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Zimbabwe: What can MDC Alliance do if Zanu PF’s violent tactics continue?

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Thursday, 28 October 2021 19:55

A member of a human rights group marches with a placard in Harare, Zimbabwe, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011. (AP Photo)

Zimbabwe’s ruling party appears to be resorting to violence to block the main opposition party, MDC Alliance, which is headed by Nelson Chamisa, from campaigning and mobilising supporters in its stronghold, the rural areas. If the ruling Zanu PF fears an incursion into its heartland, how might the MDC Alliance respond?

On 19 October, MDC Alliance said there was an assassination attempt on Chamisa as he was entering the city of Mutare.

This comes barely a week after violent protesters in Masvingo Province blocked and damaged vehicles that were part of Chamisa’s convoy.

MDC Alliance claims that these attacks were coordinated and sponsored by Zanu PF members as well as law enforcement agencies.

The violence and alleged assassination attempts were widely condemned by opposition parties in the Southern African region, including Tanzania’s Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT Wazalendo) and Namibia’s Popular Democratic Movement.

‘For Zanu PF, the use of violence runs in their DNA’

Over the years, Zanu PF has been reported to have resorted to violence and intimidation to ensure that it gets the majority of votes in rural areas.

A December 2008 report from the Human Rights NGO Forum, a coalition of over 20 human rights NGOs in Zimbabwe, revealed that during the election runoff in June that year, Zanu PF sponsored violence, which resulted in six politically-motivated rape cases, 107 murders, 137 abductions, 1,913 assault cases, 19 cases of disappearance, 629 displacements and 2,532 cases of violations of freedom of association and expression.

According to the report, the atrocities were committed by Zanu PF supporters, law enforcement agencies and the Central Intelligence Organisation personnel, under then-President Robert Mugabe.

After the 2017 military coup, many Zimbabweans thought that the 2008 tactics to win elections and suppress opposition parties would be a thing of the past.

Farai Gwenhure, a political analyst, says Zanu PF’s history of violence manifests itself even within the party.

“Violence [is] part of the DNA of Zanu PF, even with their own internal contradictions. Zanu PF, as a military machine, never demobilised after independence. They remained a military machine. […] whenever there is a challenge, their default method of last resort is violence. It does not really matter whether it is Mugabe or Mnangagwa who is at the helm,” he tells The Africa Report.

“[…] because Zanu PF represents military interests, its civilian arm is run as a quasi-military outfit, that is why there are vigilantes, militia and machetes.”

Piers Pigou, a Southern Africa consultant at the International Crisis Group, tells The Africa Report that the recent incidents in Masvingo strongly suggest that Zanu PF is intent on resisting efforts by MDC Alliance to campaign and mobilise in this important swing province.

“This kind of behaviour by supporters and proxies of the ruling party has a long history, as does the failure of policing authorities to effectively respond and deal with relevant culpabilities,” he says.

Burden to shoulder by MDC Alliance

According to Pigou, much of the violence in the 2023 elections will depend on the competency and capacity of the opposition to effectively resist and stymie such tactics.

“The more they present a real threat to the ruling party, the riskier the situation becomes. As such, the more effective they become on this front, the higher the risk of violence from the ruling party and State,” he says.

…when tyrants fail to entice people – locally and internationally – [and] as their true colours [begin to show], you then have them fall back to other tactics in the playbook of tyranny…

Fadzayi Mahere, an MDC Alliance spokesperson, says the party will not resort to violence.

“We believe in a constitutional, peaceful change of government. We are confident that the citizens will register to vote en masse, turn out to vote so we secure our six million vote target and the citizens are ready to defend the vote. This is why President Chamisa is traveling throughout the provinces in line with our People’s Agenda and our rural strategy,” she says.

“We are ready for an election against a desperate regime that will do anything to cling to power. We will deploy all tools available to us to ensure we win Zimbabwe for change.

‘Expect more sponsored political violence in 2023’

In the 2018 general elections, just after the military coup, Mnangagwa and his Zanu PF party wanted to appease the international community as well as the local masses.

At the time, Mnangagwa was pushing his mantra of a ‘New Dispensation’ and marketing Zimbabwe as ‘open for business’. After failing to respect the constitution, which calls for the upholding of human rights, Mnangagwa saw more sanctions coming in from the west forcing him to continue looking east.

Locally, Mnangagwa is losing supporters as he has failed to turn around Zimbabwe’s struggling economy, fight corruption and deliver on promises – such as affordable transport systems and basic health care – that he made when he was campaigning in 2018.

Maxwell Saungweme, a political analyst, says the recent violence shows a change in script, tactics and strategies, straight from the playbook of tyranny.

“In the first years, tyrants try to employ a multiplicity of strategies to entice support locally and also get buy-in from the international community, but when tyrants fail to entice people – locally and internationally – as their true colours painted by corruption and non-delivery on promises you then have them fall back to other tactics in the playbook of tyranny- violence and cohesion to harvest from fear,” he says.

Saungweme says the violence meted out on opposition party leaders by Zanu PF is likely to continue as the country heads towards the 2023 elections.

“Sadly, this is the juncture we are at, and unless something drastic changes, violence that has already started will continue. The idea is to instil fear in ordinary Zimbabweans [who see] Chamisa as representing change, so that they either vote for Mnangagwa or do not vote at all. So, 2023 will not be like 2018. The [playing] field has changed. The team running Zimbabwe has since moved from chapter 1 to chapter 16 of the playbook of tyranny.”

Mahere says the violence shows that the regime is in panic mode and does not have popular support.

“Violence is a tool of primitive politics that is devoid of ideas and the support of the people. It is evident that there is no new dispensation to speak of. Mr. Mnangagwa has failed and has resorted to violence and repression to mask his bad governance and failure,” she says.

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