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referendum marred by intimidation and arrests
Freeth, The Guardian (UK)
March 18, 2013
in the air in Zimbabwe. A referendum
on the new constitution was held this weekend and the general
election is due before the end of October. But the signs all suggest
that the upcoming vote will take place under conditions not dissimilar
to 2008, when elections were characterised by widespread intimidation
and political violence.
office of the Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, was raided by police,
four officials - apparently for impersonating officers. A prominent
human right lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, was also arrested for "defeating
the course of justice".
I was in Chegutu,
near Harare, recently. An elderly church pastor had held a meeting
at his local church to discuss the constitution. Three policeman
barged in and arrested the pastor and some of his parishioners under
the notorious Public
Order and Security Act, as they had been having a meeting of
more than three people without getting police clearance, as required.
and Pastor Bere described their ordeal of sleeping on the concrete
in a dark and over-crowded cell, sharing dirty blankets and a toilet,
an often overflowing hole in the ground, in the corner of the room.
It is an experience that many Zimbabweans know only too well.
After a couple
of nights inside the magistrate gave Konjana bail, but he was immediately
re-arrested without charge. Konjana went on hunger strike, saying
that he would not eat until he had been charged. They finally let
him out the next day.
later 14 people in Movement of Democratic Change t-shirts were on
their way to a meeting with Tsvanagarai. Under the long standing
security laws, used selectively prior to each election, such meetings
need to be cleared by the police at least four days before, and
this one had been. Unfortunately, though, they stopped their bus
in Chegutu to get some lunch. Police accused them of congregating
illegally and they were arrested and put in the cells, where they
spent the next week.
At the same
time a witch-hunt has begun for anyone with wind up short wave radios.
In Lupane, in the south of the country, police have asked children
at school whether their parents have these radios. Zanu-PF retains
control of the airwaves and is determined to crack down on anyone
listening to broadcasts from outside the country.
One of our employees
told me about his parents-in-law a few weeks ago. They had refused
to go to a Zanu-PF rally up in Mount Darwin, in the north of Zimbabwe.
The next thing they knew a group of youth arrived and burnt their
house down. They lost everything that they owned. I thought back
to when the same thing happened to us and a number of our workers
on the farm.
at the end of last month, Sherpherd Masiri, a well known MDC activist,
was out campaigning when his house was petrol bombed and burnt to
the ground. In it his 12-year-old son Christpowers Masiri was sleeping;
and like so many victims over the last four decades, he was burnt
to death . When I saw pictures of his charred
body lying on the burnt floor of his ruined home, I could only
think of my own son, born at the same time, who managed to survive
despite our house being burnt down. "It could have been him"
I kept thinking. "How many more and going to suffer the same
fate in 2013?"
The draft constitution
was voted on this weekend. Although there are those in civic society
who have expressed grave concerns about the document, both MDC and
Zanu-PF – including the war veterans – campaigned for
a yes vote. Although there are some better things in the constitution,
I have yet to understand why MDC supported it. President Robert
Mugabe approves the draft constitution essentially because, firstly,
his powers remain little diminished but secondly because it allows
him to continue to take land without any legal process. Property
rights remain insecure and the door is open for the grabbing of
white-owned mines, banks and businesses which will create further
job losses and will continue to stifle investment.
In the classic
Orwellian tradition, the draft constitution goes against international
law on a few fundamental issues. The most critical area of concern
is that the bill of "rights" allows a wrong. Just like
the Animal Farm inscription on the barn door which said that "all
animals are equal but some are more equal than it others",
it asserts that "discrimination is unfair…unless it is
found to be fair."
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