Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Intimidation of villagers on the rise ahead of polls

By Farayi Machamire

With general elections on the horizon, political temperatures are rising¸ amid accusations the ruling Zanu PF was creating a threatening environment in the rural areas hostile to genuine political participation ahead of the crunch Monday election.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai handing over blankets and food to elderly villagers in the Zambezi Valley in Mashonaland Central province
The late opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai handing over blankets and food to elderly villagers in the Zambezi Valley in Mashonaland Central province

A cross-section of independent poll watchers, including the United Nations (UN), this week said although the election environment appears peaceful, underneath villagers are being intimidated with threats of reprisals if they do not vote for the ruling party.

Rights groups said villagers are being warned voting for the opposition could result in death.

Zanu PF elections spokesperson Paul Mangwana rubbished the accusations.

“That is not a fair assessment. There is no such thing being perpetuated by Zanu PF, the president has been clear on a non-violent election and that is why we currently have a tranquil environment.

Those perpetrating these fake accusations are those who fear the outcome of these elections,” Mangwana told the Daily News.

“As you travel across the country, you can see the peaceful environment; people are openly supporting the party of their choice.

“Those people who want to perpetuate such fake news are doing so so that they can justify their election loss.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Liz Throssell on Tuesday urged Zimbabwe’s political players to refrain from perpetuating fear in voters.

“We remain concerned, however, at the increasing number of reports, particularly in some rural areas, of voter intimidation, threats of violence, harassment and coercion, including people being forced to attend political rallies,” Throssell said.

Faith-based rights group, Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), also expressed concern at the growing cases of voter intimidation and threats of violence.

ZPP said at a meeting held at Chikambi shops, aspiring Zanu PF candidates told villagers that there will be cameras monitoring how they vote.

“At a rally at Chikotosa last week, Nyasha Marange, the chief’s son and campaign manager for Percy Muchimwe, aspiring MP for Mutare West, promised a 2008 situation if Zanu PF loses in the coming elections.

‘Vanenge vashaisha kuvhota tichakugurai maoko kuita short sleeve’,”

ZPP said in an alert yesterday.

It said it alerted the police, who promised to probe the incident.

On July 23, ZPP reported: “There was a Zanu PF meeting at Muonwe Township Bindura South on July 1. War veteran Irene Tayamba and Siya from Kingston Farm near Trojan addressed the meeting and said if there was a run-off there would be a repeat of the 2008 violence.”

The ruling Zanu PF is being accused of harvesting fear from the 2008 elections that killed over 200 people.

After Zanu PF lost the first round of voting in that historic poll, villagers were ruthlessly punished — commanded to sprawl on the ground, sometimes naked, then clobbered on the back, buttocks, the head, while some had their homes burnt or knocked down or told never to return to their villagers by Zanu PF youths — high on beer and marijuana.

Other defiant villagers were taken to re-education camps and castigated for their “treachery and perfidy” while suffering long nights of physical abuse and indoctrination.

Zanu PF is also being accused of maintaining control over the rural vote by directing ordinary voters to give their ballot-paper serial numbers to their village headmen, and they are being told they will be marshalled to the polling stations on Monday and made to queue in a predetermined order, blatantly violating the sanctity of the vote.

Some of the rural voters such as teachers are being instructed to tell presiding officers that they were functionally illiterate, so that their choices could be monitored by those pretending to give assistance.

Rights groups have warned that under this electoral regime, rural voters’ expression of their free will is being imperilled.

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said it recorded various such cases of intimidation.

“In Buhera South’s ward 29, one Faith Chipadza and Zanu PF aspiring councillor David Chirinda are intimidating villagers. Today they have called for meetings to rehearse how each villager must vote,” the organisation said in an alert yesterday.

Todd Moss, a former deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the US State Department and Jeffrey Smith, an executive director of Vanguard Africa, a non-profit group that supports free and fair elections in Africa, said the July 30 vote has been marred by the lack of independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).

The pair raised concerns over the manipulation of the voters’ roll and ballot papers which have been ignored, integrity of the vote tally and data security, denial of fair access to media and ballot secrecy that they said has been deliberately undermined.

“Zanu PF agents have systematically spread rumours that fingerprints from voter registration will allow the government to trace individual votes.

“This is both an effective and chilling threat since citizens — especially those in rural areas — recall 2008, when poll data was used to target violent attacks against opposition supporters. Three hundred people died, while others were beaten, raped and brutalised, and thousands had their homes burned to the ground.

“Organised intimidation is subtle but widespread. Unknown militants, known locally as ‘mabhinya’, have suddenly appeared in villages as a flagrant effort to intimidate opposition supporters and voters. When your home has already been burned down once, it only takes a thug shaking a matchbox for people to receive the message,” they said in a report. – DailyNews