HUMAN rights abuses have been on the increase in the countdown to next Wednesday’s elections, with statistics from the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum showing an increase in forced gatherings, harassment, damage to property and assault.
Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) activist Tinashe Chitsunge was killed by suspected Zanu PF thugs at a rally in Harare’s Glen View South constituency.
Police have released a statement saying Chitsunge was run over by a truck, raising a public outcry. New statistics from an election monitoring report by The Forum for the period between August 5 to August 13 have shown an increase in forced gatherings by the ruling Zanu PF.
According to the report, three Harare suburbs, namely Mbare, Hopley and Epworth, have the highest numbers of forced gatherings, with a total of 18.
However, the number is estimated to be higher in other areas which were not covered by the organisation’s tracker.
A snap survey by The NewsHawks at the Mbare Flats over the weekend has shown that some street vendors are living at the mercy of Zanu PF youths who have been in control of vending stalls in the area. As the game of numbers at rallies has been intensifying, vendors have been held to ransom, in fear of losing vending space should they fail to attend Zanu PF rallies.
Last week, for instance, vendors at Mbare Musika were forced to close business and attend Mnangagwa’s rally held at Robert Mugabe Square [also known as Freedom Square] in the capital, drawing condemnation from human rights watchdogs and activists.
Cases of assault and torture have also increased, with eight incidents being recorded in Mudzi, Muzarabani, Harare, Chitungwiza and Epworth, while four cases of malicious damage to property have been recorded in Mazowe, Muzarabani and Chitungwiza.
Twelve cases of harassment, threat and intimidation have also been recorded in Chiadzwa, Buhera, Shamva, Mudzi, Mt Darwin and Rushinga, while two arbitrary arrests were captured in Harare’s Glen View suburb and an abduction in Chitungwiza.
The democratic space has been narrowing. Findings by a think-tank, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI), show that the country is now under more repression ahead of polls than during the Robert Mugabe era.
The ZDI’s report titled: “Civic Space Contestation Ahead of 2023” shows a drastic erosion of civil liberties on Mnangagwa’s watch, compared to the Mugabe era.
The organisation made an analysis of the civic space between 2014-2021 by contrasting Mugabe’s final four years in power ahead of the 2018 elections, and Mnangagwa’s initial four years into power ahead of the 2023 elections.
The findings showed a 2% increase in civic space and state freedom during Mnangagwa’s first year in power, compared to Mugabe in 2014, while 2019 saw a 13% decline in state freedom from 44%.
Analysts have attributed the deteriorating electoral environment to the deployment of Forever Associates Zimbabwe (Faz), an organisation run by the Central Intelligence Organisation to help President Mnangagwa win the general election.
Latest findings by the ZDI show that the deployment of Faz into the electoral field forms part of Mnangagwa’s infrastructure of coercion to crush political rivals.
For instance, in Mwenezi district, participants in the ZDI’s latest report titled “Zimbabwe’s 2023 Elections, Faz, Lawfare and the Menu of Electoral Manipulation” say they felt too intimidated to vote for the opposition because traditional leaders, Faz and the army-run Heritage Trust have been dictating to them to vote for the ruling Zanu PF, or else their security is not guaranteed.
Participants from Harare, particularly in Mbare and Gazaland in Glen View, said they fear losing their vending stalls if they associate or vote for the opposition and/or attend their political rallies.