It's the count that counts: Food for thought - Reviewing the pre-election period in Zimbabwe



There is a clear difference between the electoral climate preceding the current 2005 parliamentary elections on the one hand and the previous parliamentary elections of 2000 and presidential elections of 2002 on the other. The latter elections were characterised by an intense interest and excitement amongst Zimbabwean voters. The present atmosphere around the current elections appears muted in comparison. Furthermore, another unfortunate and salient feature of the previous elections was systemic and endemic violence perpetrated, in the main, by ZANU (PF) supporters. There is a general consensus between contesting parties that there has been a dramatic and remarkable reduction in physical violence in the build up to the present elections. This is not to say that violence has abated completely. However, the contrast with the previous two national elections is so marked that there is a temptation to maintain that the current elections are "free and fair" by comparison. Nonetheless, as will be seen below, notwithstanding the reduction in violence, the current electoral conditions fall well short of the regional standards for elections introduced by the "SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections" adopted in Mauritius in 2004.

The SADC Guidelines establish a general framework of minimum standards against which the impartiality, legitimacy and openness of an election can be measured. Section 2, entitled Principles for Conducting Democratic Elections, states:

2.1 SADC member states shall adhere to the following principles in the conduct of democratic elections:

2.1.1 Full participation of the citizens in the political process.

2.1.2 Freedom of association.

2.1.3 Political Tolerance.

2.1.4 Regular Intervals for elections as provided for by the respective National Constitutions.

2.1.5 Equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media.

2.1.6 Equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be voted for. 2.1.7.Independence of Judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions; and

2.1.7 Voter education.

2.1.8 Acceptance and respect of election results by political parties proclaimed to have been free and fair by the competent National Electoral Authorities in accordance with the law of the land.

2.1.9 Challenge of election results as provided for in law of the land.

Significantly, the Protocol recognizes that, in order for member states to undertake successfully the obligations outlined in Section 2, a set of human rights standards must also be observed. This point is succinctly captured in Section 7.4 of the Protocol. The provision states that SADC member states who are to hold elections must undertake to:

7.4 Safeguard the human and civil liberties of all citizens including freedom of movement, assembly, association, expression, and campaigning as well as access to media on the part of all stakeholders

In other words, for a "free and fair" election to take place, voters must have a "free and informed choice". For the current election, this "free and informed choice" is further restricted by the absence of previously available and affordable daily independent newspapers and strangled by the politicization of food handouts which cynically forces voters to choose between their own survival, and by extension their families, and the survival of the ruling party.

Pre-Election Violence

In a recent series of analyses of the data contained in the Monthly Political Violence Reports of the Human Rights Forum, the Redress Trust points out that, between July 2001 and December 2004, the Forum identified 11,456 cases of gross human-rights violations. Many of these violations involved murder, rape and torture, which was sometimes of a sexual nature. The violence was systemic, co-ordinated and occurred in all constituencies throughout the country, with the rural areas being the worst effected. The violence over the documented period was closely indexed to election periods suggesting that it was as much a part of the then election strategy as is its present abatement. Ruling party politicians made numerous inflammatory statements that encouraged violence. Certainly nothing was done to curb its incidence. After investigating the claims made by the Human Rights Forum after the 2000 elections, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights ruled:

....the Government cannot wash its hands from responsibility for all these happenings. It is evident that a highly charged atmosphere has been prevailing, many land activists undertook their illegal actions in the expectation that Government was understanding and that police would not act against them - many of them, the War Veterans, purported to act as party veterans and activists. Some of the political leaders denounced the opposition activists and expressed understanding for some of the actions of ZANU (PF) loyalists. Government did not act soon enough and firmly enough against those guilty of gross criminal acts. By its statements and political rhetoric, and by its failure at critical moments to uphold the rule of law, the Government failed to chart a path that signaled a commitment to the rule of law.

Although the Zimbabwean Government was angered by this statement, the statement was quite restrained if one considers the following: after each election President Robert Mugabe has granted a blanket amnesty from criminal prosecution for all those involved in pre-election violence, the majority of whom have been his own supporters. The amnesties have not extended to murder, rape or crimes involving theft. This culture of impunity, however, has been extended to such crimes by the more politically expedient method of simply not prosecuting them when they have been committed by ZANU (PF) supporters. There are numerous instances of this tactic, the most notorious being the gruesome murders of two aides to opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The aides were burned to death in front of several witnesses. The assailant, a CIO operative, was named in a petition before the High Court challenging the election results for the constituency in which the murders occurred. The Judge directed the Attorney General to investigate a charge of murder against the CIO operative. Four years on, nothing has been done. The operative has been transferred to Chimanimani where he has organised a violent campaign against MDC parliamentarian, Roy Bennett. In addition to this culture of impunity, those areas which had voted for the opposition during the elections, were visited with violent reprisals as pre-election pledges in this regard were dutifully kept.

In contrast, the violence so far reported in the run up to the 2005 elections might seem insignificant. This is certainly not the case.

Below is a sample of instances of politically motivated violence recorded between 21/02/05 and 07/03/05:

21 February: MDC activist Tendai Matsine and his wife were severely beaten up by Zanu PF youth in Hurungwe East. They were attacked after being caught putting up MDC posters. The incident was reported to the police but police informed the MDC officials that they had been given instructions by their superiors not to arrest Zanu (PF) activists engaged in acts of violence. (MDC SADC Protocol Watch Issue #8)

5 March: An opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party candidate and another party official were, on Thursday, tortured by ruling ZANU (PF) party militants and later detained by the police when they attempted to press charges against their torturers. Chibanda, who is standing for the MDC in Zvimba North constituency and [is] the opposition party's information officer for the area, Paidamoyo Muzulu, were by late yesterday afternoon still detained at Chinhoyi police station. (Zimbabwe Independent)

5 March: One soldier, sporting the party's distinctive red-and-white T-shirts, announced, "This is a no-go area for MDC." According to the activists, who later described the encounter, the soldier added brusquely, "We've been tolerating you for a long time. Get into your car as quickly as you can and leave this place." Then, as the activists started to pull away in their pickup truck, the soldiers began hurling stones. One candidate for Parliament, Gabriel Chiwara, 39, stumbled as he tried to climb into the front seat. Chiwara, an electrician, said the soldiers tackled him to the ground and kicked him for several minutes with their boots. As he begged for mercy, he said, the soldiers shouted: "You have to die! You are selling the country to the whites!" (Washington Post)

6 March: Last week, the MDC candidate for Mount Darwin South, Henry Chimbiri, his election agent, Petros Chiunye and Mashonaland Central MDC provincial chairperson, Tapera Macheka, were severely assaulted by a rowdy mob that included Zanu (PF) Bindura councillors. They were taken to Bindura police station, where they were detained while the Zanu (PF) councillors were released after making statements. Chimbiri said: "Although we were the ones who were assaulted by the Zanu (PF) councillors, the police were treating us as if we were the guilty ones. Police are actually participating in a process of torturing and intimidating MDC members ahead of the general elections." By late yesterday, MDC candidates who had been harassed by police or Zanu PF supporters include: Godrich Chimbaira (Zengeza), Godfrey Gumbo (Hurungwe West), Prince Chibanda, (Zvimba North), Henry Chimbiri (Mount Darwin South), Godfrey Chimombe (Shamva), Silas Matamisa (Chinhoyi), Brian Mufuka (Rushinga), Joel Mugariri (Bindura), Njabuliso Mguni (Lupane), and Edwin Maupe of Mutare South.

7 March: A Guruve man was tortured, hanged by the neck on a tree and left for dead by a group of unidentified people for allegedly supporting the MDC last Monday, police have said. The case (RRB 0548388) was reported at Mushumbi Pools Police station on February 26. Investigating officer, Sergeant Mukondo, told The Daily Mirror that Noah Chirembwe (24) was abducted from his village, Mazambara under Chief Chitsungo, by a group of people and tortured. Chirembwe's request for a medical report to Guruve Hospital read: "The victim had his hands tied with a twine made rope and hanged by his neck on a tree and later struck with a burnt wooden stick upon his back and right cheek and also struck with sticks and ropes upon his body several times after being implicated for being aligned to the opposition party." (The Daily Mirror)

Unlike the violence of the preceding years, these reports indicate sporadic, rather than endemic violence, and given the Government's clear desire to present an election that appears, at least on the surface, to be free and fair, probably does not have the ruling party's seal of approval. However, the significance of this violence should not be underestimated or dismissed as negligible given the extreme nature of the violence in the preceding years. Just as simply raising a hand is sufficient to halt an unruly child who has already been dealt a blow, so the current sporadic violence serves as a reminder to an already cowed electorate. In other words, the legacy of years of violence in Zimbabwe has bred a climate wherein just the potential threat of renewed violence is sufficient for maintaining fear in the populace. Furthermore, the continued reluctance of the police to investigate these crimes or to take action against the perpetrators indicates to the electorate the perpetrators' continued immunity from prosecution, both now and for any reprisals which may be meted out in the post election period. And while the violence is less than that in previous years, it is still unacceptable in a democratic society and in violation of the SADC Guidelines.

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