By Byron Mutingwende
Civil society organisations (CSOs) have roundly condemned violence rearing its ugly head ahead of the Bikita West by-elections to replace jailed former Member of the House of Assembly for the area, Munyaradzi Kereke.
The Election Resource Centre (ERC) Wednesday condemned the violent attacks on the opposition candidate for Bikita West National Assembly by-election and National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) representative Madock Chivasa together with his election agent, Thomas Mudzamiri by unidentified assailants at Nyika growth point.
The independent electoral body said that the nature of the assault gave the impression that it could reasonably be another case of politically motivated violence following similar attacks upon supporters of Zimbabwe People First party in recent weeks.
“The escalation of violence is deplorable and confirms the enduring vice of intolerance during electoral contests. Violence, in whatever form, and by any member of our society is not acceptable as it is in contravention of section 52 (a) of the Constitution which guarantees every person the rights “to freedom from all forms of violence from public or private sources,” ERC said,
In that regard, it called upon the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission whose function is “to support and entrench human rights and democracy” as stipulated in Chapter 12 section 233 (a) of the Constitution to immediately investigate the matter and take appropriate action as provided for in the Code of Conduct for Elections.
ERC urged the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) as an institution responsible for enforcement of the law to ensure that the arrests of the perpetrators of violence in Bikita West was done expeditiously.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the SADC principles and guidelines guiding the conduct of elections which encourage the holding of violence free elections.
State and non-state actors have a mandate to protect, promote and respect all human rights provisions as enshrined in the Bill of Rights, other sections of the Constitution and other international statutory instruments that Zimbabwe is a signatory to.
The ERC implored the election authorities to seriously consider tightening enforcement mechanisms and institute deterrent mechanisms which in future would dissuade would-be perpetrators of violence from opting for physical conquests where they should have engaged in a contestation of ideas.
It called upon the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to expedite electoral reforms being called for by a majority of Zimbabweans which would go a long way in ensuring the credibility of future electoral processes whilst limiting such cases of politically motivated violence.
“Electoral stakeholders, including citizens have the mandate to ensure existence of tolerance at all tiers of society which will entrench the democratic spaces that many Zimbabweans cherish,” ERC said.
On the other hand, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) also condemned the attack of the opposition candidates.
ZimRights expressed concern over the continued electoral malpractices in the Bikita by-election and all recent by-elections and the implication of the acts of violence as a precursor to the forthcoming 2018 elections.
“The calculated act of political violence by an organised hit squad wearing the ruling party Zanu PF’s regalia is a slap in the face of the constitutional requirement for free, fair and credible elections.,” ZimRights said.
The assault was reportedly carried out by 13 people with Zanu-PF regalia around Nyika Growth Point at about 10 pm in the evening of Tuesday, January 17, 2017.
The armed assailants were reportedly driving a Ford Everest vehicle belonging to Marondera legislator, Lawrence Katsiru, and they had been trailing the victims the whole day during their election campaign in preparation of the by-election on January 21.
Chivasa confirmed to ZimRights that: “They hit me with the back of a pistol on the head and I fell down, breaking my arm. The assailants clearly asked me who I thought I was to oppose Zanu-PF. I am on my way to Silveira Hospital to get treatment. We reported the matter at Nyika Growth Point last night, but there was a single police officer who said he could not handle political cases and only promised to inform his superior who was absent from the station. We have since notified a person only identified as Mashavave who is a senior ZEC official in Bikita.”
The assailants reportedly hit Chivasa on the forehead twice with the back of a pistol as he left a supermarket at around 10 pm in the evening, and he fell to the ground before they further lashed him and his election agent with sjamboks and other motley weapons.
The assailants reportedly waylaid Chivasa and Mudzamiri as they made their way home after dropping off the rest of the campaign team.
When Chivasa and Mudzamiri drove to a supermarket at Nyika, the assailants reportedly parked outside and attacked the victims on their way out.
In a statement, ZimRights said that it was suspected, from the reports the victims got from the members of the public who later assisted them, that among the assailants were two soldiers who are based in Bikita.
When confronted by the public who later discovered the assault why the assailants were beating up Chivasa and colleague, the group allegedly fired a gunshot, and it is yet to be confirmed whether anyone was injured from the firearm activation.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) weighed in by registering its concerned over the culture of violence that has been allowed to continue while no corrective measures are being taken to ensure free and fair polls that allow voters to make their choices freely without fear.
“What has worsened the situation is the partisan conduct of law enforcement agents who have turned themselves into political commissars for the ruling party against the dictates of the country’s supreme law.
“The result has been victimization and threats to opposition activists who have for long failed to get redress in the event of them being attacked or threatened.
In the case of Masvingo province, senior army officers and Zanu (PF) politicians are on record threatening violence against opposition supporters and it has become quite apparent that Zanu (PF) is out to win elections at all costs and this includes unleashing violence,”CiZC said.