Gift Phiri 21 August 2017
HARARE – The 2018 elections are taking place in a threatening environment
hostile to free speech and genuine political participation, again raising
the spectre of elections that will neither be free nor fair.
There is a massive wall of fear built for the rural people – who
constitute 75 percent of the Zimbabwean voter bloc – by the ruling Zanu
President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF is harvesting fear from the 2008
elections that killed over 200 people, with many set to vote for the
ruling party out of fear after being made acutely aware that active
involvement in politics, particularly on behalf of the opposition, could
result in death.
Zanu PF has maintained control over the rural vote by directing ordinary
voters to give their ballot-paper serial numbers to their village headmen,
who would have marshalled the voters to the polling station and made them
queue in a predetermined order, blatantly violating the sanctity of the
This is where the election is stolen; forget the voter register, or
unsubstantiated claims of ballot stuffing.
Intimidated villagers willingly vote for Zanu PF, and those who disobey
this instruction are ruthlessly punished – commanded to sprawl on the
ground, sometimes naked, then clobbered on the back, buttocks, the head,
while some have their homes burnt or knocked down or told never to return
to their villagers by Zanu PF youths – pumped up with beer, or marijuana.
Other defiant villagers are taken to re-education camps and castigated for
their treachery and perfidy while suffering long nights of physical abuse
The punishing militia also make a point of destroying IDs which certify
the defiant villagers’ right to vote.
Richly rewarded headmen, who have by all intents and purposes now become
agents of coercion and auxiliaries of Mugabe’s Zanu PF, are responsible
for delivering a 100 percent victory for the 93-year-old president.
The headmen also face threats that their efforts at polling stations will
be closely monitored.
Some of the rural voters such as teachers are clearly instructed to tell
presiding officers that they were functionally illiterate, so that the
police could monitor their choices while pretending to give assistance.
There is also widespread politicisation of food aid by Zanu PF.
Under this electoral regime, rural voters have faced a world where silence
was the only option.
Rural folk have chosen to live in obedience, in silence, well aware any
dissent would be crushed.
It is not a democratic election if the ruling party controls all
election-related institutions, the State media is a de facto organ of the
ruling party, and opposition supporters face death threats from Zanu PF.
Under no standards anywhere can an election be deemed free or fair where
these kinds of problems exist.
Senior Zanu PF officials repeatedly raise the spectre of “war” if the
ruling party lost the election and senior members of the security forces
campaign vigorously for Zanu PF.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has underscored that “persons
entitled to vote must be free to vote for any candidate for election
…and free to support or to oppose government, without undue influence or
coercion of any kind which may distort or inhibit the free expression of
the elector’s will.”
It is clear that the upcoming 2018 national elections will again be
tightly contested, making it more important than ever to carry out urgent
fundamental electoral reforms.
Methodological interventions should be deployed now to destroy the fear
factor in rural areas. It is incumbent on the recently formed opposition
alliance, as a matter of urgency, to destroy the fear factor, raise
limitless poll expectations for villagers, and end suppression of rural
The campaign to destroy the fear factor needs courage, not lily-livered
politicians, and will certainly face harsh resistance from Zanu PF because
it will be sufficient to put the survival of the worn-out Mugabe regime at
It could take many forms, a mixture of the internal and external, the
strategic and ideological; the escalation of opposition presence in rural
areas to assure villagers that there will be no consequences for their