A dark cloud engulfed the country in the early evening hours of the ‘day of love’ February 14 as news of the passing on of the champion and icon of democracy Morgan Richard Tsvangirai filtered. Tsvangirai leaves an indelible footprint in the fight for democracy. In death Tsvangirai who succumbed to colon cancer was saluted even by those who caused him and his supporters untold suffering over the years since the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999.
Described as an icon and one who transformed the political profile of Zimbabwe since 1999, the demise of this larger than life figure saw Zimbabwe witness words of praise from the most unlikely quarters but what was clear was that Tsvangirai’s passing united Zimbabweans as they mourned him. The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) acknowledges Tsvangirai’s contribution to democracy and also reflects on the multitudes of victims the organisation has had to profile and refer for assistance, their crime being the holding of divergent views.
As the 2018 harmonised elections draw closer, according to a roadmap released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), expected anytime between July 21 and August 22, 2018, what is happening in political parties is disturbing as it does not by any measure foretell free, fair and credible elections. The death of Tsvangirai heightened tensions in the opposition MDC-T as the Vice Presidents jostled for the ultimate position in the ‘cockpit’ which saw his funeral marred by ugly incidents of violence and rowdiness. One of the vice presidents Thokozani Khupe and three other officials Douglas Mwonzora, Lwazi Sibanda and Abednigo Bhebhe had to seek refuge in a hut at the Tsvangirai rural homestead as a group of youths bayed for their blood and threatened to burn down the hut.
While the MDC-T struggled with violence against some of its own, in Zanu PF deepening factions and conflicts reveal that factions and did not disappear with the seismic political shift in November 2017. In some communities while the supposed victors from November 2017, Lacoste faction, seek to consolidate their power and influence and regrettably punishing perceived G40 members, the influence of the ‘icon’ Robert Mugabe seems to be real. There are reports that in some communities in the Mashonaland provinces in particular Mashonaland Central some citizens claim they are not aware that former president Mugabe has been replaced. The G40 sought attention of the regional and continental bodies the Southern African Development Community and the African Union to consider the November shift of power as a coup, a method of power transfer not recognised by both groupings. The catch 22 situation is that both organisations have officially recognised the government in Harare. Even the former president is reported to have broken his silence since November and claimed that his family is being ill-treated by the new administration. The tensions among citizens at the local level are increasing and might to come to a head in the run up to the elections as some citizens report the deployment of the military, a situation similar to that of 2008 when gross acts of violence were perpetrated.
A decrease of about 30% in the total number of violations recorded in February has been noted from 245 violations to 176 violations. The decrease is deceiving, as it points towards an environment of calm as the country approaches elections but beyond the numbers there is much more.
In previous months, the harassment and intimidation connected to demanding of serial numbers during the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) exercise resulted in an increase in violations particularly in rural communities.
However, the public condemnations of the practice by ZEC and Zimbabwe Republic Police
(ZRP) as well as two publicized arrests have seen the violations decreasing sharply.
February recorded a decrease in harassment and intimidation cases to 118 violations, followed by a decrease in discrimination cases recording 20 violations. The month also witnessed an incident where murder was perpetrated in Harare.
Manicaland had the highest recorded violations with 34, followed by Mashonaland Central with
29, and Midlands with 28.
Intimidation and/or harassment cases have been high in Midlands, Masvingo, Manicaland and Mashonaland Central. Cases of murder were recorded and these were attributed to the disproportionate force used by police to disperse protesters in Harare as a result of poor coordination and messaging between government and the Harare city council. Despite government cancelling its earlier 48 hour ultimatum to remove public transport operators and vendors from Harare’s CBD, the Harare city council announced another directive and through the police went ahead with the operations leading to resistance by operators. The ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing eventually issued a statement halting the clearing of the CBD of public transport operators. An increase in the number of assault cases is very worrying and is pointing towards a potentially bloody 2018 election putting the free, fair and credible elections mantra at risk. All along the minimum violations were intimidation and harassment but this month there are recorded cases of physical assault and sadly fatalities.
The increase in physical confrontations fuelled by internal party contradictions is not a good indicator for the coming elections and moreso as political parties are expected to have primary elections in the next few months. The mooted MDC Alliance for example means candidates may be imposed and others asked to give way and this may fuel conflict. There were 17 intra-party violations all centred on the succession disputes within the MDC-T and power tussles within Zanu PF.
Zanu PF was responsible for close to 46% of the violations mainly because of demanding of serial numbers, victimisation of G40 members and marginally harassing of opposition party supporters. The MDC-T was responsible for close to 28% of the violations mainly attributed to the succession disputes in the party. There was an occasional harassing of Zanu PF supporters. Both parties were responsible for hate language, which is breeding ground for conflicts at the local level.
Eighty nine percent of the victims do not have a known political affiliation. This is evidence ordinary people are being targeted for victimisation rather than those who have a known political affiliation. Political parties are more concerned with recruiting new members and hence the terror tactics targeted at fence sitters rather than known hardliners. Those aligned to G40 might not want their political affiliation known since they are on the receiving end of all sorts of violations at the hands of Lacoste faction members who are claiming revenge.
Increased intra-party violence and violence against others
Political activists, traditional leaders and in a curious case, a retired senior police officer Assistant Commissioner Edmore Veterai who is eyeing a parliamentary seat in Bikita are accused of demanding serial numbers. This practice has been condemned by both ZEC and the police. ZPP has noted that there has been a conviction in Masvingo concerning violence centred on collection of serial numbers and believes more could be done considering the practice is widespread.
Intolerance on the rise
Political intolerance is on the rise. Cases of intimidation and harassment and even assault of those wearing regalia of dissenting political views were reported. A case of Zanu PF supporters who were intimidated for wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the face of former President Robert Mugabe was recorded. Several MDC-T supporters were assaulted for wearing regalia with Tsvangirai’s face while others were assaulted for expressing their political leader preferences within the MDCT. A shop owner in Marondera was threatened for playing pro-MDC songs in his shop. In Gokwe and Mashonaland West bans on political meetings of opposition parties were imposed while in an extreme case a traditional leader fined a villager three chickens on allegations that the villager is an MDC-T supporter. As the country enters the election period such cases are expected to rise.
The police once again acted contrary to their constitutional obligations to protect human life and property when called upon to restore order. Disproportionate force was used in skirmishes involving public transport operators and police after an ultimatum was issued to transport operators to vacate the central business district of Harare. Three people were killed after police used live ammunition in discharging their duties. In Bulawayo police used heavy handed tactics to disperse protesting National University of Science and Technology (NUST) students when they released dogs. The ZPP calls for the establishment for an independent commission of enquiry to investigate the conduct of the police in these cases.
Minimum demands for zero tolerance to all forms of violence in elections 2018
- Create an enabling political environment free from intimidation, harassment and threats conducive for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in 2018
- Enforce measures for perpetrators to account for their actions to eliminate political and/or electoral violence Establish and enforce the operationalisation of investigative committees and multi-party liaison committees
- Desist using hate language and slogans that perpetuate conflict and avoid using food and other aid to influence the electorate
- Stop traditional leaders, and security agents from instilling fear in the electorate and encourage the establishment of electoral resolution mechanisms
Source: Zimbabwe Peace Project