ZIMBABWE: Post election violence increasing

Monday, April 14, 2008
The prospect of a second round of the presidential poll, even though the result has not been officially released, is leading to increasing tensions throughout Zimbabwe and the fear of greater violence.

"The situation is turning increasingly violent and this worries us, as well as the electorate," Rangu Nyamurungira, projects manager for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), told IRIN.

Zimbabwe held combined presidential and parliamentary elections on 29 March, which saw opposition party's win control of parliament from ZANU-PF for the first time since the country won its independence from Britain in 1980.

The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has claimed its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai won the presidential vote by the required 50 percent plus one vote, that if accurate, would negate the need for a run-off presidential ballot. However, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), whose executive is appointed by Mugabe, has yet to release the results.

ZANU-PF, which has ruled Zimbabwe since independence, has said there was no clear presidential winner and wants a recount in at least 21 constituencies where it says the party was prejudiced by ‘fraudulent’ counting. Seven ZEC officials have reportedly been arrested.

The recently amended Electoral Act does not provide a deadline for when election results should be announced, but the MDc has resorted to the courts to try and force the ZEC to release the results of the presidential ballot. The presiding judge has postponed judgment until 14 April.

"There is pervading fear that the delay in announcing the presidential results could be because the votes are being tampered with and we don’t believe ZEC when it says it is still verifying the results. The electorate has the democratic right to be informed about the results and the longer it takes, the greater the tension," Nyamurungira said.

Fear of a violent run-off

David Chimhini, the director of the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (ZIMCET), said there was "an ominous potential of the political situation getting out of hand" should a run-off ballot be held, which is likely to pit Mugabe against Tsvangirai.

Chimhini, who won the Mutasa North parliamentary seat for the MDC in rural Manicaland province, said ZANU-PF youth militia and war veterans were gathering in his constituency.

"The militia... are re-assembling and holding frequent meetings with war veterans. This is getting people in my area really scared, they are well known for violence," he said. "They refer to a re-run as the beginning of another war."

Nyamurungira said human rights lawyers were receiving reports from across the country of MDC supporters being "tortured by loyalists of ZANU-PF and state agents who want to maintain the political status quo."

Chimhini said despite a heavy police presence in both rural and urban areas, authorities might be overwhelmed should tensions reach boiling point.

"It seems he [Mugabe] can’t come to terms with the fact that he can be defeated, and that is extremely dangerous. We might be going back to the [year] 2000 scenario where... he unleashed soldiers on the people and invaded farms, leading to hundreds of deaths," Chimhini said.

Intimidating the opposition

Takura Muzhingi, an MDC activist in former ZANU-PF stronghold Mhondoro district in Mashonaland West province, told IRIN he fled after a soldier accompanied by youths loyal to Mugabe visited him at his parents home. "They told me that my days were numbered since I had openly campaigned for Tsvangirai."

"They said they had a full list of all the people in Mhondoro who were known MDC supporters and come campaign time for the re-run of the presidential election, they would make mince meat of us," he said.

According to Muzhingi the soldier had paid regular visits to the local headman "telling villagers that when the re-run takes place, each village head will have to lead his people to the polling station and remind them who to vote for."

Muzhingi has sought refuge with his brother’s family in Chitungwiza, a small town 30km south of the capital Harare, and was arrested by riot police for being on the streets after midnight.

"Even though they did not beat us up, I still live with the fear and won’t venture out after dusk anymore. I hope that the situation will not degenerate into total chaos that would give the government the excuse to declare a state of emergency," Muzhingi said.

The government has not officially declared a curfew.

Targeting farms

In 2000, after Mugabe lost a referendum on a new constitution - the first time ZANU-PF had lost any vote - veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war led the often violent farm evictions following the government's controversial land redistribution programme. Around 4,000 commercial white farmers were forcibly removed to make way for landless blacks.

At an 8 April press briefing, Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary general, called on the 14-member state regional body, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), to act so as to avoid "dead bodies on the streets of Harare [the capital]".

South African President Thabo Mbeki was appointed mediator last year by SADC in talks between ZANU-PF and MDC to agree the conditions for free and fair polls in Zimbabwe.

"There's been massive violence inside our country since March 29 2008...MDC people are being beaten up ... farms with remaining pockets of white people are being invaded. Farms with known MDC supporters are being invaded.

"Militias are being re-armed, ZANU-PF supporters are being rearmed. There has been a complete militarisation of Zimbabwean society since March 29 2008," Biti said.

Source: IRIN http://www.irinnews.org