Zim rights group: Defy your commanders

A rights group on Friday urged Zimbabwe’s security forces to defy commanders who have vowed they would support only President Robert Mugabe to rule the country after next week’s poll.

”You have heard your commanders declare that they would not support and salute anyone other than the current president,” the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a coalition of rights groups campaigning for a new Constitution for Zimbabwe, said in a statement.

”But it is this president and his elite that have made the lives of you, your families and all of us a daily misery.

”Go against the orders of your commanders, lay down your arms and rally behind the people of Zimbabwe to foster reconstruction and development.”

”It is not too late to refuse to be used as pawns by those who hold no allegiance to you and your families and whose only interest is in their own personal greed and ambition,” the text said.

Police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri was quoted by the state-owned Herald newspaper last week as saying his force would not allow ”a puppet” to rule the country.

Mugabe (84), seeking a sixth term at the helm of the country, has often referred to his challengers in presidential elections as puppets of the West.

The commissioner of prison services, retired major-general Paradzai Zimondi, also vowed last month not to accept anyone other than Mugabe as head of state, as he instructed prison staff to vote for the veteran leader, who has been in office since the nation’s independence from Britain in 1980.

Zimondi said he would not salute presidential aspirants Morgan Tsvangirai or former finance minister Simba Makoni should either of them emerge victorious from the March 29 joint presidential and legislative polls.

In the run-up to 2002 presidential elections, widely condemned as rigged, Zimbabwean defence chiefs declared they would not support a president who did not participate in the war of liberation in the 1970s, as Mugabe did.

Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on Friday in a statement deplored new electoral regulations passed this week by Mugabe which allow police officers into polling stations during the elections.

The regulations allow policemen in polling stations to assist illiterate or physically challenged voters.

The Southern African country’s police have often used brutal force against opponents of Mugabe and the police boss recently warned that his force could use firearms if necessary to crush protests after the polls.

‘Let us remember the suffering’

Meanwhile, Makoni evoked memories on Friday of a widely condemned urban demolition blitz as he took his campaign to a well-known informal settlement.

”Let us remember the suffering we endured in 2005 when they [Mugabe’s government] felt the city was dirty and needed a clean-up,” Makoni told a rally.

”But when we all thought they would collect the garbage accumulating on the street corners, they held people at gun point, ordering them to demolish their own houses. Just imagine the severity of the cruelty.

”Zimbabwe does not deserve an oppressive government,” he told supporters at the rally held under a tree on the side road of this semi-urban settlement, about 15km south-east of the capital Harare.

Makoni is standing as an independent.

After the demolitions Harare promised to rehouse thousands of people, all who had been left homeless.

”And now where are the houses you were promised?” he asked.

Zimbabwean authorities launched Operation Murambatsvina in May 2005, calling it an attempt to rid the capital of crime and filth.

But a United Nations report afterwards said the mid-winter drive left 700 000 people — the country’s poorest — homeless and destitute when shacks, houses, market stalls and shops were razed.

The operation, known locally as ”the tsunami”, also deprived at least a million people of their means of livelihood in an economically ravaged country grappling with six-digit inflation and over 80% unemployment.

Despite a much-vaunted follow-up operation called Live Well, meant to rehouse those whose homes or shops were destroyed, tens of thousands are still living in makeshift homes at various locations across the country.

Only a small fraction of Zimbabweans have been given new houses.

”It was just as good as telling a person in tatters to take off his clothes promising to buy him new ones, but only in years to come. Where are the houses we were promised after Murambatsvina?” said Makoni.

Tendai Simbi (35) an unemployed divorcee who survives on importing basic goods in short supply back home, lives with her parents in the informal settlement after she lost her house during the 2005 clean up campaign.

A firewood vendor, Lydia Mbirimi (53) is also squatting with her parents.

”Imagine that at my age, I am still a squatter,” she said.

New squatter settlements have sprouted in parts of the country worst affected by the demolitions campaign.

Makoni last month broke ranks with the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), a party whose symbol of a fist, he says, has ”turned into a sledgehammer that has destroyed the country”.

Tsvangirai charged on Thursday that the poll could be rigged in favour of Mugabe because of a separate vote counting system after the polls.

He threatened to pull out of the elections if the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) if presidential ballots were going to be counted at a separate venue.

He also told a news conference that independent investigations had revealed that 90 000 names appearing on the roll for 28 rural constituencies could not be accounted for. – Sapa-AFP

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