The past few months have seen an upsurge in attacks on civil society and this includes arrests, detentions, and office raids, confiscation of equipment and threats of more action. ZANU PF chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo was on national television making it clear that ZANU PF will not tolerate what he calls interference in national political affairs by NGOs. Moyo represents the voice and thinking of ZANU PF that human rights defenders are a nuisance that must be confronted with force.
While there is a veneer of political unity as the parties to the Inclusive Government (IC) seem to be singing from the same hymn book on the constitution, ZANU PF has not dropped its key political strategy, which is violence and intimidation.
What better way to start than with human rights defenders who will be forced into a retreat and cow under their desks in fear. The attacks on Zimrights, Youth organisations, Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) and Radio Dialogue are all meant to force human rights defenders to retreat from their monitoring work and so leave the space wide open for ZANU PF thugs to do their dirty business unhindered in rural areas.
Anyone with contact with rural communities will tell you that there is an increased level of fear as communities are forced to attend meetings, have ID numbers recorded, and forcibly given party positions in ZANU PF.
I know this for certain because my own mother is a victim of such intimidation in Marondera and my family in Wedza can hardly tend to their crops as a result of the forced meetings. Direct threats of war and beatings are made at such meetings. The sinister part is that ZANU PF is preaching a message of peace at the top political table, while underneath their feet are trampling on citizens' rights to freedom of association and expression. Nothing demonstrates this more than the six months imprisonment of a Gwanda man for insulting President Mugabe.
This seem to be the 2013 modus operandi that is ZANU PF talking of peace at the top, while its foot soldiers are beating, threatening and harassing citizens and the partisan security sector is hounding civil society. Nothing has changed and nothing is likely to change as we head past the constitutional referendum and on to elections. ZANU PF sees a danger in the capacity of human rights defenders to document and reports its excesses in the run-up to the election that they hope to 'win' by using violence and intimidation.
Slowly but surely the noose is tightening on rural communities even as the spurious peace messages get louder in Harare.
It is for this reason that civil society need not lose sight of the intentions of ZANU PF to shut them down, but more importantly that community protection, violence monitoring and reporting must be intensified through building community based capacity.
More than, ever civil society needs to put in place sustainable leadership plans that ensure continuation of activities even as many more are arrested and detained.
The role of the two MDC parties in this whole fiasco must be put under more scrutiny as the parties are expending too much energy on promoting the new constitution and not nearly enough on monitoring the environment, which is deteriorating. There is need to remind the MDC factions that they need a 360 degree appreciation of the political situation and should not simply focus on one issue at a time as is the case now.
At the same time civil society must step up its advocacy pressure on SADC as well as the international community. We need to know under what conditions is the UNDP funding the election. Is the UNDP giving ZANU PF and the two MDCs a blank cheque or is it tying its support to clear conditions that will enhance the freeness and fairness of the election?
But the reality is that Zimbabwe does not need quick fix solutions that do not address fundamental democratic problems - more 'solutions' that negate the right of citizens to elect a leadership of their choice in a peaceful environment and during peaceful polls. As things stand ZANU PF has not learnt anything and is - on the contrary - strengthening its instruments of violence.
The military and police are clearly demonstrating which side they support by mobilising their ranks to register and vote for ZANU PF. We also know that when these agents visit rural areas to campaign they do not use persuasive language and policies but violence.
Expectations of a peaceful election are fast fading. Action to stop ZANU PF is needed now.