Prisoners of fear – October Monthly Monitoring Report

/Executive Summary

The Zimbabwe Peace Project recorded an increase in the total number of political violence cases from 178 in September to 189 in October. Cases involving intimidation and harassment contributed to the tally as there was a rise from 119 to 126. These were spurred on by the ongoing Biometric Voters’ Registration (BVR) exercise where political activists, traditional leaders and other political players have been intimidating people through misinformation that BVR is a surveillance tool that will be used to smoke out people who do not vote ‘wisely’ in the 2018 elections. Cases of harassment have been mainly around the demanding of voter registration slips to record serial numbers or forcing of people to register to vote or attend political meetings.

The approaching farming season has also contributed to an increase in cases of intimidation and harassment as well as discrimination as cases of discrimination have increased from 21 to 31. Most cases involve Zanu PF activists or traditional leadership omitting opposition supporters on lists for farming inputs food assistance. There has been a complete politicization of government aid programmes. Those implicated include party district chairpersons, village heads and youth officers.

In October Harare had the highest number of violations at 37 cases followed by Manicaland at 25. The unusual rise of violations in cases of violence in Harare is a reminder that political violence in not just a preserve for the rural areas and is indicative of the tensions lying ahead in the campaign period. This escalation however is most likely as a result of the running battles between police and vendors and also the Chitungwiza political violence case where people were assaulted and had their properties destroyed. There was a drop of intra-party violence from 7 to 3 and all cases were reported in Zanu PF.

Nearly sixty nine percent (68.9%) of the perpetrators were said to be affiliated to the ruling Zanu PF party which is a slight decrease from last month’s almost seventy percent (69.5%) while approximately ten percent (9.6 %) of perpetrators had unknown affiliations. At least twenty one percent (20.6 %) of perpetrators were Zimbabwe Republic Police officers an increase from about fourteen percent (14.1%) in September. This is because police were very active in October in ‘Operation’ restore order which targeted vendors for removal from the streets of most urban areas. The heavy handed tactics used by police resulted in an increase in human rights violations. Police were also active in denying citizens their right to freedom of assembly and association as a number of meetings were disrupted notably aspiring Mount Pleasant independent candidate Fadzai Mahere’s Shanduko soccer tournament in Harare.

BVR curse

Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) may have cavities. This is the information that is going round to prospective voters. Many people are shying away from voting due to intimidation and false information. The main perpetrators have been identified as Zanu PF activists and traditional leaders. They are deliberately spreading false information that the finger prints and pictures being captured will be used to see whom one would have voted for come 2018 elections. Tactics of intimidation also include the recording of serial numbers of the registered. This was common in Mount Darwin, Budiriro and Epworth to name just a few places. Traditional leaders on the other hand who are supposed to be non-partisan are also refusing to give proof of residence letters to opposition supporters. According to the Electoral Act Part XVIIIA under ‘Intimidatory Practices’ 133A intimidation is (d) withholding or threatening to withhold from a person any assistance or benefit to which that person is legally entitled to. In 133B we note that any person who does any act under intimidation shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level ten or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.

The BVR related violence boiled over in Chitungwiza Unit N ward 23 where Zanu PF youths led by Councillor Betty Dokora Jaison destroyed homes and assaulted members of the opposition MDC-T who were conducting door to door BVR mobilization. Dokora and her followers also harassed and intimidated a ZPP team which was verifying the reports of violence.

The failure by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to sufficiently educate prospective voters and the failure by the Zimbabwe Republic Police to set up a special investigations committee to investigate cases of electoral violence linked with BVR is regrettable. While the police are obliged to establish such a committee when elections are called, it is clear that the introduction of BVR has created an adversarial environment which has been a source of violence. If this is not addressed many people may elect not to register to vote. A voters’ roll based on misinformation, intimidation and harassment will also produce a contested election that can lead to further violence.

The demand that registered voters surrender their voter registration slips appears to be an organised exercise. It has been reported in almost every constituency where registration has been taking place.ZEC need to investigate the systematic intimidation and harassment of registered voters and clarify the position of the law on whether any citizen has a right to demand the serial numbers on voter registration slips.

The removal of vendors from the streets of Harare and other central business districts of urban areas also carried with it vast amounts of violations as violence erupted and police fired water and tear gas on different occasions to disperse vendors. Vendors are trying to make a living considering there are no formal jobs and ‘Operation Restore Order’ could have been done in a more considerate manner as these vendors have a right to human dignity, freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, right to work and they have a right to administrative justice.

The vendors were supposed to be given due notice and have options in terms of where they could move in a dignified manner that would not evoke anger and resentment as people desperately need money for their livelihoods in this failing economy.

The ZPP was dismayed by chiefs openly declaring their allegiance to Zanu PF at a ceremony addressed by President Robert Mugabe in Bulawayo. The public pronouncements by the chiefs are not in tandem with the Constitution which states in Section 281 that traditional leaders must not be members of any political party or in any way participate in partisan politics, act in a partisan manner or further the interests of any political party . A cabinet minister Professor Jonathan Moyo appeared to endorse this disregard of the constitution when he tweeted that it was impossible for traditional chiefs to be impartial. Despite ZEC acknowledging that some traditional leaders were engaging in corrupt activities and using BVR to settle personal scores; no action has been taken against the said traditional leaders. ZPP has also written to ZEC demanding a pronouncement against misinformation which is instilling fear in would be voters. ZEC’s response to this has been lukewarm stating that they have engaged the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the police to investigate the alleged cases

The credibility of the 2018 elections is in doubt as Zanu PF meetings and rallies continue to go ahead while meetings organized by opposition parties are disrupted by police. Aspiring independent candidate for Mt Pleasant constituency Fadzai Mahere was arrested after organizing a soccer tournament in the constituency.

The Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces General Constantine Chiwenga made racist remarks saying whites and sellouts would never rule Zimbabwe. These utterances undermine the rights of other citizens to participate in politics and have the potential to escalate violence that is being perpetrated by security forces on citizens and opposition political parties. Sell-outs is a term that has been previously used to refer to opposition figures and civil society practitioners as well as members of the media.

Source: Zimbabwe Peace Project

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