The Zimbabwe Peace Project has been on the ground watching events in Mwenezi East ahead of the 8 April by-election. The credibility of the election faces scrutiny after a number of material human rights violations were recorded in the area. Reported cases range from vote buying, denial of right to freedom of assembly, denial of food aid and intimidation and harassment. ZPP is worried by the unfolding events in Mwenezi East and more concerned that with each by election that is conducted the same issues are raised and no one is taking any action to ensure that the electorate exercises their political rights in a conducive environment free of intimidation and other malpractices.
Vote Buying/Politicisation of food aid
On 17th of March, there was a Zanu PF campaign rally at Masweswe Secondary school in Ward 13. The rally started around 14:00 hours. The Zanu PF candidate Joosbi Omar distributed rice, a quantity of 1,5kgs to everyone who attended the rally regardless of political affiliation.
Social Welfare officials denied that the government had a programme to give people rice on this day. This is despite the fact that the rice was obtained from the Grain Marketing Depot in Rutenga.
After the donations on the 18th of March the village head for village 4, Mr Mutsikwa convened a meeting questioning why those who do not support the ruling party had accepted and benefitted from Omars’ rice donations. The village head said those who do not have Zanu PF cards would not benefit from the cooking oil donations which according to the village head are expected on the 25th of March. He added that those without Zanu PF membership cards must not bother to come for cooking oil on the 25th of March.
Clear evidence of vote buying was also unearthed by our team during the visit to Mwenezi. At Rutenga Grain Marketing Board, the team saw trucks emblazoned with Robert Mugabe and Joosbi Omar posters with inscriptions written, “Zanu PF on Duty” loading sacks of rice and fertilizers to unknown destinations.
Right to freedom of assembly
A Zimbabwe people First rally which was said to have been initially authorised by the Masvingo Dispol was disrupted at the last minute by anti-riot police at Rutenga shopping Centre. The Dispol changed his mind as the rally was about to start saying he had received orders from the top to stop the rally.
Intimidation and Harassment
Those that turned up for the intended Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF) rally were allegedly followed to their homes by the Zanu PF district committee members and ordered to stop supporting opposition political parties. Transform Zimbabwe candidate, Turner Mhango also suffered serious intimidation by local Zanu PF supporters. Police asked him whether his rallies were important to the people of Mwenezi before barring the rally.
Opposition campaign material has been torn. Most torn posters are that of Zim PF’s Kudakwashe Bhasikiti and National Constitutional Assembly’s Welcome Masuku. Those of the 4th candidate Turner Mhango from Transform Zimbabwe are not there in Rutenga and surrounding areas. Zanu PF youths stand accused of tearing opposition posters or intimidating those putting up the posters. Drivers of buses say they cannot put posters of opposition parties as this can result in them being victimised by police or rank marshals.
Meanwhile Bhasikiti of ZimPF is reported to have threatened to withdraw from the elections if his supporters continue to be harassed.