There are signs that Zimbabwe has slipped into another era of brutal oppression, even as newly reelected President Emmerson Mnangagwa speaks publicly of “peace, love, harmony and tolerance."
Behind those words, more than a dozen opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) figures — from elected representatives to officials and activists — have been arrested by police in the three weeks since the election, the party says.
Others have been targeted with violent abductions.
Among those arrested recently was opposition CCC MP and councillor, Maureen Kademaunga, who appeared in court this week on charges of attempted murder and malicious damage to property.
Her lawyer said the court decided there was no evidence against her.
"There’s a broad crackdown against the opposition, which includes the use of law enforcement and the judiciary," human rights lawyer, Douglas Coltart, told The Associated Press.
In another incident, barely a week after being elected as a local councillor for Zimbabwe's main opposition party, Womberaiishe Nhende and a relative were pulled out of their car by unidentified men, shot with a stun gun and handcuffed.
They were then bundled into a pickup truck and driven about 70 kilometers (more than 40 miles) outside of Harare, the capital, where they were whipped, beaten with truncheons and interrogated, and injected with an unknown substance, their lawyers say.
Nhende recounted his experience and showed his wounds in a video released by the CCC, the closest challenger to ZANU-PF in the election.
Having been questioned over what their CCC party is planning after August's disputed and troubled national election, the ordeal ended when the two men were dumped naked near a river, the lawyers allege.
These stories aren't new in the southern African nation, which has a long history of violence and intimidation against opposition to the ZANU-PF party during its 43-year rule.
More than 15 years ago, then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was photographed by the world's media with a swollen and badly bruised face, one eye completely closed, after having been detained by police during the era of renowned autocratic leader Robert Mugabe and severely beaten.
Mnangagwa, a former guerrilla fighter known as “the crocodile,” won a second term as president last month in an election rejected by the CCC as flawed and questioned by international and regional observers, who cited numerous problems, including a climate of fear and intimidation.
That appears to still be a mainstay in Zimbabwe six years after Mugabe was ousted in a coup and replaced by Mnangagwa in 2017.
Mnangagwa and his party have repeatedly denied allegations of using repression to crush dissent.
Yet the president, who turned 81 on Friday, described the opposition's allegations as “noises from some little boys” and threatened to imprison “anybody who wants to be nonsensical and bring chaos.”
Mnangagwa's often-repeated assertion that Zimbabwe is a mature democracy under him is seen as a facade by many, including prominent international rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
It appears little has changed in a country that offers unrealised potential for Africa, given its rich agricultural land, mineral resources that include the continent's biggest lithium deposits, and potential oil and gas finds.
Police announced a new bout of arrests of opposition figures last week.
CCC leader Nelson Chamisa, who lost to Mnangagwa in the presidential election, said that his party was under siege and facing a backlash.
The CCC says two of its lawmakers have recently been arrested. Other representatives were reelected last month while in detention.
Party spokesperson Promise Mkwananzi has left the country after police said they were seeking to arrest him for failing to attend a court hearing in 2019, and charged him with assault and damage to property.
CCC deputy spokesperson Gift Siziba was arrested on charges of inciting violence at a soccer game.
Amnesty has raised the case of another CCC activist, who it says was abducted and tortured in the days after the election.
The CCC and analysts say there is a clear post-election clampdown now that the international observers have left.