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News in depth: Chamisa attacks expose culture of impunity as Zimbabwe heads to 2023 polls

BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA

The surge in cases of political violence in Zimbabwe ahead of the 2023 elections has put police under the spotlight with analysts saying the law enforcement agency is showing bias by not  taking action against perpetrators linked to the ruling Zanu PF.

MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s convoy was last attacked on several occasions by Zanu PF activists as the country’s leading opposition leader held grassroots meetings across Manicaland province.

On October 19, the party said Chamisa’s car was shot at by suspected Zanu PF activists in Nyanga.

It was the second attack inside a week after the opposition leader’s convoy was blocked by Zanu PF supporters in Masvingo as he moved across the province to meet MDC Alliance supporters.

Videos and pictures of known Zanu PF activists that were involved in the attacks have been circulating on social media without any police action.

Fadzayi Mahere, MDC Alliance spokesperson, said the behaviour of the police had led to erosion of trust in the institution.

Mahere, who was responding to claims by the police that the MDC Alliance was refusing to cooperate in investigations into the shooting incident, said law enforcement agents had failed to act against Zanu PF activists despite evidence of their violent conduct being all over social media.

“They (police) have not exercised objectivity in their dealings with us since the political violence started,” Mahere said.

“There is a confidence gap that makes it hard for us to trust that they will carry out their duties constitutionally.”

Mahere said during Chamisa’s tours, instead of ensuring the safety and security of persons and property in line with their constitutional obligations, the police were either turning a blind eye or were complicit in the violence.

“The onus is on the police to demonstrate that they are objective. They have a history of prejudging these matters and turning on the victims,” she added.

“We saw what they did with the MDC trio and several other victims of political violence and torture. We know their modus operandi.”

Mahere said it was worrying that days after the video footage of Zanu PF activists attacking Chamisa’s convoys in Masvingo and Manicaland, nothing had been done to account for the perpetrators.

“Four days after the video footage of the perpetrators of the violence went viral, why have no arrests been made?

“Why are the police allowing Zanu PF to erect illegal roadblocks and disturb free movement of vehicles?

“We call into question the professionalism and independence of the police who have actively worked against us in the past throughout the course of this citizen conversation tour.

“They have been taking instructions from Zanu PF ‘thugs’ at roadblocks and shielding the perpetrators of violence committed against us.”

Last year police were heavily criticised after they arrested three MDC Alliance officials Joanna Mamombe, Cecelia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova after the trio was allegedly abducted and sexually abused.

The activists were instead accused of stage-managing their abduction. Mamombe, Chimbiri and Marova are still appearing before the courts over the alleged offences.

University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure said it was essential for the law enforcement agencies to uphold the rule of law, which he said was an important pillar of democracy, through exercising independence from political parties in dealing with violations.

“Political violence is not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe,” Masunungure told The Standard.

“That has been the case since 1980, and we have seen impunity against the perpetrators, mostly of the ruling Zanu PF.

“What has been very common is the persecution of those political players that seem to be threatening the establishment.

“But that has implications on the political atmosphere as it will not promote a level political ground.

“As the situation is right now, we are likely to witness an election that is similar to the previous ones, those that are coupled with violence, and those that will eventually be disputed.”

In the run up to the 2008 presidential run-off election, security forces were accused of spearheading violence against opposition supporters.

Over 300 opposition supporters were killed in the violence that also displaced thousands when the late former leader Robert Mugabe wanted to overturn his first round poll defeat to the late MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai was forced to pull out of the polls due to the violence

Human Rights Watch Southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga said there was a culture of impunity in Zimbabwe.

“The victims of human rights abuses are denied their right to justice and an effective remedy.

“Perpetrators of abuses enjoy de facto immunity from arrest and prosecution by virtue of their association with Zanu PF,” Mavhinga said.

“Action againts past and on-going political violence is essential if Zimbabwe is to end violence and restore the rule of law.

“With elections coming up in 2023, the lack of accountability and justice for past abuses raises the spectre of further violence and poses a significant obstacle to the holding of free, fair, and credible elections.

“Unless the police find the political will to impartially investigate, prosecute, and ensure appropriate punishment and reparations, human rights violations will continue.”

The Zimbabwe Peace Project said police were acting in a partisan manner; colluded with ruling party activists in blocking opposition MDC Alliance activities, which was promoting public violence.

Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he was out of office and could not comment on the matter.

Zanu PF acting party spokesperson Michael Bimha stuck to the ruling party’s stance that the opposition was staging managing the attacks.

“Allegations that Zanu PF was involved in the alleged violent cases are baseless and mischievous,” Bimha said.

“The ruling party is an independent institution from the police.

“There is nothing that has been presented so far to link the party to accusations of interfering with the course of justice.”

He added: “We know the opposition shenanigans.

“Whenever there is a high ranking official in the country they want to put on a fake show that there are human rights abuses so that the sanctions that were imposed on Zimbabwe remain in force.

“Sanctions are meant to disrupt successful plans by President Emmerson Mnangagwa aimed at turning around the economy, but the tricks will not succeed.”

However, the claim by Bimha contradicted party acting political commissar Patrick Chinamasa, who claimed Masvingo villagers were behind the attacks because they did not want to be addressed by Chamisa.

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