Who is responsible? A preliminary analysis of pre-election violence in Zimbabwe

This is a preliminary report dealing with the violence in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East Provinces. The Human Rights NGO Forum is releasing this report at this stage to draw attention to the scale of violence in Zimbabwe and in the hope that the Zimbabwean Government will immediately take the necessary measures to curb the violence in these areas. We will be providing further reports on the remaining provinces.

Introduction
Political violence has cast a dark shadow over the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe. This report provides an analysis of how this violence began and how it is being sustained. It is based upon more than sixty detailed statements from survivors of violence. These men and women have all been subjected to torture or severe brutality because of their political affiliations, real or perceived. They have spoken out against the perpetrators of violence and in the process they have named not only individual attackers, but the leading organisers. Their accounts provide compelling evidence that an organised campaign of violence is being sponsored by the ruling party, Zanu (PF) and that high-ranking party members are directly involved.

There have been a number of clashes between members of rival political parties, some may have been produced by local tensions and others are retaliatory. There have also been some incidents in which opposition members belonging to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have attacked Zanu (PF) supporters, although none of the victims in these cases has reported directly to the Forum and scant details of the extent of victim injuries have been supplied by media reports. MDC supporters have been arrested in several of these cases and further details will emerge when they are brought to court. There have also been clashes between Zanu (PF) supporters of rival factions, resulting in one death as well as injuries and property damage.

All instigators and perpetrators of political violence are to be condemned and must be dealt with through the courts; all are destroying or devastating lives and the chances for a democratic and peaceful future for the country. However, the state-controlled media, the government and the police have exaggerated the extent and nature of “MDC violence”. Repeated claims that the leadership of the opposition is engaged in the planning and implementation of violence are unsubstantiated and would seem to be part of an attempt on the part of Zanu (PF) to manufacture a justification for its own actions.

In a subversion of all democratic norms, opposition candidates and their supporters have been publicly identified as the enemy and are deemed to be traitors and sell-outs. A barrage of racist abuse is being used to whip up hatred by trying to depict the MDC as a front for the protection of the interests of the white minority. The attempts by Zanu (PF) to demonise and discriminate against white Zimbabweans are unacceptable and a negation of the principle of racial equality upon which Zimbabwe was founded. Racist arguments have been used to encourage violence against black and white supporters of the opposition alike.

Furthermore, the land invasions which began at the end of the February have served as a pretext and a cover for violence and they are now an integral part of the ruling party’s political and logistical strategy for electoral victory. It is worth noting a recent political opinion poll which revealed that in order of importance the issue of land was seen as being less important than issues like rising prices, unemployment and poverty. Additionally 74% of the people surveyed blamed the government for failing to solve this problem. Political violence has been practically and ideologically sustained by the farm invasions, with the invaders themselves taking a leading role. Farms have been a source of food and support for the attackers, and centres for the organisation of violence targeting farm workers and rural communities. There are currently 953 farms still occupied and more than 1631affected since the outset of the land invasions. One-third of those seizures involved violence, according to the farm leaders. With a farmworker population of between 300-400,000 plus their dependents, the occupations have allowed for the intimidation of large numbers of potential voters.

According to the Commercial Farmers Union, 430 people have been hospitalised and 2400 assault cases have been reported since February, mostly against black farm workers. There were 1490 death threats, 70% of them against the workers, the CFU said.

For a long time there has been a pressing need to address the gross racial imbalances in the ownership of land which have persisted since independence. Regrettably, the government has failed to utilise properly the peaceful, legal means for reform available to it. Some land has been corruptly allocated and those who genuinely need the land have not benefited.

President Mugabe has made clear his support for the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) and its leader Dr Chenjerai Hunzvi. He engaged the ZLWVA to spearhead the party’s election campaign, allocating them $20 million for this purpose. The President has condoned or excused the murders and innumerable human rights abuses which have been perpetrated by the war veterans and their supporters in the course of their campaign. He ordered the police not to take action against the farm invaders, ignoring court rulings requiring them to do so. This has seriously undermined the administration of law and order.

Whether on or off the farms, victims often have no one to turn to for protection. The police have even refused to let them make a report in some cases. Even when a police report is made and the violators are known, there is no guarantee of arrests. The police support unit has been sent in to quell some disturbances and to move on occupiers, and some police stations continue to attempt to carry out their duties professionally. But more commonly the police have remained passive and some of their members have even taken part in the violence. An increasing number of people have been charged in connection with political violence, but there have been few convictions. Perpetrators have often been placed on remand, released on bail or simply fined for common assault and freed to continue their activities. Those policemen who are struggling to carry out their duties in difficult circumstances have been subject to threats or to transfers. Two have been killed.

Although the Forum is receiving daily reports of political violence these are only a minority of the cases that are occurring. Many incidents only come to light weeks after they have happened and victims are often afraid to speak out for fear of further intimidation. The full extent of the political violence is not known at present and it is probable that it will be months before a realistic assessment is possible. What can be said at this stage is that there is sufficient testimony to be able to identify strong patterns in the organisation and nature of the violence right across the country, consistent with newspaper reports that a military-style campaign has been launched against opposition supporters. The findings of the Forum show that the real threat to the electoral process and the long-term security of the nation is coming from militia-style groups which have been established nationwide and which are openly backed by Zanu (PF) members. Their mission has been to wipe out opposition support and they have been licensed to terrorize civilians into voting for Zanu (PF).

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