Reports of human rights violations by suspected Zanu PF members and the police, often using brute force, are reported to be on the increase across the country as the ruling party prepares for the 2023 elections.
This grim situation in Zimbabwe is captured in the latest report for the month of April released at the weekend by the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP).
"It appears the silly season is upon us!" the civil society organisation said.
"Judging by the incidents of human rights violations recorded in April countrywide, the ruling Zanu PF party, which has always used brute methods to garner support ahead of elections, appears to have gone a gear up in laying the bed for the 2023 elections."
ZPP said the past elections, Zanu PF's strategy has always been to shut down political space for opposition parties, elbowing them out of the way ahead of the voting period, and when the official campaign period starts, communities would have already been whipped into silence and fear.
"Using its well-oiled internal structures and the ever-complicit state security apparatus and traditional leaders, Zanu PF has in the past employed tactics such as intimidation, harassment, threats, disruption of events, discrimination during food aid processes, and assault, among other methods," it said.
The ZPP noted in April it recorded three incidents of disruption of political events, 88 cases of harassment and intimidation, 23 cases of discrimination during aid distribution, many of which point to an increase in tensions within communities.
"Judging by the pattern of the events, they are not coincidences, but a clearly systematic drive towards the 2023 elections. For example, in Harare, Mabelreign police disrupted an MDC Alliance Harare West constituency coordinating committee meeting on 4 April and arrested, and briefly detained former Ward 16 Councillor Denford Ngadziore.
"Two weeks later, on 24 April, police, without proffering any reason, disrupted another MDC Alliance provincial meeting in Epworth."
However, ZPP noted Zanu PF and the MDC-T - which has given official support to Zanu PF and the government - continued to conduct their meetings with no disruptions except in cases where citizens spurned invitations to attend MDC-T meetings.
"On 24 April, the police disrupted a clean-up campaign led by the 31 July Movement convener and leader of Transform Zimbabwe, Jacob Ngarivhume in Mbare (Harare).
"In Chiwundura constituency, at Muchakata, Vhuka Uzizenzele, and Maodza Business Centres, the revival of terror bases by Zanu PF is said to have commenced."
The ZPP said in separate groups, Zanu PF youths, acting on the command of their Midlands provincial leadership, patrol the three business centres and villages checking if there were any individuals who were engaging in opposition politics.
"On 16 April, a village head in Murewa North convened a meeting in Ward 9 and reportedly said that MDC Alliance supporters had no place in his village and that they would not benefit from any government social welfare assistance until they openly denounced the MDC Alliance.
"In Zaka Central Ward 19, on 15 April, a Mr. Rupindo, who is a Zanu PF vice-chairperson for the ward and an employee at Chemusisi Hospital allegedly threatened to assault about 45 beneficiaries of the social welfare food aid if they failed to chant ruling party slogans and cross the floor to Zanu PF," the report added.
Rupindo reportedly told the beneficiaries that government aid was from President Emmerson Mnangagwa and was meant for Zanu PF members only.
"These and more incidents that ZPP has recorded in April and in the past point to a gradually deteriorating political environment and with some Zanu PF officials having declared the party will win the 2023 election by whatever means; this calls for urgent interventions to ensure the run-up to the elections is peaceful and that human rights are observed, respected and defended while checks and balances are in place in the interest of the citizens who are often the victims in the whole political game."
Meanwhile, according to the ZPP, the police contributed over 50% of all human rights violations in the country.
Zanu PF supporters were second at 22% while the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), municipal police in various local councils, and the MDC Alliance each contributed to nearly three percent of recorded violations.
"The significant decrease in the army's contribution to perpetrating human rights can be attributed to the withdrawal of substantial army activities in the enforcement of the lockdown as (Covid-19) lockdown regulations were eased," the report noted.
"In one of the incidents, an MDC Alliance party activist at Nyamavanga Business Centre in Mudzi West (Mashonaland East province) accused Zanu PF supporters of being witches that had destroyed the country. 'MaZanu (PF) murivaroyi chaivo nokuti nyika irikufira mumaoko enyu,' the MDC Alliance activist is alleged to have said this to a Zanu PF member, who reported the incident to the police; but no arrest was made."
According to the ZPP, 91% of the victims of human rights violations are ordinary citizens, and seven percent MDC Alliance activists.
"ZPP recorded a total of 173 human rights violations and of these, 63 were in Harare followed by 30 in Mashonaland Central and 21 in Mashonaland West."