Death of Zimbabwe Opposition Activist Raises Fears of Political Crisis

An activist with Zimbabwe’s main opposition party was found dead on the side of a road in the capital, Harare, the police said on Tuesday. A party spokesman said he had been abducted while campaigning in a local election over the weekend.

The death of the activist, Tapfumanei Masaya, is the latest in what opposition and civil society leaders say has been a string of violent episodes fueling a growing political crisis in the southern African nation since national elections were held in August.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his governing ZANU-PF party maintained power in the August vote, despite doubts raised by regional and international observers about the election’s credibility.

Mr. Masaya, 51, a pastor, was campaigning door to door on Saturday to promote a candidate along with other members of the political party Citizens Coalition for Change when multiple S.U.V.s pulled up and attackers jumped out and chased them, said Gift Ostallos Siziba, a spokesman for the party.

When Mr. Masaya stopped to help a fellow activist who is disabled, the attackers pounced, beating them and taking them away in separate vehicles, Mr. Siziba said.

The attackers eventually dropped off the disabled activist, still alive, on the road but kept Mr. Masaya, Mr. Siziba said. He was discovered dead on Sunday, his body disfigured by the slashes of a machete, the spokesman said.

Mr. Masaya’s death has raised alarm in a nation where, officials with Citizens Coalition for Change say, at least four of their members have been killed since last year. Mr. Masaya was the fourth party member to have been abducted and tortured over the past two months — though the other three survived, according to a post on X, formerly Twitter, by David Coltart, a senator with the party.

In one of those cases, Takudzwa Ngadziore, a member of Parliament, posted a video on Facebook of what he said was his own abduction. In the short, shaky clip, he is seen in a suit and tie, breathing heavily, and a man wearing a cap with a Mercedes logo and carrying a rifle rushes toward him. Then the footage ends.

The police confirmed the identity of Mr. Masaya in a statement released on Tuesday, but said they were still investigating the circumstances surrounding his death.

Farai Muroiwa Marapira, the director of information and publicity for the governing ZANU-PF party, said it was disrespectful and irresponsible of the opposition to jump to conclusions about the death before the police investigation had been completed.

ZANU-PF had nothing to do with Mr. Masaya’s death, he said. The opposition, he said, “would rather seek political mileage on the loss of a family.”

Several abductions and some of Zimbabwe’s worst post-colonial political violence occurred in the aftermath of the highly controversial 2008 elections, leading to a power-sharing agreement between ZANU-PF and the main opposition party at the time, the Movement for Democratic Change.

The lack of police intervention or other efforts by the state to curb the violence “creates a culture of impunity in the country, and those behind the abductions and rights abuses would continue doing it, knowing that nothing would happen to them,” said Rawlings Magede, spokesman for Heal Zimbabwe Trust, a nonprofit peace-building organization.

Mr. Magede said that “the human rights situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate” after this year’s elections.

An observer mission from the Southern African Development Community criticized this year’s vote, saying there had been several irregularities, an almost unprecedented rebuke from a regional body that tends to avoid openly criticizing member nations.

The election, Mr. Siziba said, had created “a crisis of illegitimacy where the state is turning against its own citizens.”

Mr. Marapira rejected that assertion, saying that the Citizens Coalition for Change had not challenged the election result in court within the time frame allowed by Zimbabwean law.

“In the media, anyone given attention can say what they want whether there is truth, fiction or absence of reality,” he said. “The crisis is only in the imagination of the opposition.”

Jeffrey Moyo contributed reporting from Harare, Zimbabwe.

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