Violent Campaign Shatters Prospects For Free, Fair Election

AMBUYA Chigombe stands in front of what used to be her two thatched huts that she built with her own hands that have been razed to the ground in the wave of political violence sweeping across Zimbabwe ahead of the election run-off next week.

 

What is left cannot shelter her from the cold winter nights.

A suspected Zanu PF militia visited her homestead and burnt all that she had worked for. The little harvest she had got from last season was not spared and the only cow she got when her daughter was married was taken away by the assailants.

As if that was not enough, she does not know where the militia took her only son Albert to after they accused him of supporting the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC.

What pains her most is that there is nothing she can do about it except pray that wherever he is, he is alive and will come back to what used to be their home. Mbuya Chigombe is not the only one petrified. So are other Kodza villagers in Chiweshe, Mashonaland Central province.

Since the March 29 harmonised elections, Zanu PF militia have descended on their village causing a lot of unrest to villagers in many different ways.

In surrounding villages like Kaseke, Maodza and Shutu people were either ordered to surrender their national identity cards or were asked who they voted for between President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

They were told that in next week’s presidential run-off between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, secret camera would be placed in polling stations and they would be able to tell who the villagers had voted for. The objective is to coerce the electorate to vote for Mugabe.

On Friday, over 5,6 million Zimbabweans are expected to vote in the second round of the presidential poll. In the first round Tsvangirai garnered the most votes with 47, 9% of valid votes (1 195 562 votes), followed by Mugabe with 43, 2% or 1 079 730 votes.

After the results were announced, speculation was rife that Tsvangirai would trounce Mugabe by a large margin in a run-off.

However, the environment that the electorate has been living in since March 29 has drastically changed and fears are that MDC might lose to Zanu PF.

The possibility of Mugabe turning around the tables will not come as a surprise to Zimbabweans following the violence, intimidation, displacements, alleged secret voter registration and controversial postal voting by security forces.

MDC spokesperson, Nelson Chamisa, claimed that in areas like Murehwa, Mutoko, Wedza and Marondera and parts of Shamva, Mt Darwin, Rushinga and Chiweshe secret voter registration was taking place while security forces were voting in an irregular manner.

Tsvangirai beat Mugabe by 115 832 votes and if the claims raised by the MDC are true, Mugabe might close the gap.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said that it was most likely that the MDC would lose the elections because of the radical change in the electoral landscape.

“The electoral landscape as compared to pre-March 29 has completely changed and the prominent factors to the are violence, arson and harassment which cumulatively have instilled fear in the electorate with some of them, especially in areas where violence has been rampant, thinking of altering their voting preferences,” Masunungure said. “The media terrain has also changed, the public media is not covering the MDC at all and if it does it disparages the opposition and only portrays it in a negative light. The MDC has not lost its popularity but due to the circumstances right now it is most likely to lose the election.”

The MDC claims that more than 60 of its supporters and officials have been killed since March 29 and 25 000 displaced in post-election violence.

Those displaced might not be able to vote unless the MDC manages to take them back to their wards.

There are others who have been negatively affected by the intimidation to the extent that they would rather spend the day indoors than risk their lives being caught on “camera” voting for the MDC, as they were told.

National Constitutional Assembly chairman Lovemore Madhuku said it would be misleading to describe the run-off as an election. He said this was a “process designed to legitimise” Mugabe.

“This is a process that will certainly lead to a declaration that Mugabe has won,” Madhuku said. “The playing field is not even, the MDC has no access to rural voters, there is massive intimidation and propaganda being splashed in all the public media.”

He added: “One would be very foolish to say the MDC does not need campaigns to win; it will need to talk to the electorate and mobilise them once again and make them excited and see how critical the run-off is. But Zanu PF has tried everything possible to cripple their campaigns.”

However, despite the violence, some of the MDC supporters still have confidence that Tsvangirai will win next Friday.

A voter in Harare, who preferred anonymity, said no matter the violence and intimidation, MDC supporters would vote for Tsvangirai.

“The tense environment at the moment won’t do anything to change the opinion of the masses,” the voter said. “I am fed up with the corruption, unemployment, high inflation and shortages of basic commodities. I want all these things to be addressed and I trust Tsvangirai will bring the change.”

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