Since 29 March 2008 when Zimbabwe held its first ever combined elections for Presidential, Parliamentary, Senatorial and Local seats retributive politically motivated violence has largely defined the terrain of the post election period. From the reports that the Human Rights Forum has received from victims and other sources, the violence has largely but not exclusively been perpetrated by ZANU PF supporters, members of the security forces such as the police, army and intelligence officers on MDC members for having voted for the MDC. In the results that were released unreasonably late, the MDC party managed for the first time to post a victory against Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF party. However, according to the discredited Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the body officially mandated with running elections in Zimbabwe there was no clear winner for the Presidential poll and thus there will be a run off between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai on 27 June 2008.
Politically Motivated Violence Against Women
The violations that have been meted out on Zimbabweans who largely voted against the Mugabe government have been very brutal and sinister in nature. Although the violations have been more against male victims, the effects of the violations on women and children have been catastrophic. The attacks carried out consist of politically motivated murders, arson on houses and household property, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in front of onlookers in an operation called ‘Operation makavhotera papi?’ (Operation where did you put your vote).
The resultant effect of these retributive attacks by the assailants who are well organised and mainly supported by the Mugabe government have been large scale internal displacements of women and children, widows and orphans left behind by their dead fathers, closure of schools as teachers flee the violence and general starvation which all amount to a desperate humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.
In terms of the impending run off slated for 27 June 2008, there is no doubt that politically – motivated violence will inform and influence political thinking amongst citizens and ultimately voting patterns in favour of those responsible for the violence due to intimidation and displacement. The voting system in Zimbabwe is structured in a way that people will vote in the wards where they are registered as voters. Thus for those women who continue to flee the violence and have been displaced, voting on 27 June will become a wish which might be difficult to fulfil. The affected women will definitely be disenfranchised and denied a chance to participate in their own governance.
In the Monthly Political Violence Reports produced by the Human Rights Forum it is evident that over the years various rights affecting women in Zimbabwe have been violated in situations that were politically motivated ranging from sexual torture, the threat of the act of rape itself, assault, torture and freedom of expression and association.
The Human Rights Forum has been operating a database wherein information on human rights violations has been collated. In 2001, there were 75 women whose rights were violated in Zimbabwe, 151 in 2002; 217 in 2003; 229 in 2004; 154 in 2005 259 in 2006 and 1 323 in 2007. The incidents of violence were most frequent during the election years of 2000, 2002 and 2005. The coincidence of the frequency of violations over this period suggests a clear correlation with elections, thus supporting what is often overtly stated by the violators, that the gender – based violence is politically motivated. However, 2007 seems to have been the worst year in terms of human rights violations and more particularly politically motivated violations against women who are pro democracy activists in their own right, married or related to a male MDC activist. Regrettably 2008 appears likely to beat that record.
Women’s Rights and Zimbabwe’s International Obligations
Women and girls’ rights to be free from violence are enshrined in various human rights treaties. Under these treaties, some of the rights to which women and girls are entitled include: life, liberty and security of person; freedom form torture and cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment or punishment. In line with its international obligations, Zimbabwe ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1991. Zimbabwe is also party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which in Article 13 calls for the right of every citizen to participate freely in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives and Article 18 which calls on all member states to ensure the protection of the rights of women in Africa.
In the 2008 Harmonised Elections a total of 849 women candidates representing a total percentage of 20% of all the candidates stood in the different elections. The SADC Gender and Development Declaration, to which Zimbabwe is signatory, upholds the status of women making posts in politics and the public service and sets a target of 50% for full participation by women by 2015. Out of Zimbabwe’s 210 seats for Parliamentarians, only 34 women (18.7%) made it into Parliament against a total of 184 women that contested. In the revived Senate, requiring 60 people, 21 (32%) out of a total of 64 women who contested won. In the local council elections, 105 women stood unopposed and 561 stood in seats that were being contested. The results for these are still being published by the ZEC thus the total figure is yet to be established.