FEAR AND POLLING
Violence ratchets up tension in Zimbabwe ahead of August election
Hordes of opposition supporters have reportedly fled their homes in Zimbabwe as politically motivated violence is threatening to discredit the country’s general election, which is set for next month.
Zimbabwe’s main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), led by Nelson Chamisa, has claimed some of its members are staying away from their homes after a wave of violence allegedly meted out by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s governing Zanu-PF party in some parts of the country.
This comes despite Mnangagwa using every available opportunity to call for peace and non-violence ahead of the 23 August election, when more than six million registered voters get the chance to elect a president, parliamentarians and municipal representatives.
People affected by violent attacks include CCC candidates contesting council seats in rural wards. They say people with links to the ruling party have been visiting their homes and threatening the residents.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Zimbabwe opposition supporters feel sharp edge of Zanu-PF knife in segue to elections
William Mutondoro, who lives in Gutu district of Masvingo province, is one such candidate. He said: “I am now living in the bush with no access to food and water and other social amenities for fear of being attacked by Zanu-PF thugs. I have not had any food since I left home four days ago. Zanu-PF knows very well that CCC is popular in this area, so they want to instil fear in the rural population ahead of the elections. Why would they attack people if they were popular? I don’t know what the future holds for my family, but I hope we will still win the popular vote against all odds.”
Speaking on the phone from an undisclosed location, Mutondoro added: “I have raised the issue with our party’s social welfare department in Harare so that I can get assistance with basic needs.”
Fled to the mountains
In Chipinge district of Manicaland province, about 450km east of the capital Harare, opposition council candidates like Brighton Nyanise said they had been attacked, by suspected Zanu-PF members wearing the governing party’s regalia, during a constituency meeting.
“We were attacked by Zanu-PF members without any provocation. Our children have also been threatened, so we have since fled to the mountains as we fear they can attack our homesteads at night. As a result of the threats, the children are no longer going to school,” Nyanise said.
The violence, if not nipped in the bud, will spread across the country, according to CCC deputy spokesperson Gift Ostallos Siziba.
“Zanu-PF wants to hold an election as a ritual without democracy. As we speak, Zanu-PF has declared a de facto one-party state. It has suspended the Bill of Rights, in particular the freedoms of assembly, speech and association,” Siziba said.
Zanu-PF information director Tafadzwa Mugwadi denied the allegations.
“The opposition is set for defeat. Why would Zanu-PF beat up its supporters? We have support of the majority of the people so there is no need to beat them up. Our developmental track speaks for itself; the opposition has nothing to offer, hence this mudslinging,” Mugwadi said.
National police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, said a special investigation unit had been set up to deal with cases of political violence ahead of the polls.
Political analyst Dr Urayayi Zembe told Daily Maverick the surge in violence could take the country back to the 2008 era, when several opposition supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change, led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai, were killed by suspected state functionaries ahead of a presidential run-off poll. Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round of voting, arguing, “I cannot go to State House walking over dead bodies.” He then formed a unity government with his nemesis Robert Mugabe.
Mnangagwa vs Chamisa
Zembe warned that the situation could worsen if corrective measures were not taken urgently, adding that Zanu-PF was panicking.
“State violence against members of opposition parties and civil society organisations shows that Zanu-PF is on the verge of losing the elections on 23 August 2023. We are already witnessing acts of violence against citizens in the direction of [the] 2008 bloody elections, but this time the people will win and dictatorship will fall because it has become a citizens-driven electoral struggle for democracy and good governance,” Zembe said.
Violence in the countryside is coming at a time when a local think-tank, the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI), released a study on 10 July putting Mnangagwa ahead of his rivals in the upcoming polls.
However, a new opinion poll, conducted by Elite Africa Research in June, found that Chamisa would win by a margin of between 8% and 9% if the elections were free and fair.
Zimbabwean academic Philani Zamchiya said Chamisa’s support was waning, if the MPOI study was anything to go by.
“This marks the first decline in Chamisa’s vote since he became leader of the opposition. When Chamisa took over from Tsvangirai, only 16% freely expressed intentions to vote for him, but this had exponentially gone up to 33% by June 2022 … On the other hand, the survey shows that Mnangagwa’s support base has increased by 2% since June 2022. This turns the tide because there has been a systematic pattern in the decline of Mnangagwa’s vote since he took over from Mugabe in a military coup,” Zamchiya said.
The electoral issues
Many Zimbabweans say Mnangagwa’s administration has performed dismally in addressing key issues such as unemployment, water supply, corruption and economic management.
The Mnangagwa administration blames everything, including the country’s poor economic performance, on sanctions imposed by the West because of Zimbabwe’s bad human rights record and electoral fraud.
Harare argues that it is being punished for embarking on land reforms that saw more than 400 white commercial farmers displaced from their properties and thousands of farm workers left without income.
Many economists blame Zimbabwe’s economic downturn on the chaotic agrarian reform programme that resulted in the parcelling of productive land to under-resourced new farmers. DM
This article first appeared in Daily Maverick’s weekly sister publication, DM168, which is available countrywide for R29.