THE European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission to Zimbabwe has hired 60 vehicles, mostly Toyota Fortuners, from the controversial Impala Car Rental which has played an unsavoury role in the abduction and torture of citizens by state security agents for political reasons.
The EU has at least 150 observers on the ground ready for Wednesday’s crucial general elections in Zimbabwe.
The elections will determine what path the country, stuck in a quagmire of political and economic malaise for decades now, takes going forward. A core team of 11 analysts arrived in Zimbabwe from 8 July 2023.
They were joined by 46 long-term and 44 short-term observers. On election day the mission will be beefed up across the country by locally recruited short-term observers, drawn from embassies, and a delegation from the European Parliament.
The EU election observer mission will comprise on election day over 150 observers from 27 EU member states as well as Canada, Norway and Switzerland. The EU delegation is based at Holiday Inn hotel in Harare.
They are occupying the whole of the fourth floor for their accommodation and logistics. The EU has a permanent mission in Zimbabwe. For their transport and logistical arrangements, the EU hired about 60 vehicles from Impala, mostly Toyota Fortuner — also known as the Toyota SW4 — a mid-size sports utility vehicle (SUV) manufactured by Japanese automaker Toyota.
A source told The NewsHawks: “In total the EU has at least 150 observers. So they have put in place requisite transport and logistical arrangements for the whole group. They have 60 cars from Impala at a cost of between US$150 and US$200 a day. That is a windfall for Impala. However, this provokes the moral question involved here: Is it right for the EU to subsidise Impala’s human rights abuses and impunity through abductions under its cover?”
Impala found itself engulfed in the eye of a storm in 2020 after its vehicle was used to abduct and torture Tawanda Muchehiwa, a journalism student and nephew to ZimLive.com editor Mduduzi Mathuthu. Muchehiwa was forced to flee the country to the United Kingdom after surviving horrific abuse.
The disappearance of prominent journalist-cum-activist Itai Dzamara from a Glen View barbershop in Harare on 9 March 2015 has also been linked to an Impala-style Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO)-engineered operation, similar to what was used against Muchehiwa.
Muchehiwa, then a 22-year old university student, was utterly unprepared for the moment at the end of July 2020 when he was abducted in broad daylight by a gang of state security agents. The dramatic incident was recorded on closed-circuit television (CCTV).
The experience has changed his life, challenged his thinking, and placed him on a new path, dominated by the search for accountability. It also forced him out of the country to pick up the pieces and start a new life.
Muchehiwa was waiting for his nephews in the car park of a shop called Tile and Carpet in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, when a group of men, CIO security operatives, pulled up and took him away. He was stuffed in the back of a vehicle and driven round the corner, then transferred into the back of a Ford Ranger pick-up by his abductors.
Three days of physical and mental torture, and sexual humiliation, would follow. Impala, which does business with the CIO, was not cooperative on the Muchehiwa investigation.
As a result, the company took a huge commercial and financial battering due to its role in the abduction and torture of citizens by state security agents.
As a result, the EU’s move to hire cars from a company with that record is seen as unprincipled, insensitive and morally wrong, particularly because Impala has not been helpful in investigating the issue — three years on.
Powered by Impala vehicles, the EU election observer mission on Sunday deployed 44 longterm observers across the country.
The group is the third contingent, following the core team and 46 long-term observers, which have arrived in Zimbabwe earlier in July.
Said EU chief observer Fabio Massimo Castaldo: “The short-term observers will cover all 10 provinces in both, urban and rural areas. Together with the other EU EOM observers they will be the eyes and the ears of the mission on election day during polling, counting and collation of results. They will also pay attention to the election environment.”
Prior to their deployment on 20 August, the short-term observers have received two-day in-depth briefing in Harare on the electoral background, voting procedures, the political environment, code of conduct and other topics.
For election day, the election observer mission will be reinforced by a delegation of the European Parliament and diplomats accredited to Zimbabwe. In total, the mission will comprise about 150 observers from all 27 member states, as well as Canada, Norway and Switzerland.
“EU observers will be visiting many polling stations from the opening to the closing of the polls and follow also the collation of results. They will however not interfere in the process. They are here to observe and not to supervise,” Castaldo said, adding: “Although election day is an important element of our observation, the EU election observer mission is in Zimbabwe to assess all aspects of the elections over the entire duration of the process allowing for an impartial assessment of the entire election process.”
Castaldo will present the initial findings and conclusions of the mission two days after the elections. The mission will remain in Zimbabwe to also observe the post-election environment and follow possible appeals and complaints.
A final report, with recommendations for future elections, will be published two months after election day.
The CIO, which abducted Muchehiwa as part of a crackdown on opposition and civil society activists, was entangled in the Impala abduction scandal, which the EU seems to have ignored in its latest car hire.
The scandal also involved government officials hiring out their cars and then going to lease them for use by the authorities — clear corruption. Impala refused to release records of all its cars, including who the owners are, and log books in the public interest to ensure transparency and accountability.
Impala chief executive Thompson Madondo died in January 2021 in the middle of the CIO abduction storm. EU election observer mission press officer Eberhard Laue did not reply to questions.
He requested questions in writing when contacted for comment, but did not reply. “I’m in a noisy place; can’t hear you properly, so put your questions in writing and send them to me by email,” he said.