The political environment continues to be stressed with various coercion phenomena manifesting around several sticky issues. Violations in this month’s report range from land invasions, the denial of the right to food, the right to freedom of assembly or freedom not to assemble as well as the all encompassing right of freedom of expression, among others, which are all espoused in the national Constitution despite their rampant flouting in the various corners of the country. Free political expression continues to be curtailed across the provinces with consequences either meted out instantly or promised to occur at election time in 2018. While members of the opposition continue to be on the receiving end of violations from members of the ruling Zanu PF, perpetrations against “gamatox” – those suspected of being sympathetic to ousted former vice president, Joice Mujuru - continue to be on the rise.
In several cases in this report, some victims are ominously threatened with being “dealt with” come elections 2018, in situations which clearly show that the polls are being brandished as a “time of reckoning” for opposition and “gamatox” members thereby generating fear amongst them.
The “support or starve” phenomena that has always been a driving mantra in a number of violations over the past 15 years, is claiming central stage as the cropping season starts.
Across the provinces members of the opposition, as well as members of the ruling party associated with the dismissed former vice president, Mujuru, are being denied access to input support programmes. As the Zanu PF government has been doing every year, agricultural inputs are sourced and distributed to the communities particularly those in the rural and farming areas in the last quarter of the year in time for the cropping season. While theoretically the input schemes are supposed to be national in orientation meant to support agricultural production in the country as well as buffer the masses from hunger, these programmes have, year after year, been hijacked by Zanu PF vanguards who have unscrupulously used them to deprive members of the opposition as well as to manipulate them into denouncing their parties in typical “support or starve” routines.
Registering for the input schemes, food aid programmes and other relief support has seen only members of the ruling party being considered at the exclusion of those from other political affiliations. Alongside these, suspected “gamatox” have also been affected.
Several levels of vanguards of the party including the youths, traditional chiefs and war veterans, among others, have used party membership and factional bias as a determining factor of whether or not one benefits from any assistance schemes. This has had the net effect of supposed government or national programmes benefitting members of only the ruling party while disenfranchising others. Yet a government should serve and make provisions for all and any citizens regardless of political preferences.
As the 2018 elections draw nearer and political parties start to strategise and position themselves, the “support or starve” phenomena is also gaining prominence in cases where party membership drives are getting into gear. In a significantly large number of cases noted for September, Zanu PF, in a bid to increase its membership, has embarked on a wide scale exercise of selling electronic cards for members. In many instances, members of the public including known opposition activists are forced to buy the membership cards. And in typical coercive fashion, party membership cards are requested at events and occasions strategically meant to weed out, intimidate, exclude, and altogether disadvantage members of the opposition. This has been documented as occurring for example when registering for inputs, signing up for residential stands, to get employment or other opportunities. In a country that does not have many opportunities for its citizens and one that relies mostly on agriculture for the livelihoods of the majority of its people, these unscrupulous tactics to disenfranchise often have the effect of near starvation for those targeted.
Last month saw national assembly by-elections held in Marondera Central, Mbire and Epworth. The by-elections, which were held on 19 September, were to replace Zanu PF legislators, Ray Kaukonde and David Butau, who were fingered, alongside former vice president Mujuru, in a plot to oust President Robert Mugabe; while in Epworth the byelections were to replace the late Member of Parliament (MP) Amos Midzi, who passed on in June.
Though the by-elections were by and large declared free and fair, some irregularities were reported. In Marondera Central, voter intimidation was rife. The Zanu PF candidate, Lawrence Katsiru, made threats on a number of occasions and deployed a team of party officials to record serial numbers of those who had voted in a bid to instil fear in people and ensure they voted for him. Campaign materials for other candidates were destroyed and taken down across the constituency. The skewed playing field resulted in Katsiru winning in a landslide victory. In the other two constituencies, Epworth and Mbire, reported irregularities included some voters’ names missing on the voters’ registers, police participation at polling stations where a number of people were being assisted to vote, as well as campaigns by some members of the ruling party within 100 metres of polling activity, which is prohibited by the elections rules and regulations.
The coming onto the scene of the, as yet shadowy People First party - which Mujuru is speculated to be fronting though she is yet to confirm this herself - also triggered some violent reactions from state agents, particularly in Tafara, where following a rally by ousted Zanu PF cadre, Ray Kaukonde, on behalf of this party, police descended in the area later that evening and again a few days later and beat up some people randomly. Although buzz around it has already started building up, it is useful to note that the People First party is yet to be officially launched.
Also disturbing in incidents recorded for September is the encroaching of politics on religion and vice versa where some people are finding themselves being politically targeted in their churches. Yet, all things being equal, churches are ideally supposed to offer refuge and comfort. This is on the one hand. On the other hand, some members of the clergy are using the pulpit to promote parties of choice over and above others at the disenfranchisement and discrimination of unassuming congregants, who as is natural, either belong to different parties or prefer to be apolitical.
By and large, what continues to be of grave concern is that all the above are violations enshrined in the country’s charter which, though dubbed a progressive constitution, is yet to be enforced in its full letter and spirit. For as long as the Constitution is not implemented, citizens will continue to suffer civil, political, socio-economic and cultural violations.