The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition today December 16, 2020 launched two publications that seek to unearth how the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic led to shrinking of the democratic space within the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The publications are part of the Coalition’s efforts to strengthen regional advocacy on democracy as well as pushing for the creation of an early warning system by regional civil society organizations on the closure of the democratic space.

The first publication, “The Southern Africa Power Matrix- Covid-19 and the Shrinking Democratic Space in SADC” exposes the closure of the democratic space as well as entrenchment of authoritarian rule within SADC states following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It gives a comparative analysis of SADC countries’ overreach in clamping down on civil liberties using the COVID19 pandemic lockdowns as justification.

In its contextual analysis, the paper argues that most SADC countries were found guilty of abusing the lockdown measures in order to entrench authoritarianism.

It also proves a well- planned and calculated vortex by SADC leaders in abusing human rights defenders and closing the democratic space in the region.

The import of the paper can be summarised by the extract below:

“The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Southern Africa in early March 2020 saw most governments passing emergency laws or declaring states of emergency, decisions which have far-reaching consequences for political participation and inclusion, risking a new crisis of democracy.

State security institutions were activated and deployed to help enforce the lockdown, stay at home and social distancing policy measures.

The Corona virus has provided a perfectly fine accident, which autocrats used to trample upon citizens’ basic freedoms and rights, silence critics, muzzle the media and clamp on civil society organisations especially those involved in advocacy, democracy, and human rights.

While governments in the SADC region have authority to pass laws imposing lock down regulations when necessary to contain a contagious disease outbreak, the more salient question is how those laws are implemented.

However, these powers are not unbounded.

The individual’s right to liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression are enshrined in constitutions to constrain government action.

The lock down regulations in South Africa and Malawi were challenged and deemed unconstitutional as the measures were deemed not to meet the objectives of curbing the virus.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the legal rules developed in times of emergency may be protected by the judiciary through the status quo bias built into the legislative system or by the formation of bureaucracies and interest groups that coalesce around the new measures and block subsequent efforts to repeal them.”

As part of its recommendations, the paper proposes actions and programmes for civic society organizations in response to the shrinking of the democratic space in SADC.

The second publication, “Whither Democracy and Human Rights in SADC: Covid-19 Lockdowns and Basic Rights” is a post-conference publication with country position papers presented at the 3rd Annual Conference on the Shrinking of Democratic Space in SADC.

The presentations were drawn from (eSwatini, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia) with the main objective of sharing experiences on excessive measures implemented by governments to enforce lockdown regulations.

It also exposes rights abuses as governments entrenched authoritarian rule under the guise of enforcing lockdown regulations.

The publication exposes the deepening crisis in SADC States and the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic worsened the already dire situation within the region.