THE storming of an opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change Press conference at the Media Centre in Harare by suspected Zanu PF youths is yet ominous sign that the 2023 general elections could be violent.
Dozens of youths on Tuesday stormed the CCC Press conference and stole the party’s branded material while police officers watched.
The media briefing was called by the opposition party to expose electoral anomalies and malpractices by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
CCC officials, including spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, interim secretary for elections Ian Makone and his deputy Ellen Shiriyedenga were escorted out of the premises by party security via the emergency door at the back of the building, after the rowdy youths had barricaded the main entrance, as the seemingly powerless police officers watched.
Journalists in attendance had to wait for tensions to die down before leaving the Media Centre while others followed CCC officials out through the emergency exit.
The question which many observers had was: “If such events can happen in Harare, in broad daylight and in front of cameras, what more in rural areas?”
Violence was common ahead of the 26 March by-elections and indications are that Zimbabwe could witness more bloodshed ahead of the 2023 general elections.
A CCC supporter, Mboneni Ncube (35), was killed in broad daylight on 27 February after a Zanu PF mob attacked people attending a CCC rally at an open space at Mbizo 4 Shopping Centre in Kwekwe.
Several people were injured by the rampaging Zanu PF thugs who were using an assortment of weapons to attack people at the rally, while CCC president Nelson Chamisa was addressing. The gang used spears, knobkerries, machetes, stones and knives in the attack.
According to a police memorandum released after the incident, several suspects were Zanu PF card-carrying members. The majority were arrested at a lodge run by former State Security minister Owen “Mudha” Ncube.
These included Kennedy Simbi — who is believed to have delivered the killer blow. Before the by-elections, Chamisa himself found it difficult to campaign around the country as his motorcade was attacked by Zanu PF thugs while the police tried to cripple his movement through erecting numerous roadblocks.
Two months ago, “Mudha” Ncube, who is a top Zanu PF official in Midlands province and a close ally of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, openly threatened to unleash an orgy of violence against opposition members ahead of next year’s polls.
In an audio which went viral, Ncube — who is also nicknamed “Touch Bomber” — said Zanu PF will employ violence against “sellouts” that will be worse than what was witnessed during the 2008 presidential run-off election.
Countless people were killed in 2008 after the military took over the Zanu PF campaign ahead of the 27 June election run-off pitting the then president Robert Mugabe and MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai had outpolled Mugabe in the first round, but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced he had not garnered enough votes to be declared the outright winner, necessitating the runoff. Tsvangirai quit the race as the violence spiralled out of control.
Addressing Zanu PF supporters in October in Mberengwa, in the Midlands province, Ncube said:
“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. Some left their grandchildren.”
“If you sell out, we are going to deal with you in a crude way,” Ncube said.
A few days after Ncube’s threats, there were horrific accounts and images of CCC officials who were attacked by Zanu PF thugs while campaigning in Insiza, where a local authority by-election was due to be held on 22 October.
The party’s MP for Bulawayo, Jasmine Toffa (proportional representation), was treated for fractured hands and leg injuries after the attack, which came after similar incidents in Matobo’s ward 2 which was also heading for a by-election.
Among the victims was Ntando Ndlela, the CCC spokesperson for Matabeleland South.
Ndlela said he and other CCC officials had parked two vehicles by the roadside when Zanu PF activists, in a convoy of about 20 vehicles, approached and attacked them.
The thugs also opened the bonnets of CCC vehicles and poured sand into the engines, including Toffa’s Parliament-issued Ford Ranger, rendering them completely undriveable. They also slashed all the tyres to totally immobilise the CCC officials.
After that, the Zanu PF youths proceeded to the CCC ward 4 council candidate Augustine Gumede’s home where they attacked everyone who was at the homestead.
They destroyed everything from window panes to the furniture and looted food. Two more vehicles were destroyed there.
This week, a video of Housing minister Daniel Garwe telling Zanu PF supporters to use violence to defend themselves was widely circulated on social media. He urged the supporters to abandon dictates of Christianity which call for peace and tolerance, saying the way to go was beating up opposition supporters at the slightest provocation.
He also boasted that the courts and police would treat violent Zanu PF supporters with impunity since the party “owns all justice and security organs”.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesperson Obert Masaraure expressed concern over the escalation of violence and also hinted it could be a precursor of worse cases in the 2023 election period.
Masaraure also called upon the Southern African Development Community to rein in Zanu PF and ensure that guidelines on conducting democratic, free and elections are steadfastly adhered to.
“Observer missions who observed our 2018 elections should engage Zanu PF and ask them to implement the raft of recommendations from different missions,” said Masaraure.
“The ruling Zanu PF party has failed to transform into a modern political party which can peacefully convince people through selling a popular manifesto. The party remains trapped in the barbaric politics of violence.
“Citizens have to unite and demand peaceful campaigns from all political parties. The people should use the ballot to punish the godfathers of violence. It should be given that anyone who deploys violence in political contestations should automatically lose elections.”
Political analyst Professor Stephen Chan weighed in: “A lot will depend on how well-organised a threat the CCC becomes. If the CCC poses a real challenge to Zanu PF, it could become a very violent election. But more so up to a month before the election proper, before international observers arrive. The violent ‘conditioning’ will take place before then.”