THE Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) might have done well by symbolically moving to halt the arbitrary banning of opposition campaign rallies by a partisan police service, but actual progress will be judged by practical realities on the ground as the country heads for the polls.
Last week, the ZRP confirmed a leaked memorandum which ordered its provincial and district commanders to stop the random ban on opposition campaign rallies, amid indications of a hostile political and security environment ahead of crucial elections.
The memo, written on 8 July by police commander of the 2023 general elections, Commissioner Ndofandaedza Jaboon, said that rallies must not be banned out of partisan whim.
Jaboon said rallies can only be banned when there are compelling reasons in terms of the law as that triggers political tensions and discredits the electoral process and elections.
“Commanders should note that for elections to be deemed free, fair and peaceful and credible, the playing field should be reckoned as level, hence the police actions should not discredit the electoral processes,” read the letter directed to officer commanding police provinces, officer commanding Support Unit, director of the Criminal Investigation Department and the director of police intelligence.
“The Regulatory Authorities (officers commanding districts) should acquaint themselves with provisions of the Electoral Act and MOPA [Maintenance of Peace and Order Act] as to make informed decisions. The purpose of this legal instrument is for the police to prepare and take actions aimed at ensuring that any political activity is done peacefully.
“Of late social media has been awash with incidences where some political parties claim to have been denied the right to hold their rallies by the police resulting in skirmishes. These skirmishes are discrediting the electoral process, as such, commanders are requested to ensure that political parties are allowed to hold rallies unless there are very valid reasons to warrant such rejections. Under such circumstances, Regulating Authorities are urged to thoroughly consult before coming up with decisions to deny any political player opportunity to hold a rally or meeting.”
However, two days after the memo was released, the police moved in to ban the opposition CCC’s Gokwe rally, laying bare the growing divisions within the police service.
The move to ban the Gokwe rally, despite the release of the memo also suggested that the deep state has been busy at work, fuelling tensions for calculated political reasons to benefit sinister characters acting from the shadows.
Ironically, Zanu PF has been allowed to carry out its programmes unhindered while police and other state security agents are being used to thwart opposition activities. Political analysts say while police have done well by imposing an arbitrary ban on opposition rallies, progress will be judged in the run up to the polls.
“It is a game of deception. The message that they released that they would like to stop CCC rallies recklessly as they were doing is not a message that changes their approach, but rather it is a message for the media and election observers, that intends to portray the police in positive light whilst the policy of banning CCC continues on the ground,” said Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst, in an interview with The NewsHawks.
“Essentially, they would like to cover their tracks and say: ‘We told you we are not going to ban rallies,’ but that does not in any way mean that they have changed their thinking around interfering and essentially banning CCC from mobilising its supporters.”
Vivid Gwede, a political analyst, said police have in some cases been used for political benefit.
“The police work on orders as well as the prevailing policy. It would be hard to think that they would do things that they have not been sanctioned either tacitly or overtly, especially on sensitive matters such as politics. The way the police are trained matters for how they conduct themselves.
“If they are trained in a partisan way it also would reflect in their work ethic. Whatever the case, the constitution and the electoral law demand that they respect the rights of all political parties to campaign freely, and failure to adhere to this is causing the current controversy,” Gwede said.
The continued banning of the opposition CCC is also likely to pose a threat to the credibility of the 23 August general election. According to a report by the Southern African Political and Economic Series Trust (Sapes) and the Research Advocacy Unit (RAU) titled: Best Practices in Elections: Can Zimbabwe Meet These in 2023?, the country’s preparedness of the general election is at its worst, with the authorities falling short on five key principles of a good election, namely: integrity, information, insulation, inclusion and irreversibility.
The report shows that the country still has major shortcomings in promoting equal participation in electoral processes, which has largely been underlined by violence.
This has been evident with the rise in organised violence and torture, which has been increasing since January 2022, with the main culprits being identified as Zanu PF supporters and state security institutions.
“Zanu PF supporters and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) responsible for 78% of the alleged violations, and opposition political parties responsible for less than 2% of documented violations,” the report reads.
“Inclusion refers to the notion that elections are about free and equal participation in the electoral process. It refers to the ability of citizens to register as voters, to obtain information (directly and indirectly), to be free from intimidation and violence, and for all forms of treating to be absent.”
The jury is still out on the recent police directive. If it is implemented to the letter and spirit, it would go a long way in ensuring that the elections have a semblance of credibility.
The move to ban polls had further poisoned the environment amid concerns over the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s failure to avail an auditable voters’ roll, as well as a climate of widespread intimidation of voters.