HARARE – The Mwenezi East by-election has been blighted by accusations of politicisation of food aid, abrogation of the right to freedom of assembly and intimidation and harassment, a rights group has said.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) said it was worried by the unfolding events in Mwenezi East as the electorate is failing to exercise its political rights in a conducive environment.
The Nomination Court which sat at the Masvingo Magistrates’ Courts on February 17 accepted four candidates for the by-election: Joosby Omar of the ruling Zanu PF, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti (Zimbabwe People First), Welcome Masuku of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) as well as Turner Mhango of the Free Zimbabwe Congress.
The National Assembly constituency seat fell vacant following the death of the incumbent Zanu PF MP Joshua Moyo on December 22 last year.
ZPP warned that the credibility of the by-election faces scrutiny after a number of material human rights violations were recorded in the area.
On March 17 at a Zanu PF campaign rally at Masweswe Secondary School in ward 13, Zanu PF candidate Omar distributed 1,5kgs of rice each — obtained from the Grain Marketing Depot in Rutenga — to everyone who attended the rally, regardless of political affiliation.
But after the donations on March 18, the village head for village 4, one Mutsikwa, convened a meeting questioning why those who do not support the ruling party had accepted and benefited from Omars’ rice donations.
“The village head said those who do not have Zanu PF cards would not benefit from the cooking oil donations which, according to the village head, are expected on the 25th of March,” ZPP said.
“He added that those without Zanu PF membership cards must not bother to come for cooking oil.”
At Rutenga Grain Marketing Board, the ZPP team saw trucks emblazoned with President Robert Mugabe and Omar posters with inscriptions written, “Zanu PF on Duty” loading sacks of rice and fertilisers to unknown destinations.
Bhasikiti’s ZPF rally which was said to have been initially authorised by the Masvingo Dispol (officer commanding district) was disrupted at the last minute by anti-riot police at Rutenga Shopping Centre, ZPP said.
“The Dispol changed his mind as the rally was about to start saying he had received orders from the top to stop the rally,” the report said.
“Those who turned up for the intended ZPF rally were allegedly followed to their homes by the Zanu PF district committee members and ordered to stop supporting opposition political parties.”
The faith-based rights group also noted that Mhango also suffered serious intimidation by local Zanu PF supporters.
“Police asked him whether his rallies were important to the people of Mwenezi before barring the rally,” ZPP said.
Opposition campaign material has been torn. Most torn posters are those of Bhasikiti and NCA’s Masuku.
Mhango’s posters are nowhere to be seen in Rutenga and surrounding areas, ZPP noted.
“Zanu PF youths stand accused of tearing opposition posters or intimidating those putting up the posters,” the rights group said.
“Drivers of buses say they cannot put posters of opposition parties as this can result in them being victimised by police or rank marshals.”
Meanwhile, Bhasikiti is reported to have threatened to withdraw from the elections if his supporters continue to be harassed.