Opposition supporters barricade a street in the central Harare, to protest against the results of Zimbabwes presidential election, on 01 August 2018. (Photo by Wilfred Kajese/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Ahead of Zimbabwe’s elections next year, a new report has found that an increasing number of citizens have lost faith in the electoral process, citing among other things the violent nature of the country’s politics as a major drawback.
The State of Peace report, compiled by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), is based on interviews with community peace builders across four of the country’s 10 provinces. It raises concerns about the continued use of violence as a political tool.
The report comes at a time when election campaign season is already in full swing, as seen in recent public speeches by the country’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has vowed that opposition political parties will never rule Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa said at a rally last week: “When we defeated whites after a protracted war of independence, they left behind their remnants who want to foment violence and chaos in the country. We will deal with them.
“Zanu-PF is the only party which has a history and a legacy for this country. We will not allow zvimbwasungata (sellouts) to rule this country.”
The report found there was consensus across all the communities that were interviewed that elections “presented a nightmare rather than an opportunity”.
“Many community members are expecting bloodshed ahead of the 2023 election. They attribute the violence to [the] violent nature of the ruling party. In addition to the violence, communities have no confidence in the electoral system’s capacity to deliver democracy,” the report stated.
Zimbabwe’s elections have for years been marred by controversial ruling Zanu-PF party victories, with the announcement of the 2018 presidential election results being delayed by more than three days, triggering a wave of violent protests that led to the death of protesters at the hands of the country’s security forces.
The results of the disputed 2008 elections also met the same fate, with the results being delayed amid wide speculation that then President Robert Mugabe had lost to Morgan Tsvangirai, then leader of the Movement for Democratic Change.
More and more people are requiring food assistance, which, according to the report, raised issues about the politicisation of food aid by traditional leaders, with chiefs and headmen in particular being singled out as driving community conflicts by their open partisanship in favouring ruling party supporters.
“The communities observed that traditional leaders are many times forced to join politics on the side of the ruling party. As a result, they end up being conflicted and participating in manipulation of food aid and electoral processes,” the report says.
“This is undermining confidence in the institution of traditional leadership which is supposed to be the sacred custodian of values and culture.”
For years, the ruling party has been accused of using the country’s traditional leaders as conduits for political clout, particularly in the rural areas, where the governing party claims it enjoys majority support.
The ZimRights report comes against the backdrop of an escalation in the crackdown on opposition politicians, pro-democracy activists and journalists, raising fears that conditions for free and fair polls are already compromised.
As the economy continues its slide amid unfettered price increases that are pushing the population further into poverty and hunger, ZimRights warns that high levels of unemployment could offer a powder keg for violence.
According to some labour union estimates, the country’s unemployment rate stands at between 70 and 80%, a figure disputed by the government.
Zanu-PF party has been accused of recruiting unemployed youths as violence agitators, with the murder of opposition Citizens for Change Coalition activist Mboneni Ncube in March being blamed on ruling party supporters.
According to Piers Pigou, a southern Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group: “A culture of impunity persists, as evidenced by the bill of violent incidents relating to elections remaining unresolved.”
As part of efforts to address the pre-election conditions routinely marred by violence, analysts say election observers must be given more time in the country.
“It is very important that there are long-term observers in place, both from the regional SADC body and the African Union,” Pigou told the Mail & Guardian. International watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch have raised concerns about Zimbabwe’s human rights record, saying the situation has continued to decline since the overthrow of longtime despot Mugabe in 2017.