from MARCUS MUSHONGA in Harare, Zimbabwe
HARARE, (CAJ News) – DEATHS threats, no-go zones imposed on the revived opposition and power struggles in the factionalised ruling party, the atmosphere is increasingly toxic ahead of Zimbabwe’s general elections.
The ongoing clampdown on rights activists is also accelerating, amid the determination by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) led government to pass some controversial legislation.
Activists believe it will be used for repression ahead of the 2023 elections.
There are also concerns over some ethnic slurs in the southern region where government forces are accused of perpetrating genocide after independence in 1980, a period during which an estimated 20 000 people have been killed in an uprising.
The entrance into the fray by the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), and its defeat of ZANU-PF in elections held this year, is attributed to the surge in violence blamed on ZANU-PF.
In power since independence from Britain 42 years ago, ZANU-PF has largely employed violence to maintain its grip on power.
CCC, led by Nelson Chamisa, and founded in January 2022, has emerged as the biggest threat to this stranglehold by the former liberation movement.
In March, CCC won 19 of the 28 seats on offer in the 28 parliamentary by-elections. ZANU-PF won nine.
In May, in some municipal by-elections around the country, CCC won in seven wards while ZANU-PF won in one.
The non-governmental Zimbabwe Peace Project reported that the situation appeared to have unsettled ZANU-PF, which has launched what appears to be a systematic onslaught on those who had campaigned for, supported or sympathized with the CCC in the run up to elections.
“Since Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold a general election by July 30, 2023, the March 26 by-elections were a test of what might be expected next year,” ZPP stated.
In April, the organisation ZPP recorded 165 human rights violation incidents in which the ruling party was responsible.
It confirmed the existence of ZANU-PF structures meant to intimidate and silence people in rural areas ahead of the 2023 elections.
Rural areas have remained strongholds of the ruling party since independence.
ZANU-PF is also being accused of conniving with traditional leaders and veterans of the struggle to intimidate voters and disempowering opposition supporters in the distribution of food aid.
Structures meant to intimidate have been reported in the Mashonaland Central, East and West provinces.
In Murehwa, ZANU-PF councillor Masimba Gumira, after his victory in the 26 March by-elections, is quoted as telling villagers to punish anyone seen wearing yellow, the colour of the CCC.
“We will beat to death anyone we see wearing yellow,” Gumira is quoted as saying.
In another incident in Murehwa, ZANU-PF chairperson Takesure Kashesha, told party supporters to create a “no-go zone” for CCC supporters in the area.
“You must burn any unidentified vehicle that attempts to drive into Ward 10,” Kashesha is quoted.
A ruling party supporter, identified as Ricky Chiwara, allegedly made death threats to a woman who had observed elections under the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe.
The female observer was allegedly accused to be part of the regime change agenda by nongovernmental organisations.
Relations between government and NGOs have largely been tense since the government of then-president, Robert Mugabe (now late) accused them of pushing the so-called regime change agenda of Western nations.
The current administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa maintains a similar stance and believes the West is using NGOs and the opposition to reverse the country’s land reforms.
“Our country came with blood,” warned Oppah Muchinguri, ZANU-PF chairperson and Minister of Defence and War Veterans.
She was speaking at a party workshop in Harare.
“During the liberation struggle people sacrificed their lives working very hard to take back our land and freedom,” Muchinguri added.
The party is pushing ahead with plans to enact the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Amendment Bill.
Passed into law, it would provide the government with unfettered discretionary power to regulate and interfere in NGOs governance and operations.
Speaking at the workshop in Harare, Obert Mpofu, the party’s Secretary for Administration, said ZANU-PF would win upcoming polls despite “the wrath of our detractors and sanctions placed on us in an attempt to destabilise our economy for regime change.”
“We shall wield power for a long time and stay in Government,” he said.
“We are a colossal mass party. Achieving political dominance for the past 42 years is no easy task but something we will continue to defend,” Mpofu said.
However, ZANU-PF is factionalised, with a section behind Mnangagwa and another allegedly supporting his deputy in party and government, Constantino Chiwenga.
This has filtered through to the grassroots, but Chiwenga distanced himself from such factions.
In Chinhoyi, party supporters allegedly assaulted losing candidate Mitchel Chiyanike, who accused him of stealing and unfairly distributing party regalia.
In Kadoma, rival members of artisanal mining gangs, who all allegedly had vehicles bearing Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF branding, attacked each other with machetes and knives.
An armed unit of the anti-riot police eventually quashed the conflict.
Chamisa, speaking in the Midlands town of Gweru, accused ZANU-PF of “forgetting” the gains of the liberation struggle.
“The country continues to endure human rights violations, super taxation, extreme poverty, marginalisation and land invasion reminiscent of the colonial era,” Chamisa said.
Meanwhile, the killing of a local man during the recent xenophobic violence in neighouring South Africa, sparked some tribalism rhetoric in the Matabeleland South province.
This province was among the worst affected by the genocide of the early 1980s when Mugabe’s government unleashed the army to flush out dissidents aligned to his then-rival, Joshua Nkomo (now late), and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).
Following the death of Elvis Nyathi, who was burnt to death in South Africa, activists of the secessionist Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP) reportedly carried out a door-to-door campaign dissuading villagers not to vote for Shona-led political parties.
Leader of the activists, Zwelani Nleya, is quoted as saying the party would not tolerate any campaigns by Shona-led political parties in Matabeleland
MRP blames these parties for the mass exodus of the Zimbabweans to South Africa.
Matabeland was the epicentre of the genocide, which some sections of society believe targeted the minorities like the Ndebele and Kalanga.
It was a stronghold of ZAPU, which later formed a unity pact with ZANU, to form ZANU-PF, in 1987. This ended the skirmishes.
Zimbabwe has a history of election violence, most tragically the 2008 poll when Mugabe suffered his first defeat, to Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader, Morgan Tsvangirai (now deceased).
Scores of opposition supporters were killed, forcing Tsvangirai to pull out of a runoff.
Mnangagwa won the last poll in 2018 but Chamisa alleged vote rigging. Courts upheld Mnangagwa’s victory.
– CAJ News