For the past 17 years, since the formation of real opposition to Zanu PF rule in the form of the MDC, President Robert Mugabe’s government has consistently put in place structures and measures to instil fear into the minds of Zimbabweans as a way of maintaining the Zanu PF stranglehold on power.
The biggest victims of this fear weapon are the rural folk who appear to have been permanently traumatised by the violence, including murders, beatings and displacement that they have witnessed first hand every election year.
They have also seen that nothing happens to the perpetrators of the violence — even when they are taken to court, they always walk out scot free.
So entrenched is the culture of fear that it has almost become taboo to talk politics in public places like rural shopping centres, or at village drinking parties, in churches or any gathering.
The situation is made worse by the arrests of those who speak out against Mugabe and are charged “for undermining the authority of the president” or for “subverting a constitutionally elected government” for simply expressing their opinion.
With the 2018 elections approaching, Mugabe at 94, armed with total control of government and all its state security institutions, is gunning for another term in office.
The strongman has withstood pressure from his Zanu PF party to quit and pass the baton to a younger candidate, even when some senior officials in his own party have expressed fears his age and record of economic failure could weigh down the party’s chances in the election.
But far from the factional fights in his own party and the economic chaos, the key Mugabe holds is his ability to keep state instruments in his grip and to maintain fear and intimidation in the rural communities.
Rural communities have always been strategic in giving Mugabe’s Zanu PF the much-needed electoral victory.
In the past elections, there have been reports of Zanu PF manipulating the rural vote by having traditional leaders forcing villagers to vote for Zanu PF.
With fresh registration for the 2018 election under the new Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system underway, there are reports already indicating malpractices that are likely to give Zanu PF another advantage at the polls.
The Standard visited Karoi, Magunje, Hurungwe, Marondera and Wedza and established how the multi-layered parallel government and Zanu PF structures are all contributing towards the intimidation of villagers ahead of the BVR process that is yet to reach all areas.
According to our findings, the layers are composed of Zanu PF ward chairpersons, youth officers employed under the Youth ministry, village heads, chiefs, members of the Police Internal Security and Intelligence (Pisi), retired army personnel and intelligence officials.
Pisi officials, according to some villagers, extend their work beyond the internal security and police intelligence to gather information about political activities in their areas and pass it on to where this paper could not establish.
The Standard also established that in some areas Pisi officials have become feared individuals known to intimidate opposition supporters and to bar non-Zanu PF political activities.
Although the BVR process had not yet reached Wedza when The Standard visited, the crew established that villagers were already receiving intimidating information from village heads and Zanu PF officials.
“Meetings are being held by traditional leaders, especially village heads, where people are being told that the BVR systems enable government officials to see who we vote for. They are also saying that village heads will not give proof of residents to anyone who is not a Zanu PF supporter,” said a villager in Njenje, close to Wedza growth point.
The Centre for Community for Development in Zimbabwe (CCDZ), which is conducting a project to encourage citizen participation in local government and service delivery issues, and has community monitors, also noted the culture of fear in parts of Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, and Mashonaland West where it operates. CCDZ director Phillip Pasirayi said they had received reports of systematic intimidation of villagers by traditional leaders.
“In our quest to encourage participation of citizens in service delivery, we have noted that in rural areas, the culture of fear is so entrenched that citizens are afraid of participating in issues that affect them in their daily lives like service delivery and this is coming from the ruling party’s tight control of the areas,” said Pasirayi.
“This culture of fear is pervasive in rural communities such as Mutoko, Murewa and Hurungwe and it needs to be addressed urgently so that citizens can participate effectively in local governance decision-making and service delivery issues. There is need to de-politicise development interventions so that all citizens can have access to services regardless of their political affiliation.”
CCDZ’s findings match the reports complied by Heal Zimbabwe Trust on the incidences of violence and intimidation. In one of its assessments, Heal Zimbabwe recorded 18 BVR related human rights violations between October 2-11 this year.
“In Buhera, a Village Development Committee [Vidco] member is intimidating community members at Matsetsa Business Centre. He announced that the BVR process would allow Zanu PF to identify all community members who would have voted against Zanu PF,” reads part of the report, which also includes violations in areas like the political hotspot and Zanu PF stronghold, Maramba-Pfungwe in Mutoko.
In Mt Darwin North ward 5, Heal Zimbabwe reports, “on 10 October 2017, two village heads [named] were seen taking down serial numbers of voter slips from people who had registered.”
Election Resources Centre (ERC) director Tawanda Chimhini said citizens must be empowered to report such cases and said the ERC had a hotline where citizens could report and, working together with other human rights NGOs, would escalate the cases to the courts and provide legal assistance.
“Dockets must be opened of those that are intimidating others, whether in their personal capacity or representing an organisation.
Once we receive reports, we will escalate it and we will hold the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [Zec] accountable.”
Zec, which is the statutory body mandated to conduct elections in Zimbabwe, has faced a myriad of challenges, including insufficient resources to conduct a comprehensive countrywide voter education campaign since the launch of the BVR process last month.
ERC launched its own BVR awareness campaign in Chitungwiza last week and Chimhini said Zec must be sincere in its voter education.
“We must insist that Zec’s voter education must be very empowering. It must counter the misinformation that is happening out there in rural areas. People are being told lies about voter registration. Zec must be sincere in explaining to citizens that their vote is secret, because this is being used to intimidate people,” said Chimhini.
Source: The Standard