/ 31 January 2011

Zimbabwe group reports surge in political violence

Zimbabwe has seen a surge in political violence and intimidation as the government prepares for national elections, an independent advocacy group said.

The Southern Africa Coalition for the Survivors of Torture said in a new report on Sunday that tensions rose markedly in January. They reported mob attacks, threats, assaults, questionable arrests by police and at least one shooting in the capital of Harare and its suburbs.

During one clash in a Harare township, a supporter of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party was shot and four others were wounded, the report said. It also said 19 people were arrested for public violence since January 16.

Tsvangirai, a former opposition leader, entered a coalition with President Robert Mugabe after violence-plagued elections in 2008. Mugabe has called for national elections later in 2011.

Mugabe, in Ethiopia for a regular summit of the continent-wide African Union, on Sunday was quoted in state media as saying elections can be held this year even if the rewriting of a new constitution is not complete.

The Sunday Mail newspaper, controlled by Mugabe loyalists, said Mugabe met with Zimbabwean residents in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Saturday and told them that if all goes well, elections will be held under a new constitution.

But failing that, polls would be called under existing constitutional provisions, he said.

Bringing coalition to an end
An all-party panel recommending constitutional reforms is scheduled to finish its work by June, way behind schedule, ahead of a referendum on the reforms and possible elections three months afterward.

Mugabe has described elections as the only way to bring the shaky coalition to an end, after two years of haggling, and to create a decisive government.

Public meetings on the constitution were plagued by violence last year. Human rights groups say Mugabe militants backed by loyalist police and soldiers are still in place in bases across the country in anticipation of rushed elections.

Regional mediators, including President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, the leader of mediation efforts, have cautioned against early polls and propose a longer-term “roadmap” that would include electoral changes and revisions of the voters’ lists.

Research has shown that as many as 27% of 5,5-million listed voters have died and many others are under voting age or are registered in more than one voting district.

The advocacy group said on Sunday a team of armed riot police watched and did not intervene when youths and women chanting Mugabe party slogans stormed the headquarters of the Tsvangirai-led Harare city council on January 21. Five people were injured in those clashes.

Across the city in the Budiriro township the next day, youths assaulted patrons leaving shops and bars using “heavy sticks, fists and booted feet”.

Marauding youths also went on the rampage in the Mbare township and attacked a Tsvangirai party meeting center, smashing windows and breaking down a perimeter wall.

Victims in the attack were given refuge at the local Matapi police station and then were charged with inciting public violence. They were taken to court and freed on bail. None of the attackers were brought to court, the group said.

Earlier, Rugare Gumbo, a spokesperson for Mugabe’s party, told reporters his party leaders were holding routine meetings of their supporters at their homes and denied they were establishing militant bases in the townships ahead of proposed elections.

Monitors reported elsewhere across the country that villagers were having their names and identities written in log books and were being forced to sign a petition condemning interference in Zimbabwe by Western nations that allegedly back Tsvangirai’s party. – Sapa-AP