Africa

Role of Zim police remains unclear

Kennedy Maposa

President Robert Mugabe is unlikely to agree on a code of conduct to define the role of the police and army in the upcoming elections, say officials.

Zim police were fingered in election violence in the 2008 polls. (Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo)

This comes after statements by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai this week that he and Mugabe had agreed on the code of conduct for uniformed personnel during elections scheduled for July.

A Zanu-PF official familiar with the process said Mugabe and the party were no longer under pressure to institute any reforms after Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) told the South African mediation team about three weeks ago that Zimbabwe would hold a constitutional referendum and later elections without further reforms.

But an official in Tsvangirai's office said that discussions were already under way between Tsvangirai and Mugabe.

"The code will clearly outline what role the state security agents are expected to play in the forthcoming elections. The discussions are already under way," said the official, who declined to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the press about the matter.

The official said that the talks would involve Tsvangirai and Mugabe, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and the leader of the smaller MDC faction, Welshman Ncube.

Tsvangirai claims code agreed
But Tsvangirai said that the code of conduct had already been agreed upon between him and Mugabe, insisting: "We want to establish the truth of the so-called deployment [of military personnel around the country] and the president, as the commander-in-chief of the defence forces, has assured us that he will act."

Kurauone Chihwayi, the deputy spokesman for Ncube's MDC, said they were not aware of a deal on the code of conduct, though they have in the past insisted on security sector reforms before elections are held.

Chihwayi said he had been informed by Ncube that no talks on the proposed code had taken place.

Zanu-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said he was not aware of any talks for further reforms.

"I don't know under what circumstances he [Tsvangirai] made those remarks, but I don't think there will be [more] reforms before elections. All parties agreed that elections would be held under the conditions in the proposed Constitution. I don't really know where he is coming from," said Gumbo.

An MDC-T national executive member who declined to be named said the recent arrest of civil society activists has been a "rude awakening" for Tsvangirai, but doubted he would be able to force Mugabe into agreeing to a code of conduct.

Fears for MDC sympathisers
However, the issue may come up for discussion at a security council meeting scheduled for the first week of March, two weeks before the constitutional referendum on March 16. But sources indicated Tsvangirai is unlikely to have leverage to force this on to the agenda, given that he had already agreed that further reforms would be done after elections.

Since January, police have raided offices of or arrested individuals linked to at least six non-governmental organisations. Police raided the Zimbabwe Peace Project's offices in Harare on February 13, as well as those of the National Association of Non-governmental Organisations.

Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko, who was abducted by state security agents in December 2008 and tortured while in detention for several months, expressed fear that state security agents could escalate harassment of civil society activists who are largely viewed as sympathetic towards the MDC.

In an electoral report, Restore!, the Zimbabwe Institute said political violence and intimidation had "become an endemic part of Zimbabwe's political culture" and that the army and police had been willing accomplices.

"The law enforcement agencies have committed or been complicit in acts of unlawful violence," the report said.

Police support
Police commissioner general Augustine Chihuri has said he is a supporter of Zanu-PF, as has army general Constantine Chiwenga and senior prison officers.

The 2008 presidential election runoff was marred by widespread violence. Tsvangirai pulled out of the runoff election citing violence, especially by police and army members,  who, he said, were acting on behalf of Zanu-PF. The MDC claims at least 200 MDC-T members were killed in that violence.

Under the mandate of the Southern African Development Community, South Africa brokered a power-sharing government of national unity between Zanu-PF and the MDC in 2009.

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