31 October 2002

Zimbabwe: Elections Must Not Be a Matter of Life Or Death

This Time in the Political Development of Zimbabwe, Zanu Pf May Feel the Only Way It Can Ensure an Election Victory is to Instill the Fear of God Into the Voters' Hearts.

The party which played a key role in the liberation of the country seems unable to countenance the possibility that the same people, for which it sacrificed so much, can choose another party to rule them. Through its violent election campaign - as we saw again in the Insiza by-election - Zanu PF wants the voters to know they have no choice, but to vote for its candidate. To drive the point home in Insiza, the party unleashed such a reign of terror the opposition candidate was banned from campaigning in the constituency. It was the police who advised him they would not guarantee his security if he showed himself among the voters. They could have done this out of a genuine concern for his life - or they could have played politics. The Commissioner of Police, Augustine Chihuri, has stated categorically that, if he is not a dyed-in-the-wool Zanu PF zealot, then he certainly owes his allegiance to that party.

The voters did not and perhaps could not even question this clearly illegal act of intimidation. Not even the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC), that toothless, gutless appendage of a highly flawed electoral system, could raise a whimper of protest. So, the MDC candidate, Siyabonga Malandu Ncube, was an absentee candidate in his own election. His visibility among the voters, at least towards the last days of the campaign, was zero. The eventual winner, Zanu PF's Andrew Langa, was reportedly involved in a shooting incident fairly early in the campaign. It was fortunate for Darlington Kadengu, an MDC activist, that Langa was either a lousy marksman or did not intend to do him any more harm than to wound him - perhaps as a warning to other like-minded opposition activists. So far there has been no official word on what action the police, the ESC or even his own party intend to take over the shooting incident. For all practical purposes, Langa will be sworn in as the new MP for Insiza while the questions about the incident remain unanswered. This makes such a mockery of the justice system that when critics talk of the absence of the rule of law, they are, in many respects, being generous. What we have is no law for Zanu PF and a whole host of anti-democratic laws for the rest of the population. Zanu PF has decided, since 2000, that any election in Zimbabwe is now a matter of life or death. Any candidate standing against the ruling party must know what they are letting themselves into.

Voters campaigning for the opposition candidate must be aware of this as well. Recently, critics of the MDC have said the party has no proper appreciation of what an electoral challenge to Zanu PF can entail. If you can't beat them through fair play, then join them in an election campaign where everything - including murder - is permissible. This is the advice some people have offered to the MDC. It is probable the party has ventilated this problem thoroughly and has come to its own conclusions. What people concerned with the future of democracy in Zimbabwe - as we all ought to be - would love to see is an acceptance by all parties that no election is worth dying for, that an election does not have to be a matter of life or death. The apathy that has characterised elections over the years was spawned by the violence in which one party has engaged during the campaign. People believing that the violence waged against colonialism and racism cannot be justified today, 22 years after independence, have stayed away from the polls in their thousands. They refuse to risk their lives today as if the freedom of the country was still the major issue. Or is it?

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