Zimbabwe: Surging Political Violence Unsettling

Photo: New Zimbabwe

A damaged car owned by retired Brigadier general Agrippa Mutambara, a member of the Zimbabwe People First national executive, after party members savagely attacked by axe wielding Zanu-PF youths in Guruve (file photo).

At least 68 civil society organisations (CSOs) have reported a sharp rise in incidents of politically-motivated violence, intimidation and human rights abuses across the country, as Zimbabwe swings into election mode.

This is despite the fact that the potentially epoch making general elections are due in about 18 months’ time.

Tension has already engulfed the country, much of it triggered by escalating hardships stemming from economic mismanagement, corruption and a severe drought that has left over four million people facing starvation.

Reports compiled by Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT) and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), with input from 68 CSOs, illustrate how threats of violence and violence have created a siege mood across the country.

In its report titled Civil Society Organisation Stakeholders Report 2016 released recently, ZLHR documented several incidents of rights violations and abuses in Zimbabwe.

It said while government has pledged to strengthen the rule of law, there had been selective application of the law against “perceived supporters of opposition political parties”.

It said 3 629 human rights activists were arrested, and detained between January 2012 and December 2015.

About 1 000 of the human rights activists were released without charge.

“The Prosecutor General also disregarded some court orders and only complied after censure from the Constitutional Court. Police are not investigating all cases reported to them by those with dissenting voices against government or perceived opposition political party members,” ZLHR has indicated.

Trafficking of women and girls has continued, with poor people among the worst affected.

In its findings, HZT claimed that ZANU-PF officials in Bikita West, Mbire, Mount Darwin, Zvishavane, Masvingo, Nyanga South and Mhondoro-Ngezi were cracking down on opposition supporters.

They are also threatening to deny hunger stricken villagers in rural communities access to food aid if they support other political parties, alleged HZT.

A school headmaster in Ngezi was threatened for “receiving donations from opposition political party members” and was warned that his job was on the online, HZT said.

It added that the headmaster was also being accused of “allowing people from the opposition Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) to be part of the school development committee”.

ZPF, one of the biggest parties expected to contest in the 2018 polls, is headed by former vice president Joice Mujuru, who was fired from ZANU-PF two years ago.

Those that have been denied food aid are scrounging for food in some of the country’s driest and impoverished regions, where rains are poor and crops perennially fail.

Millions of them have been depending on State sponsored food handouts, as well as donations from relief agencies.

This week, ZANU-PF spokesman, Simon Khaya-Moyo, denied that ZANU-PF supporters were beating up people, referring further questions to the party’s political commissar, Saviour Kasukuwere.

Kasukuwere was not picking up calls to his mobile phone yesterday.

Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesperson, Charity Charamba, said police had not received any reports of politically-motivated violence.

The CSOs reports, however, said even within ZANU-PF, those perceived to be working against the party have not been spared.

Two warring factions have emerged in ZANU-PF.

There is Generation 40 or simply G40, which comprises mainly of the party’s young turks; then there is its archenemy, Team Lacoste, which is said to be backing Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to take over leadership of the ruling party whenever President Robert Mugabe decides to retire from active politics.

“ZANU-PF candidate in the pending Bikita by-election, Beauty Chabaya called for a meeting at Mukute ward centre on 29 October 2016. At the meeting, Chibaya told people that they should vote for her resoundingly in the event that the by-election is held. She threatened to deny anyone who does not vote for her food aid. She warned people that if they ‘rebel’ by voting for another candidate, her party was going to unleash political violence similar to the 2008 election violence,” said HZT, which described the situation in Bikita West, Mbire and Mount Darwin as “tense”.

Mukute ward is in Bikita West, which fell vacant following the imprisonment of its member of the House of Assembly, Munyaradzi Kereke on rape charges.

Despite the fact that no by-election date has been set, the area is already a political hotspot, especially given that new kid on the block, ZPF, has thrown its hat into the ring.

HZT said on 24 October, ZANU-PF provincial secretary for finance for Masvingo Province, Jeppy Jaboon threatened community members who were gathered for a funeral.”

“In his address, Jaboon told people that if they vote for any candidate who is not from ZANU-PF in the coming by-election, they will be ‘dealt’ with accordingly,” said the report.

Jaboon, however, denied the allegations saying:” It is not true. I never addressed any funeral.”

Bikita West has, however, since 2001 been notorious for violence pitting ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition MDC-T.

ZANU-PF supporters are reported to have also disrupted an agricultural meeting in Mashonaland Central’s Mushumbi Business Centre on October 25, where Department of Agriculture and Rural Extension (AREX) officers were compiling names of potential beneficiaries of cotton seed.

“(ZANU-PF district chairperson, Robert) Chawada was in the company of ZANU-PF youths. When the AREX officers were addressing villagers, Chawada and ZANU-PF youths started making slogans. As they were doing so, they took the seed beneficiary list from village heads and tore it. The matter was reported at Mushumbi Police Station leading to Chawada’s arrest,” the report said.

“On October 24 2016, ZANU-PF conducted a meeting to restructure its party cells at Mapako Business Centre. ZANU-PF party chairman Howard Dzokoto told people at the meeting that in the 2018 elections, they must ensure that ZANU-PF wins the election by any means possible. Dzokoto also said that he will ensure that ZANU-PF youths set up a base at Mapako Business Centre so that they monitor all opposition party activities in the area.

“Community members in Mt Darwin ward 8 are being intimidated and threatened… for supporting opposition political party, Zimbabwe People First (ZPF). On 24 October 2016, (ZANU-PF youths officer Boaz) Matambanadzo led ZANU-PF youths, who were moving in the ward telling people that anyone who attends the upcoming ZPF rally that is to be conducted on 29 October 2016 at Dotito Business Centre, will have their names written down and will not receive food aid,” said HZT.

In the recently held Norton by-election, an independent candidate, Temba Mliswa beat the ruling party’s Donald Chindedza, even after ZANU-PF had parceled out food and large swathes of land on nearby farms to give to at least 9 000 supporters.

ZANU-PF has declared that the embarrassment that it suffered in Norton must never be repeated.

In a presentation to the United Nation in Switzerland last week, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was committed to observing human rights.

“The negative impact of the current drought is putting pressure on the government to redirect resources from national social programmes towards feeding over 800 000 vulnerable households,” he said.

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