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Peace isn't the only standard for free, fair and credible elections

21 Aug 2023 at 14:24hrs | Views
No one in their right mind can begrudge the repeated calls for peace during this election season in Zimbabwe.

In fact, the disturbingly high prevalence of violence, especially on the part of the ruling ZANU PF party - traceable way back, even before the country gained independence - has been a major stain on the country's electoral processes.

In the later parts of the country's independence struggle, ZANU PF wrecked havoc and unleashed a reign of terror in rural areas - which they had ostensibly 'liberated' from colonial rule - with threats of continuing the horrifying war, should the party not win the 1980 elections.

This trend has been the hallmark of the ruling party ever since - either through threats of violence, or actual violence being meted out on a defenseless population.

These savage scenes were most glaring after the 2008 elections - after then president Robert Gabriel Mugabe was defeated by then main opposition MDC candidate Morgan Richard Tsvangirai - when hundreds were barbarically butchered, with their hands hacked off ostensibly for 'voting for the wrong person'.

Of course, after what initially appeared as a relatively 'peaceful' pre-election period in 2018 - this was soon to turn extremely horrendous, when scores of unarmed protestors were gunned down, in cold blood, by security forces on 1st August - who were demonstrating against what they perceived as suspicious delays in announcing presidential election results.

As much as other elections - especially those upcoming on 23rd August - may exhibit a veneer of peace, there is a deeper more troubling and sinister plot.

Based on several communications with those mostly in rural areas, as well as reports in the public domain - there is the presence of a more subtle form of violence taking place - in spite of President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa's appearance of calls for peace.

Rural populations are constantly reminded of the violence of previous elections - as a threat to what would happened if the ruling party were to lose these elections.

Let us be reminded that, even in an abusive domestic relationship, there can also be some 'peace'.

In this regards, peace only relates to the lack of any evident forms of physical violence.

However, this 'peace' may not necessarily be a sign of a transformed abusive partner.

In most circumstances, this could be on account of the abused victim no longer challenging her tormentor - thereby, living in subservience and obedience, due to crippling terror.

As such, there will be no need for the abusive partner to beat up his lover - as she will always be compliant to his demands.

The apparent lack of much discernable violence in Zimbabwe is certainly not an indication of a ruling establishment that has finally 'seen the light' - thereby, choosing the path of democracy and peace.

No, not at all.

The supposed 'peace' is a direct result of Zimbabweans who have become cowered and now willingly subject themselves to the whims and dictates of the Mnangagwa regime without question.

This is even seen with the main opposition CCC's apparent shunning and avoidance of mass action - usually in the form of street demonstrations to air public grievances.

The excuse has been that, engaging in such protests - no matter how peaceful, on the part of the demonstrators - will inevitably be met with brute force and mercilessness by the government.

As such, who can deny that the only reason there has been an absence of defenseless civilians being brutalized and shot dead by the state is simply that the people themselves have generally been docile and submissive?

The same logic applies to this election period.

Furthermore, in the same rural areas, poor villagers are being repeatedly whipped into line by traditional and ZANU PF leaders - who tell them that not only are their votes not secret, but also that anyone discovered to have voted for the opposition will face unspecified consequences.

There may not be any 'violence' associated with these threats - at least at the moment - but these are clearly threats of violence in the future.

In fact, the essence - arguably even above any other consideration - of a genuinely free, fair and credible election is the knowledge and confidence that one's vote is secret.

The secrecy attached to the voting process is what makes an election the cornerstone of any democracy.

Once that is removed - then, there can never be any talk of free, fair and credible elections.

We then proceed to the voters roll - which is allegedly not only in a deplorable state, but has not been availed to the contesting political players and is unauditable - in stark violation of the country's electoral laws [particularly Section 155(2d) of the Constitution].

How, then, can we talk of free, fair and credible elections with a flawed voters roll - whose contents can not be verified and audited?

In the same vein, state media has forever been brazenly biased in favor of the ruling party and Mnangagwa - and rabidly against the main opposition and its leader Nelson Chamisa.

As to be expected, many analysts justifiably now describe state media (particularly, The Herald, Sunday Mail and ZBC) as having been reduced to nothing more than a shameful propaganda desk at ZANU PF headquarters.

Again, this is in flagrant violation of the country's supreme law, which dictates, under Section 61(4): all State-owned media of communication must be impartial, and afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions.

This should be an ongoing media policy, not restricted strictly to the 'election season'.

As relates to elections, there is also a constitutional provision.

Section 155 states, 'all political parties and candidates contesting an election or participating in a referendum [should be accorded] fair and equal access to electronic and print media, both public and private'.

This onus - to be 'impartial, and afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions' - is predominantly placed on state media, as opposed to that privately-owned, for obvious reasons.

Media that is owned by the government and funded by taxpayers is ordinarily mandated to be apolitical, impartial and balanced - so as to cater for the population in its entirety, without political leanings.

However, that is not what we have been witnessing in Zimbabwe.

The opposite is actually true.

I will not even delve much into the abuse of state resources for narrow political gain - such as the denial of food aid, agricultural inputs and other desperately-needed resources to those perceived to be opposition supporters - largely in rural areas.

Similarly, beneficiaries of government so-called 'empowerment projects' are threatened with losing their only sources of livelihoods - should they not submit to ZANU PF demands.

These demands include forcing them into attending ruling party campaign rallies.

This, whilst, several CCC rallies continue being barred by the country's law enforcement agents under the most spurious grounds.

Do these worrying trends, surely, point to a truly free, fair and credible election?

Indeed, there is relative 'peace' throughout the country - with the exception of sporadic incidents of violence, most notable being the heinous murder of Tinashe Chitsunge (a CCC supporter) in Harare, by suspected ZANU PF hooligans, a few weeks ago.

Nevertheless, 'peace' does not necessarily mean the absence of violence - as a people who live in fear of their own government can never be said to be living in peace.

Furthermore, it is abundantly clear that all this talk of 'peace', especially by Mnangagwa, is nothing more than a calculated attempt at masking the profound flouting of basic tenets necessary for the holding of free, fair and credible elections.

There is more to a credible election than the absence of violence.

In fact, some of the worst forms of rendering an election not free, unfair and discredited are discreet and subtle.

These are the things we are seeing daily in Zimbabwe.

These are facts of which those observing our elections need to take serious consideration.

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email:, or visit website:

Source - Tendai Ruben Mbofana
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