PROMINENT human rights defender and Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko (pictured) has condemned the government over rising cases of intimidation of opposition supporters in rural areas by Zanu PF top officials who are reportedly warning that this year’s pre-election period will be worse the bloody 2008 violence.
The 2008 elections were characterised by intense violence, torture, abductions and murder of opposition political party supporters perpetrated by state security agents and trigger-happy Zanu PF activists, notably from the Border Gezi Youth Training camps.
The then main opposition MDC led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai estimated that 200 of its supporters had been killed during the bloody era. On 22 June 2008, Tsvangirai withdrew from the presidential run-off election which pitted him and the late president Robert Mugabe due to the intensity of the killings of his supporters.
In the early hours of 3 December 2008, Mukoko was abducted from her home by state security agents who went on to severely torture her on false charges of recruiting youths for military training aimed at toppling Mugabe’s regime. She was held incommunicado for three days. The charges were later dropped by a full bench of the Supreme Court which also ordered that she be paid $150 000 in damages.
In an exclusive interview with The NewsHawks this week, Mukoko said Zanu PF officials and activists in rural areas are currently spreading intimidation messages in rural areas that the coming polls will be worse than the 2008 era.
“What we are getting from a lot of areas throughout the country are rampant threats that people are receiving and people are being told that 2023 is going to be worse than 2008.”
“On that basis I am actually not surprised in terms of the violence that we saw in Murehwa where those elderly people were being assaulted.”
“In a lot of parts of the country, especially in rural areas, it’s becoming impossible for the opposition to be able to meet in meetings,” she said.
Mukoko added: “Since the onset of the by-elections in March 2022, the Zimbabwe Peace Project has seen cases of political violence actually rising and we are concerned at the moment about the threats that the people are receiving in a lot of the areas where 2023 is being said that it will be worse than 2008 and that immediately instills fear in lot of people. If those situations are not corrected, we are likely to see some political parties not being able to work in some parts of the country since people are afraid of reprisals that can come out.”
The NewsHawks gathered that there have been many unreported cases of intimidation in rural areas.
The ZPP recorded that on 16 October last year in Matobo district, eight Zanu PF youths attacked CCC members with knobkerries, logs, and whips during a CCC voter mobilisation campaign ahead of by-elections.
“The perpetrators discharged live ammunition to disperse the campaigners. Hon Kucaca Phulu, Nonhlanhla Mlotshwa, Mr. Tennyson Ndebele and other CCC members sustained serious injuries. Unidentified Zanu PF activists forced four women, who were part of the by-election mobilisation team, to remove the CCC regalia that they were wearing and were only left with undergarments and bras. ZPP did a documentary whereby the women highlighted how these activists threatened more violence,” said the organisation in a statement to The NewsHawks.
On 9 November, cabinet minister of housing and Zanu PF chairperson for Mashonaland East province Daniel Garwi was caught on camera stating that Zanu PF controls the courts, the army and the police as he warned the opposition supporters that Zanu PF would not hesitate to use violence against them.
“It is this kind of hate speech that incites political party supporters to use violence and worsen political polarisation and intolerance in the country,” said the ZPP.
On 17 October, the ZPP recorded that over 80 suspected Zanu PF youths disrupted a CCC rally and attacked party members with knobkerries and machetes in Ward 2 of Matobo. The victims were at CCC candidate Augustine Gumede’s homestead ahead of the 22 October by-elections. The perpetrators reportedly threatened to unleash more violence against CCC supporters.
The ZPP also recorded that former State Security minister Owen “Mudha” Ncube, while addressing a Zanu PF campaign rally in Mberengwa in October, was quoted as saying: “You have been told that 2023 will be worse than 2008. We will not just leave you while you are selling out. Even during the liberation struggle, there were sellouts, but they were dealt with”.
In another incident, a Zanu PF leader identified as Daniel Mackenzie was quoted as reiterating Ncube’s remarks that the ruling party would not tolerate Mberengwa residents who supported the CCC. “We will not allow you to be traitors to the country for which the majority fought. Sellouts will be punished for their actions”.
The organisation also recorded that in October Tawanda Karikoga, member of Parliament for Gokwe Mapfungautsi, was accused by other Zanu PF members of supporting Owen Ncube in spreading hate speech in the Midlands province and also creating parallel Zanu PF structures.
The ZPP also recorded that on 15 September at Mutoko Centre flea market Ward 11 in Mutoko North, Phinieas Sambanewako, a CCC activist, was confronted and accused of derailing Zanu PF election plans by Farai Hodzi, a former Zanu PF councillor, who was in the company of his colleagues.
He then proceeded to shove and slap Sambanewako and threatened to unleash worse violence if Sambanewako continued to derail their plans.
The ZPP also recorded that on 9 September last year, two CCC members from Chirota Magunje Ward 25 in Hurungwe were assaulted by Zanu PF activists including Zanu PF ward chairperson Frank Ndambakuwa and his secretary Benhilda Chikovu. This was in a bid to silence CCC supporters in Hurungwe as Ndambakuwa stated that they would continue to use violence against CCC supporters as the country heads for the 2023 harmonised elections.
On 22 September, Andrew Nyoka, the Silobela Zanu PF district chairperson, was recorded during a gathering at Umelusi in Silobela’s Ward 24, threatening villagers that there would be dire consequences, including use of violence, if Zanu PF lost the 2023 elections.
On 2 September, the ZPP also recorded that Zanu PF transported people from rural areas of Chipinge district to Chipinge Town.
“They were singing songs denouncing CCC and its leader Nelson Chamisa singing wartime songs threatening to unleash violence to those opposed to Zanu PF. This was targeting CCC supporters who wanted to attend a rally that was being addressed by Nelson Chamisa at Kondo Business Centre in Chipinge West on 18 September,” said the ZPP.
The ZPP also recorded that on 21 November, Zanu PF Midlands provincial chairperson Larry Mavima urged ruling party members to block the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) from infiltrating rural areas ahead of the 2023 polls. Prior to that, Mavima was alleged to have been part of the Zanu PF officials who coordinated violence against opposition party supporters and journalists in Gokwe-Kabuyuni in August.
Between 20 and 25 August, the ZPP recorded cases of violence against opposition supporters in Uzumba, Wedza North, Seke Rural and Gokwe Kabuyuni as efforts by Zanu PF to declare rural areas no-go areas for the opposition.
“What need to be done to avert the bloody 2023 elections and also to stop the vicious cycle of political violence is ensuring that perpetrators of violence are brought to account for their actions. Unless they account for their actions, they don’t see the reason why they should not continue using the same strategies of violence,” said Mukoko.
She stressed that the Electoral Act is very clear on what needs to happen when someone is guilty of intimidation, harassment and even political violence but bemoaned lack of enforcement of the law.
“So unless the issues of impunity are dealt with, we will find ourselves in bloody elections in 2023. It is also up to the political parties themselves to ensure that they rein in their members.”
“We realise that when we get to nomination dates, intra-party violence also rise. So political parties need to adopt zero tolerance to political violence and ensure that those who are guilty of the vice are disqualified.”
“Unless people begin to see people being disqualified from an election, beginning from their own political parties, we will not be able to resolve issues that are linked to political violence,” said Mukoko.
“We have become used to state institutions being complicit in the perpetration of violence. I am saying this because even when violence happens, and the perpetrators are known, the police who have a mandate to arrest perpetrators, in most cases when it involves members of the opposition, they do not do what they are supposed to be doing but they act very fast if violence is perpetrated on Zanu PF activists by the opposition,” she added.
In March 2010, Mukoko was one of 10 human rights defenders honoured in the United States State Department’s International Women of Courage Awards.
The awards were given to women who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advancing women’s rights. She was also selected and served as a 2010 fellow with the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights at Colby College.