Political parties contesting elections in a democratic system attempt to win the support of the electorate by peaceful political campaigning. The use of violence to intimidate voters is totally illegal in a democratic system.
What has happened in Zimbabwe over the last few months has been a complete subversion of the democratic electoral process. War veterans, supporters of the ruling party and youths recruited from the ranks of the unemployed have conducted a systematic and brutal campaign of violence and intimidation throughout the country. This has involved murder, attempted murder, torture, beatings, setting people on fire, rapes, kidnappings, arson and various other forms of intimidation. The objective of this campaign has been to smash the organisational capacity of opposition parties and to eliminate popular support for these parties. The party most targeted in this onslaught has been the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), but other opposition parties and independent candidates have also been affected.
The ruling party has tried to blame the MDC for the violence. It has either maintained that the MDC has been responsible for most of the violence or, more recently, that the MDC started the violence and Zanu (PF) supporters are now merely retaliating. It is true that supporters of the main opposition party have engaged in sporadic acts of violence against ruling party supporters and their property. However there is no evidence that party leaders in any way authorised or approved these actions, which seem to have been done by unruly and overzealous elements within the party. MDC members have also used violence to defend themselves when they have been attacked. The violence for which MDC has been responsible bears no comparison in scale to the massive country-wide violence being perpetrated by ruling party supporters. This violence is not being done in response to MDC violence; it is being carried out to terrorise the opposition into submission.
There has been violence in most parts of the country over the last few months and this violence continues to occur just a few days before the election. Violence has been most intense in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East but the other provinces have also experienced considerable levels of violence. There is a considerable body of evidence to show involvement in this violence by some members of parliament, some governors and other high-ranking officials of the ruling party, some members of the CIO and some elements from the army. This involvement has been either in the form of organisation and instigation or, in some cases, it has been direct, active participation in violent activities.
The major violence started to occur after war veterans and other ruling party supporters invaded commercial farms. There is no doubt that equitable land distribution is essential. But its use as a pretext for violent political intimidation of Zimbabweans is totally unacceptable. Most commercial farmers who were killed, beaten up or intimidated after the invasions began were prominent MDC supporters. Farmers known to be opposition supporters were driven off their farms or were forced to renounce their membership and join and support the ruling party.
Using their bases on these occupied farms the next target was farm labourers. A full scale terror onslaught was launched against these workers. Large gangs of ruling party supporters raided farm compounds, assaulted labourers and set fire to their houses. Farm labourers were also forced to attend all night political indoctrination meetings (pungwes). At these meetings people were forced to denounce the MDC and known or suspected MDC supporters were publicly humiliated and beaten. The labourers were intimidated into identifying other MDC members.
The terror campaign then extended into the rural areas. Using the bases established on the farms and at other places such as community halls and buildings in rural towns and growth points, terror was spread throughout the rural areas. Opposition party candidates and officials were the primary target. They were threatened with death, their homes were raided and members of their families were assaulted and in one case a candidate’s brother was beaten to death. Homes of party officials were firebombed and other property belonging to them destroyed. Many opposition party officials were forced to seek refuge in the cities. When the MDC tried to hold campaign rallies in some of these areas party officials were attacked and beaten and in one case party officials were killed by the firebombing of the vehicle in which they were travelling. Opposition party rallies have been broken up and intended venues for meetings have been blockaded. The attacks upon MDC members going to or coming from political rallies in the rural areas has made it extremely dangerous to mount such rallies in these areas and this has severely restricted its electoral campaigning.
Large armed gangs of ruling party supporters also moved into communal areas looking for supporters of opposition parties and handing down dire warnings to people that there would be terrible reprisals against people who vote for the opposition. Road blocks were set up and travellers in the rural areas were interrogated and intimidated. Ruling party supporters mounted attacks upon known and suspected members of opposition parties. Some supporters have been beaten to death and many others have been badly assaulted. Women have been raped, some in front of their husbands and relatives. People have been kidnapped and taken to interrogation centres at the bases where they have been tortured. Houses of opposition party supporters have been set on fire and their possessions have been destroyed. Rural teachers, health workers and persons working for non-governmental organisations have also been attacked. Health workers have been ordered not to treat injured members of opposition parties. People have been forced to attend rallies of the ruling party at which savage beatings have been administered and some women and girls have been raped. The perpetrators have repeatedly transmitted the warning that if the people in that area elect an opposition candidate, there will be hell to pay. They have threatened to come back and kill people and burn down their houses if they vote for opposition parties. War veterans and various government officials have warned people that they will know how people have voted and they will exact terrible reprisals against individuals and groups who vote for the opposition.
Many people have fled into the towns and cities to escape from this terror. Apart from opposition party officials, at least 7000 rural teachers and at least 6,020 other people have fled their rural homes and moved into the cities and towns. But even the cities have not been safe havens. In Harare for instance Dr Hunzvi’s surgery has been used as a place to which abducted persons have been taken and tortured.
Not surprisingly in the face of such a reign of terror some opposition members have renounced their MDC membership and have joined Zanu (PF). At Zanu (PF) meetings MDC membership cards and T-shirts have been publicly handed over and the persons concerned have publicly joined Zanu (PF). The use of extreme violence against white farmers who were supporters of MDC has led to some of them transferring their allegiance to the ruling party.
A climate of fear and terror has thus been created. The message has been sent throughout the country that opposition party officials and their supporters will be violently attacked. The objective is to force people to support the ruling party.
The ruling party has thus set out to ensure that people will not be able freely to express their genuine electoral sentiments at the ballot box. This is a complete negation of the democratic electoral process. Members of the ruling party have broken every single electoral law by their acts and statements.
Note on sources of information
The reports compiled by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum contain information gathered from a variety of sources. We have taken many first hand reports from victims and where necessary and appropriate we have asked for medical reports on victims particularly those requiring treatment.
We have also obtained information from secondary sources such as non-governmental human rights organisations, organisations representing teachers and health workers, the Churches, newspaper reports, various political parties, the union representing farm workers, GAPWUZ, and the Commercial Farmers Union. Where possible we have tried to cross-check information that has come from reports from secondary sources. We have exercised caution in relying on reports from political parties as these may contain exaggerated accounts of events. Given the biases of the different sectors of the media in reporting a particular event we have tried to document all the various different accounts of the event provided by the local and international media.