Peaceful elections in 2023 are possible despite an orgy of violence that rocked the dormitory town of Chitungwiza as the country’s two main political parties clashed following the brutal murder of Moreblessing Ali.
Ruling ZANU PF youths clashed with Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) youths over the past few days in a development observers said pointed to a bloody 2023 general election if no urgent action was taken by political parties to rein in their supporters.
Tempers flared in the dormitory town following the death of Ali, a political activist whose allegiance is now being questioned after both parties claimed she was one of them.
Ali was allegedly murdered by her former boyfriend, Pius Jamba, a ZANU PF activist who has since been arrested.
While the motive behind the murder has not been ascertained by the police, those in the CCC believe Ali’s abduction and subsequent murder was politically motivated, while those in ZANU PF maintain this was a private dispute.
However, the scenes of violence that followed painted a gloomy picture of 2023, as the country prepares for watershed general elections, the second after the ouster of former President Robert Mugabe in 2017 after a military led operation code-named ‘Operation Restore Legacy’.
But Zimbabwe Election Resource Centre spokesperson, Bobosibuno Musaka said the chances of holding peaceful elections next year were still at 50-50, noting however, that it required a lot of work and political will from concerned stakeholders for it to be salvaged.
“Political parties must refrain their supporters from engaging in violence and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must publicise well the Code of Conduct for political parties. Zimbabwe Republic Police must arrest without fear, favour anyone who is involved in acts of violence,” he said, adding authorities and stakeholders must be seen to be doing something.
“People must have a sense of action that they see from any of the authorities and other electoral stakeholder commissions must actually provide their services like the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission must ensure citizens know their rights and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission must monitor the environment and also allow for political parties to have dialogue so that at least they diffuse the tensions that are found in communities,” he said.
Government spokesperson, Nick Mangwana, reported that more than 20 houses and 13 tuckshops had been destroyed while several schools were shut down in violent political clashes between the two antagonists, for which he blamed the CCC members.
“They were deliberately cranked up to their most violent mode through inflammatory rhetoric. And as sure as the sun rises from the East they obliged. Politicians should stop using young people as cannon fodder to remain relevant. This is not on,” Mangwana wrote on his micro-blogging site Twitter.
CCC National chairman and St Mary’s Member of Parliament, Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole have since been arrested for allegedly inciting violence.
At the time of going to print, the Zimbabwe Republic Police CID Law and Order section in Harare were keen to interview owners of some vehicles which were allegedly used to carry youths who engaged in the violence that led to the damaging of property.
Nonetheless political analyst, Gideon Chitanga noted that thespate of violence that erupted in Chitungwiza was probably a significant indicator of the increasing political temperature’s as Zimbabwe drew closer to the 2023 elections.
“This shows that the pervasive violent political electioneering and also the broader violation of human rights persist and therefore threaten the holding of free and fair elections. If you look at this particular case of political violence, it reminds one of a situation in 2008 when people disappeared and their bodies were found and these people were dead.
“You will also see in the case of the violence itself, the burning of houses and so on; this is a situation where citizens do not have faith in the institutions of the rule of law, they therefore take the law upon themselves and they angrily react ending their grievances hence the burning of property and threatening of life of members of opposite political parties,” he said.
He said the retaliation and counter-retaliation by political parties, if not handled well, might escalate and end up inflaming broader inter-party violence which was destabilising and did not auger well for free expression of political choice, peaceful campaign and eventually free and fair election.
Another political analyst, Vivid Gwede, said the increase in incidents of political violence since the March by-elections pointed to tension ahead of the next elections.
“The trend is that the ruling party supporters are being identified as perpetrators. Political leaders need to rein in their supporters if the country is not to blind walk into another controversial electoral season,” he warned.
In a statement, the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) said it had detectedand reported a resurgence of violence targeting CCC supporters.
“In the two months alone, Zanu PF has contributed to +50%(+300) rights violations, the majority of them related to how the party is closing down space for the CCC in rural areas, particularly in Mashonaland East, West and Central, Manicaland and Masvingo provinces,” it said.
ZPP said it was clear that the brutality with which Ali was murdered and mutilated stoked emotions.
“The police, who we believe should be proactively providing a platform for peaceful resolution of the inter-party tension, is also expected to ensure the family is protected,”
It further stated that weaponising the law to target opposition leaders was ill-timed and could only get in the way of peacebuilding at this crucial moment when the focus should be on investigating the circumstances of Ali’s callous murder.
“Police should conduct themselves in a fair manner. There is a public record of a @ZANUPF_Official councillor publicly inciting party supporters to bar the funeral of Ali, and he walks scot-free……even when there is considerable evidence of @ZANUPF_Official supporters torching houses and destroying property of those who support CCC,” it claimed.
The ZPP said while the CCC leadership had publicly denounced violence, which was a welcome move, they should do more to ensure that their supporters were not drawn into retaliating as such a scenario could only breed more violence.
Concerned that this violence is likely to be part of the electoral environment ahead of the 2023 elections, ZPP believes it’s time political leaders to dialogue about political violence and put in place preventive measures that will ensure life and property are protected.