Zim spared of political violence thus far

With a little more than two weeks to go before key elections in Zimbabwe, some rights groups and the police say the campaign thus far has been largely spared of the political violence that marred the 2000 and 2002 polls.

President Robert Mugabe has called for ”zero tolerance” to violence as his country comes under scrutiny by neighbouring countries in Southern Africa asked to render their verdict on whether the March 31 vote will be free and fair.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), however, maintains that a campaign of intimidation continues unabated, waged by the militias of Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF.

”There has been a considerable decrease in election-related violence if we compare with the same period in the last election,” said Munyaradzi Bidi, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association.

Bidi said the call for a ”zero tolerance to violence” is having an impact.

Zimbabwe’s last elections, in 2000 and 2002, were tainted by violence and allegations of vote-rigging, triggering a political crisis in the Southern African country and prompting the European Union and the United States to slap sanctions on Harare.

”There was a lot of hate speech that fuelled violence in the last election,” Bidi said, ”and total abandonment on the part of the government of their responsibility to uphold the rule of law.”

Bidi said thus far his group has recorded 15 cases of assault and that it has also helped one family to safety after it received threats from Zanu-PF supporters.

”But it’s nothing compared to 2002, when we recorded 85 deaths and 152 families were displaced,” he said.

Hundreds of rural families fled their homes in the months leading up to Zimbabwe’s 2002 presidential election and were given safe haven by opposition and human rights activists in towns and cities.

Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said 42 people died in political violence in 2002, ”and we have not recorded any deaths during the current campaign”.

The MDC claimed at least 100 of its supporters were killed in the last campaign, including the driver of leader Morgan Tsvangirai and two other members of his campaign team who were burnt to death when their car was set on fire by suspected Zanu-PF militants.

The worst incidence of violence in the campaign thus far was in early February, when a gang of 30 ruling party youths went on a rampage in the town of Norton west of Harare, beating up opposition supporters and stabbing a police officer.

The 30 were arrested, part of the 67 Zanu-PF members who have been arrested during the campaign and charged with various offences along with 42 MDC supporters, according to the police.

‘Violence is violence’

Lawyer Jessie Majome from the National Constitutional Assembly said ”the government wants to be seen to be doing free and fair elections. That is why they are in a hurry to say there is no violence.

”The police are saying that the nature of the violence is not as serious as before. But violence is violence, whether it’s slapping someone in the face or tearing down a poster.”

MDC spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi said ”a culture of violence” lives on in Zimbabwe and that ”it would be unfair to do a statistical comparison” of the number of victims.

”Zanu-PF has invested in culture of violence for a long time, and what we have now is a nation of traumatised people who will be apprehensive at any hint of violence,” Nyathi said.

”The violence that was there in the last elections is still there,” he added.

Alouis Chaumba, director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said the claims about a decrease in violence are misleading.

”I know of areas that are still no-go areas for supporters of certain political parties, so to say there has been a decrease in cases of violence would be adopting a simplistic approach,” said Chaumba. — Sapa-AFP

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Fanuel Jongwe
AFP Journalist.

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