Mwenezi East has been a hot bed of politically motivated human rights abuses in previous elections. In March 2008 most schools, business centres, clinics, growth points and resettlement areas operated as terror bases. A number of politically motivated murders were recorded in 2008 where in one instance a teenager revenged the murder of his father after realising that the known perpetrator still walked scot free. Another suspected politically motivated murder was recorded in 2015 when known MDC-T party official and Mwenezi district Treasurer Kennedy Chikwerenge was found dead by his 15 year old son with head injuries.
The Basic Commodities Supply-Side Intervention (Bacossi) commodities by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) was distributed on a partisan basis in 2008. Those viewed as ‘sell-outs’ were discriminated. Relief commodities were heavily politicised and centralised in the hands of Zanu PF losing Councillors, Village Heads and Kraal Heads. Farm implements and farming inputs allocated under the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) Maguta Scheme were also politicized. Permits to buy subsidized food were mostly issued by members of Zanu PF while farm implements were allocated to farmers by members of the Zimbabwe National Army in liaison with kraal heads, chiefs and war veterans.
In February 2012 residential stands were distributed on a partisan basis. Those who were on the waiting list and not from Zanu PF were denied access to these residential stands. In the same month some residents of Mwenezi East who did not have identification documents were each given $5 dollars to ensure they got documents that were essential for voting in the 2013 harmonised elections.
Those suspected of perpetrating politically motivated human rights violations between 2008 and 2013 included Bhasikiti (Mwenezi East Member of Parliament at the time), Chief Neshuro Dzumbunu, Chief Mawarire, Chief Negare, Chief Chitanga, war veteran S. Mabhena, Jenitius Khonani, Justice Sithole and Zanu PF Chairperson S. Munetsi.
Khonani the Zanu PF district chairperson for Ward 1 was known for instilling fear in residents of the constituency when at one time he is reported to have said all suspected and known MDC-T supporters would be reported on a weekly basis to the president’s office at Rutenga.
The Chingwizi transit camp which also falls within Mwenezi East witnessed serious human rights violations. In 2014 residents angrily responded to the closure of the only clinic in the camp. The idea to close the clinic was meant to force residents move to small plots on Nuanetsi Ranch. The residents vowed to stay put until they had received the promised compensation for having been displaced from the area around Tokwe Mukosi dam. They protested against the closure of the clinic and two police vehicles were burnt to shells. The police responded with brutality and hundreds of residents were arrested.
As the Mwenezi East by-election preparations are being rolled out, human rights violations are being recorded in the constituency. Incidences of intimidation perpetrated by traditional leaders have been recorded. On February 21 village head Dzingai Vuraya Maparara of Mwenezi East ward 13 is alleged to have taken advantage of a voter education meeting to intimidate residents. After the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had wound up its voter education exercise Maparara is reported to have told villagers that all those under him in ward 13 were expected to vote for the Zanu PF candidate Joosbi Omar. Maparara`s utterances grossly violate Mwenezi East residents’ constitutional right to make political choices freely as enshrined in section (67) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. By making these pronouncements Chief Maparara is violating section 281 (2) (c) and (d) which states that traditional leaders must not further the interests of any political party or cause or violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of any person.
Platforms created for elections have the sad tendency of allowing the candidates and those who campaign on their behalf to use inflammatory language that has the risk of causing conflicts and many instances resulting in physical forms of violence. The non existence of overt forms of violence and the use of covert forms does not mean that there are no human rights violations.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) as an organisation whose mandate is advancing sustainable peace for all as preparations for the Mwenezi East by election roll out in earnest appeals to all constesting political parties, traditional leaders and the electorate to commit to having violence free elections that will guarantee the enjoyment of the right to vote by all. Previous human rights violations in the constituency and what has been seen in other by elections from Chirumanzu, Hurungwe West, Norton, Chimanimani West and Bikita West point to the likelihood of those in the electorate suspected of having dissenting voices being subjected to both physical and verbal violence, discrimination where food and other aid are distributed. The electorate has failed to freely exercise their right to vote by being forced to go to the polling stations in the company of traditional leaders who in turn have been accused of noting the names of those who would have cast their ballots. In some instances the electorate has been threatened with unspecified action if they did not hand over their Identity documents to traditional leaders after voting. This tactic has instilled fear as the electorate is afraid that if they vote in any other way their choices will be ‘known’. ZPP therefore implores ZEC to take advantage of voter education in Mwenezi East to guarantee the secrecy of the ballot and build confidence of the electorate to freely exercise their right to vote and thereby delivering a credible election.
The article was compiled by the Zimbabwe Peace project. The ZPP will compile more articles as the Mwenezi by-election unfolds.