin of terror” and enhance the integrity and quality of the election to significantly reduce the “margin of error”. A disputed election is a seedbed of more violence and a threat to regional peace, security, and stability.


In light of the foregoing;

  1. The SAHRDN calls upon SADC, AU, UN  and the International Community writ large  to deploy qualified and experienced election observers without further delay. 
  2. The SAHRDN  urges all political parties/alliances, and candidates  to commit to a Code of Conduct which makes respective political parties, candidates and individuals accountable for any acts of violence and violation of human rights and other fundamentals.
  3. The SAHRDN calls on the security forces, the parliament, the judiciary, the media and the human rights defenders, in particular, Malawi’s Human Rights Defenders Coalition  to continue defending the Malawian constitution and protect the citizens of Malawi, -including  female and male civic space and human rights defenders and people living with albinism.
  4. The SAHRDN also calls upon President Arthur Peter Mutharika and the Malawi Electoral Commission to implement all key reforms recommended by the Constitutional Court and upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals to ensure a free, fair and credible  electoral process, – with an undisputed outcome even during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
  5. The SAHRDN encourages all the key stakeholders, domestic, regional and international,  to spearhead an inclusive, sustainable and gender-sensitive Vote in Peace (VIP) “in an election with choice” campaign.
  6. The SAHRDNs also calls for an all stakeholderselectoral risk/integrity assessment to effectively mitigate against current and potential incidents of electoral fraud, electoral malpractice, systemic manipulation and electoral violence among other electoral malfeasances. Malawi should set a “gold standard” for the conduct of a credibly  democratic election in the region, and the world at large.
  7. In conclusion, the SAHRDN reminds the authorities in Malawi of its obligations and urges them to observe and respect their own constitution,  and respect the  international and regional statutes, treaties, protocols they are part too, including but not limited to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Africa Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections,  and the Maputo Protocol.


“Standing with HRDs during elections in the COVID-19 global crisis”

For more information please contact Washington Katema, Regional Programmes Manager at or +27 73 620 2608