THE continued banning of opposition CCC rallies as experienced in Chiredzi this week and the dispersing of the party’s supporters using teargas canisters at scheduled venues dent the credibility of the 23 August general elections.
During the Wednesday skirmishes, heavily armed Chiredzi police officers fired teargas at CCC members who were waiting to hear party president Nelson Chamisa speaking.
In addition, police came with truncheons, dogs and Israeli-made armoured vehicles, turning the area in Chiredzi town into a war zone.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said the regrettable events in Chiredzi marks a turning point into flawed elections come 23 August.
“This is a significant flaw in the election. The ability of contestants to campaign without hindrance contributes the fairness and freeness of the election. The inability to do so due to restrictions contributes to the lack of freeness and fairness of polls,” he said.
University of London professor of politics Stephen Chan said it seems Zanu PF has orchestrated a strategy to slow down the opposition CCC, but this could jeopardise the credibility of the elections.
“It would seem to be a Zanu PF strategy of restricting space for the CCC. The chief aim at this stage is to do this without visible violence that would be readily observed by media and the world’s observers who, although they have not yet arrived, are starting to maintain a watching brief.
“Zanu PF are, at this stage, going for a ‘peaceful and credible’ election, rather than fully ‘free and fair’. ‘Credible’ may be hard to manage but, right now, an effort is being made at ‘peaceful’ suppression,” he said.
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said: “The integrity of the election is already compromised. There is no doubt that the ruling party, the security structures, the electoral management body — that is Zec— have all conspired to manipulate the electoral process to favour Zanu PF.
“So, it is not surprising at all that the police are banning CCC rallies, and that CCC supporters, or opposition supporters are being beaten across Zimbabwe. This is a well-orchestrated political strategy that is made to instill fear in the generality of the opposition supporters, but also to instill fear within the rest of the citizens.”
He reiterated that it is a strategy meant to favour Zanu PF, both in terms of how the election will be managed at a technical and logistical level by Zec, but also the use of the security forces to intimidate and harass the opposition.
“The Zimbabwean election has already failed the test of freeness and fairness, but let us be aware and restate that regardless of these challenges, the opposition must still go ahead and mobilise its supporters to participate in this election and seek to expose the manipulation, the violence and, if at all possible, win in some areas as a way to demonstrate its resilience. So giving in to the fear and intimidation will only fall into the Zanu PF political trap,” he said.
The disturbances in Chiredzi were another big blow on efforts to level the political playing field ahead of the crunch polls.
CCC leader Nelson Chamisa was expected to address the rally at Tshovani Stadium ahead of the launch of the party’s election manifesto in Bindura, Mashonaland Central province, on Saturday.
In banning the Chiredzi rally, police claimed the event coincided with a state event and also failed to comply with security requirements prescribed under section 8 of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (Chapter 11:23).
“Your notification has not been approved in terms of section 8 of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act [Chapter 11:23]. There will be a State occasion on 05/07/23 for the official opening of Rusununguko Clinic in Chiredzi by the Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Masvingo province where all resources are focused,” read a police statement dated 3 July 2023.
Ahead of the 26 March 2022 by-elections, thwte was a similar trend of bans on CCC rallies and this marked the beginning of a long trend of repression that is now expected to characterise the last phase of the election period.
In January this year, the CCC revealed that 62 of its meetings had been banned since the party’s formation a year ago, showing the government’s growing intolerance.
This was according to Chamisa, who will contest the 2023 elections after he rebranded his party to CCC on 22 January 2022.
The rebranding came after MDC-T leader Douglas Mwonzora moved to claim the MDC name and assets.
Police banned a tree-planting event organised by a citizen in Masvingo because he had invited opposition CCC leader Chamisa.
The event was scheduled to be held in ward 4 at Takaona homestead in Gutu North constituency.
The reason stated by the police for banning the event was dismissed as ridiculous.
“We can’t allow two parties to hold political gatherings in the same ward on the same date. There will be violence. Our duty as police is to maintain peace and order; hence we had to stop one party from holding the meeting,” said police officer commanding Masvingo East district Joachim Mambure.
A few days later, police in Harare issued another ban on two end-of-year rallies at which CCC leader Chamisa was set to address the party followers in Harare’s Budiriro suburb and in Chitungwiza.
The end-of-year celebrations had been set for 17 December.
“Your notification to hold the above-mentioned rally was received, and the event was not sanctioned,” said the police without giving any reason for the ban.
Earlier in the year, several other rallies had been banned, but as the country gets closer to the elections the expectation was that the situation would change, especially after the visit by the Commonwealth team to assess Zimbabwe’s preparedness to re-join the bloc.
During the visit, Harare had repeatedly promised to uphold tenets of democracy.
For a country that purports to be a constitutional democracy, Zimbabwe is taking the wrong direction.
Constitutional lawyer and National Constitutional Assembly leader Lovemore Madhuku this week made public revelations that his party also had its meetings disrupted. Madhuku added that the playing field will only be level after the implementation of electoral reforms proposed in 2018.
“We regret that, but part of the problem is that we did not do enough as opposition to make sure that these laws are changed and now they are being used against us,” he said, adding:
“We need better laws, but for now parties must abide by the law and, where necessary, try to avoid confrontations with the police because we don’t want a repeat of 2008; we want a different election in 2023.”
No country can claim to be entrenching democracy when everyone can see that opposition politics is literally a banned.
What can only give hope and comfort to CCC supporters yearning for change of government is the resilience of its leaders.
CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere insisted this week that the opposition party would not be deterred by repression.
“Our mass rural penetration movement and ‘Get out to Vote’ campaign in Chiredzi and Chikombedzi have shocked Zanu PF. Nothing can stop us. Today’s events prove beyond doubt that Zanu PF can never win a free and fair election, which is why they’re resorting to rally bans and abusing the police service to try and stop our campaign activity. They are terrified, unelectable and worse than (late former President) Robert Mugabe. We are undeterred by this unconstitutional conduct,” she said.
Chamisa, on the other hand, says he will go ahead with his countrywide tour of meeting community leaders, traditional leaders, special interest groups and citizens.
The campaign trail however is likely to be turbulent as Zanu PF seems geared to capture state institutions and ban opposition rallies.
Ironically, Zanu PF is allowed to carry out its programmes unhindered while police and other state security agents are being used to thwart opposition activities.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa was this week in Goromonzi where he addressed thousands of Zanu PF supporters unmolested.
He has also been all over the country campaigning for a second five-year presidential term.