Elections remind Admore Chihwa, 59, of the day he and other passengers were forced out of a bus in Centenary by ZANU PF youths on the way from Harare to Muzarabani in 2008.
This was after the late former president Robert Mugabe lost the first round of presidential elections to Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission however took more than a month to announce the presidential election results, amid rising tension and allegations that they were being doctored.
When the results were finally announced, Tsvangirai had won but had however failed to garner enough votes to be declared president, hence a run-off was called, pitting the two politicians.
The military took over the Zanu PF campaign which was characterized by violence and intimidation, as an operation to rescue Mugabe was put in motion.
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Chihwa remembers the youths harassing them after a passenger next to him threw out a newspaper deemed to be anti-government, when the bus was stopped. The passenger had correctly sensed that he would be in deep trouble if seen with the newspaper.
“It was that time when people were not allowed to read non-state newspaper because government did not want us to know about the mass action which MDC was calling for the release of elections results,” he says.
“As a newspaper which was used by the opposition to impart messages and mobilise people for mass action, we were harrassed for having that paper in the bus because the government didn’t like people especially from rural areas to know about the protest. We had a torrid time at the hands of the youths.”
Centenary is located in Mashonaland Central Province, a ZANU PF stronghold.
Use of paramilitary has been a systematic routine for the ruling party to control most Zimbabwe rural communities during elections.
This year, as the country is looking forward the harmonized elections on August 23, victims from as far as Mugabe regime are still living in fear that history may repeat itself. The intimidation tactics used during the Mugabe era are being applied to curtail some freedoms that are enshrined in the constitution, ahead of this year’s polls.
Election background since 1980-2000
Since the attainment of independence in 1980, elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by allegations of rigging, violence and violation of human rights by the ruling party against opposition parties and supporters.
In 1980, ZANU PF contested with Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo, United African National Council (UANC) led by Abel Muzorewa.
ZANU PF’s victory was questioned by Nkomo who revealed in his memoir “The story of my life”, that Mugabe used militia to suppress the majority to vote for the party especially in rural areas.
The 1985 election saw Zanu PF winning elections but this was during the Gukurahundi era, when soldiers from the Fifth Brigade were deployed in the Matabeleland provinces and Midlands. They unleashed terror and killed up to 20 000 people.
The massacres stopped after Nkomo and Mugabe signed the Unity Accord in 1987, which resulted in the two parties merging.
Former Education minister and senior CCC official David Coltart draws parallels between the 1985 election and the current political environment, in which Zanu PF is trying to stifle the opposition party, led by Nelson Chamisa.
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“This is arguably the worst environment the opposition has faced in Zimbabwe since 1985 elections when ZANU PF tried to obliterate ZAPU,” Coltart said.
“If one looks at the terms by ZANU PF particularly since 2020 to crush CCC you would see that it stands as an assault on any political party and also series of court applications to which has been brought out to knock Kasukuwere from the presidential election.”
In 1990, ex-Minister of Labour and Manpower Planning Edgar Tekere contested against his former boss as the candidate of Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) following his expulsion from ZANU PF for his consistent criticism of corruption and moves to establish a one-party state.
However, reports show that five ZUM candidates were killed during this election.
In 1996 Mugabe ran a solo election after one of the candidates Ndabaningi Sithole withdrew shortly before election as he was under a house arrest on charges of attempting to assassinate Mugabe.
The other candidate Abel Muzorewa, leader of United Parties, pulled out after his pleas to postpone the election over inaccuracies on voters’ roll and some unfairness of electoral rules, were ignored.
UANC has been out of view since 2010 following the death of its founder, but this year the party is on the list to run for the first office. The party is now led by Gwinyai Muzorewa who told this publication that he inspires to modify the founder’s ideology national peace and unity.
However, he said the ruling party is repressing civil liberties.
“Elections look like they have never been free and fair, as the ruling party claims the monopoly of the ground, yet we are all citizens,” Muzorewa says.
“Mail votes are allowed only for ruling party workers and supporters. Zimbabweans in the diaspora are denied that right.”
Intimidation and Violence against the MDC members
While polls in 1980 were between candidates who were involved in the liberation struggle, the emergence of MDC in 1999 ahead of the 2000, saw the ruling party labelling the opposition traitors.
Violence was witnessed in the run up to the 2000 parliamentary elections and the trend continued in the 2002 presidential elections.
Amnesty International report shows that more than 1 000 cases of torture and ill- treatment, and least 58 political killings were reported in 2002 election.
One of the victims of the Mugabe era torture, Charles Mutama who was a Director of Intelligence for MDC recalls brutal treatment he endured at Harare Central Remand Prison together with Job Sikhala. They were accused of treasonous after being accused of plotting to overthrow the constitutionally elected government.
“My formative years were fraught with trauma and violence by state and non-state actors as l endured grueling torture in the same way many others went through and up to now there has been no redress and justice,” he said.
The 2008 polls saw a lot of Zimbabweans witnessing brutality during the presidential election runoff election which is popularly known as “27 June VaMugabe muoffice”.
Mugabe and lost the first round of elections to Tsvangirai, who however failed to get the required 50% plus one vote.
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Tsvangirai withdrew from the race ahead of the polls citing violence, but his name was maintained on the ballot paper.
The violence ahead of the polls and allegations of rigging resulted in Sadc mediating in Zimbabwe culminating in the signing of the Global Political Agreement led to the establishment Government of National Unity which ran from 2009- 2013.
During the GNU period Zimbabwe inked a new constitution as part of reforms ahead of the 1013 polls.
The 2013 saw Mugabe contesting against former Zanu PF senior official Dumiso Dabengwa, who had revived ZAPU. Tsvangirai also contested and so did his former party Secretary Welshman Ncube (MDC -Ncube) and Kisinoti Mukwazhi of Zimbabwe Development Party.
Although ZANU PF won the election with 62%, ZAPU still believe that playing field was not level.
ZAPU National Spokesperson Mso Ndlovu said the liberation agenda has been hijacked by the ruling party and there are no chances of free and fair elections since they are presided by ZANU PF.
“We fought a bitter liberation war for, among other things, the right to vote and the right to be voted for, but unfortunately those rights are molested with reckless abandon by the ruling elite”.
“Elections have become an endorsement ritual for the ruling party and a smokescreen and deception in pretending that we are a democracy and they know, as we do that free and fair election is suicidal and it is in their best interests not to provide it,” Ndlovu told She Corresponds Africa.
2018 elections to date
The 2018 polls marked the first election to not feature “Mugabe and Tsvangirai” since 1980 and 2002 respectively.
Mugabe who was forced to step down following a coup in 2017 was succeeded by his deputy, President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The death of Tsvangirai in 2018 ignited chaos in the party which led to the formation of MDC factions between Thokozani Khupe (MDC-T) and Nelson Chamisa (MDC Alliance).
With hope having a credible election as enshrined in the constitution the majority celebrated the downfall of Mugabe regime looking ahead of a better Zimbabwe under the new dispensation.
The period saw a massive turnout of aspiring candidates including four women, who took part in the 2018 presidential polls.
One of the 2018 female contestant Melbah Dzapasi the leader of Divine Alliance for Vitalisation of Inspired Development (DAVID) said there were no much reforms effected in the second republic as they contested under the same conditions.
“I can say there were few notable differences as there was no much electoral violence experienced since the electorate had so much hope for a change of leadership in the ruling party through a free and fair election,” she said.
Chamisa unsuccessfully challenged Mnangagwa’s victory in the Constitutional Court alleging the polls were rigged.
This continued a trend of controversial elections which has been a feature since 1980. Zimbabwean polls have over the years been associated with rigging, violence and other human rights violations.
The perspective was echoed by political analyst Ibbo Mandaza who said there is no difference between both republics in line with elections.
“The environment is hardly conducive to a free, fair and credible election, by all accounts we are headed for another disputed election,” Mandaza said.
“The coup of 2017 is just a continuation of the same regime, not surprisingly, we have the obscenest and desperate campaign by Mnangagwa who has reason to be worried given factionalism in ZANU PF.”
Zimbabwe’s harmonized elections slated for August 23 have been characterized by lawfare and partisan conduct by government arms, such as the police, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), and state broadcaster.