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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Legal Monitor: Election Edition
    Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
    August 07
    , 2013

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    Zim decides

    With the watershed election period still underway, Zimbabweans remain vigilant in maintaining peace.

    Results are beginning to trickle in and, inevitably, tensions build up between winning and losing parties.

    The voice of reason should prevail so that, for once, Zimbabwe moves into a peaceful post election period.

    Elections are not new to Zimbabwe. So is the common denominator. Violence, intimidation, arrests and disputed results have been part of Zimbabwe’s election process since Independence in 1980.

    It has not been too different in the build up to this year’s election.

    While, in general, the lead-up to the 2013 elections has been characterised by lower levels of overt violence than the period preceding the March 2008 election and the period before the June 2008 presidential election run-off, there was a deliberate ploy to silence Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and political activists.

    There were continued incidences of intimidation and politically-motivated violence, particularly in rural and remote constituencies, and high density and peri-urban areas.

    Traditional leaders and political party youths allowed themselves to be used by powerful politicians with means for their personal and party-political agendas of power retention, leading to inter-party violence and rights violations. So too, cases of intra-party violence and rights violations have regrettably been documented across the political divide.

    What has been of more concern in the pre-election period is the nuanced, strategic and malevolently intentional targeting of political activists and HRDs in efforts to undermine and disrupt their activities. As such, ZLHR has recorded increased instances in which mobilisers, educators, human rights monitors and those providing critical legal and psychosocial support services have been intentionally sought out for intimidation, harassment and attack.

    Key political mobilisers have been, and continue to be, subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention and drawn-out trials in efforts to remove them from their constituencies at critical times in the run-up to elections. Civil society organisations (CSOs) – the watchdogs of society - have faced raids under the cover of search warrants of questionable legality; confiscation of documentation; unjustified threats and intimidation by senior law enforcement agents, criminilisation of their lawful activities; selective application of repressive and unreformed laws; malicious prosecution, and abuse through political institutions.

    Intolerance and the resort to violence have unfortunately become part of the fabric of our society and there is need for continued efforts to be made to encourage conflict prevention and resolution initiatives wherever it has manifested.

    And it is not too late for Zimbabwe to turn the corner. We just have to look at our past and realise we cannot afford any more scars.

    The wounds from previous elections are all still too fresh. The last election was in 2008 and the violence associated with that disputed poll are still haunting thousands, if not millions, of Zimbabweans.

    Violence was sweeping across the country with Zimbabwe resembling a war zone, only that there was no war. Political parties, civil society reported that what was supposed to be a routine election resulted in killings, disappearances, rape and looting.

    Victims of that era are still in pain and they fear the worst if this year’s election is not managed properly.

    Zimbabwe’s ill-functioning hospitals were packed across the country with villagers severely assaulted during and after the sham June 27 2008 presidential election runoff. Thousands others fled their homes and became refugees in their own countries after their houses were burnt down. Still, they were the lucky ones.

    Hundreds of lives were lost in the political violence. Sadly, it is not just the 2008 experience which informs of the need to change course in the way we conduct ourselves in times of political differences.

    Since Independence, Zimbabwe has experienced repeated episodes of violence, at times perpetrated or sponsored by the State.

    Barely a year into Independence, Zimbabwe’s new government had already engaged North Korean military instructors to sharpen a brutal brigade which was later to unleash terror in Matabeleland region.

    From 1983 to 1987, the Fifth Brigade is reported to have killed over 20 000 civilians, including pregnant women and children, whose bodies were dumped in shallow graves, according to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.

    Even those too young or not yet born to witness or survive Gukurahundi have their own scars.

    In farms, close to a million black farm workers were forced to live on the mountains, sharing food and water with wild animals – thanks to a land reform programme whose violent nature affected infants and the elderly alike in the farm worker community.

    Hundreds are still homeless. Others, like dozens from Mazowe being represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers from Human Rights, are still being forced out of homes they have known for decades by new farm owners.

    Farm workers are not the only ones nursing the scars of being rendered homeless.

    At settlements such as Hopley Farm just outside Harare, dozens of families still bear the brunt of Operation Murambatsvina (Drive out the filth). In Mutare, other families are so desperate they are living in a disused council beer hall, and even then, they needed legal help from ZLHR to continue residing in the beer hall after attempts to evict them.

    This is what UN Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, who conducted an investigation into the operation, described it in her report: “Popularly referred to as Operation Tsunami because of its speed and ferocity it resulted in the destruction of homes, business premises and vending sites. It is estimated that some 700,000 people in cities across the country have lost either their homes, their source of livelihood or both.

    “Indirectly, a further 2.4million people have been affected in varying degrees. Hundreds of thousands of women, men and children were made homeless, without access to food, water and sanitation, or health care. Education for thousands of school age children has been disrupted.

    “Many of the sick, including those with HIV and AIDS, no longer have access to care. The vast majority of those directly and indirectly affected are the poor and disadvantaged segments of the population. They are, today, deeper in poverty, deprivation and destitution, and have been rendered more vulnerable.”

    Zimbabweans and the authorities have the chance to break from such a unhappy past and move into the future with hope and unity of purpose.

    Peace, always.

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