HARARE – Gun-toting thugs, suspected to be Zanu PF hoodlums, left for dead on Tuesday night an opposition candidate and his agent for Saturday’s keenly-followed Bikita West by-election — as political tension rises in the volatile Masvingo constituency.
Analysts and civil rights groups which spoke to the Daily News yesterday said the merciless attack on National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) candidate Madock Chivasa, and his election agent Thomas Mudzamiri, raised real fears that this marked the beginning of a bloody campaign by the ruling party ahead of the looming 2018 national elections.
The severe mauling of Chivasa and Mudzamiri happened after the seemingly deranged Zanu PF yobs descended on Tongonya Shopping Centre, just as the two men were making their way out of a local supermarket on Tuesday night, where Chivasa had gone to buy some food.
Narrating his ordeal to the Daily News yesterday from his hospital bed, Chivasa said the highly-charged mob, some of whom were in a Ford Everest bakkie — which allegedly belongs to a well-known Zanu PF official from Mashonaland East — which had been trailing him and his campaign team all day, questioned him why he was vying for the Bikita West seat against Zanu PF.
“They said opposing Zanu PF was like opposing President (Robert) Mugabe. And as far as we are concerned, these people are from Marondera, they are outsiders. Among them were two serving soldiers,” he said.
Chivasa said he was hit with a gun on the head before he was viciously and mercilessly kicked with booted feet all over the body, while Mudzamiri was also repeatedly punched by their assailants.
He said the goons had also proceeded to fire several shots in the air, to scare away members of the public who had unsuccessfully tried to intervene and rescue the two men.
Madock Chivasa,left, the opposition National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) parliamentary candidate in the Bikita West by-election and his chief election agent Thomas Mudzamiri nursing injuries after their gruesome attack at Tongonya Shopping Centre by an alleged Zanu PF crowd.
Although Chivasa had made a report at the local Bikita Police Station, he had thus far not heard any progress about the case — with no arrests reported.
Contacted for comment by the Daily News yesterday, Zanu PF provincial secretary for the commissariat, Jeppy Jaboon, said he was in the dark about the attack.
“I don’t have that information. I would have to investigate that,” he said.
Chivasa is one of six candidates who are contesting the Bikita West parliamentary seat, which fell vacant after Munyaradzi Kereke was incarcerated for 14 years for the rape of a minor last year.
The savage attack on Chivasa comes as former Vice President Joice Mujuru, who now leads the opposition Zimbabwe People First (ZPF), is due to hold a rally in the constituency today, to drum up support for her party’s candidate, Kudakwashe Gopo.
ZPF spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire told the Daily News yesterday that despite the violence, his party was pulling all the stops to ensure that Mujuru’s rally went ahead successfully.
“This is not the first time that Zanu PF has used violence to derail preparations for our rallies, they did that in Marondera when we held our provincial rally last year but our local leadership confronted the mischief makers and knocked sense into their violent heads.
“We are a non-violent party which pursues a determined and clear agenda that enables our supporters to get the necessary protection so that they can freely participate in governance processes in their areas.
“No amount of Zanu PF interference will distract us. When we decided to participate in the by-election we anticipated such thuggery and we are testing our strategies against unorthodox Zanu PF electoral practices which is the major reason why we are in this by-election,” Mawarire said.
Analysts also say Saturday’s by-election is a dry run for the eagerly-anticipated 2018 polls, adding that this will go a long way in gauging the chances of the opposition and its mooted grand coalition which is expected to be in place by the end of this year.
It is also in this context that observers say the Bikita West mini-poll will provide a stern litmus test for Mugabe’s former long-serving deputy.
Analysts and rights groups also warned yesterday that Zanu PF’s continuing use of violence could lead to bloody elections in 2018.
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) was among those that unreservedly condemned the assault on Chivasa and his election agent.
“ZimRights is worried by the continued electoral malpractices in the Bikita by-election, as well as all recent by-elections, and the implication of the acts of violence as a precursor to the forthcoming 2018 elections.
“The calculated act of political violence by an organised hit squad wearing the ruling party Zanu PF’s regalia is a slap in the face of the constitutional requirement for free, fair and credible elections,” it said.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) said it was concerned that this culture of violence had been allowed to continue while no corrective measures were being taken to ensure free and fair polls that allowed voters to make their choices freely, without fear.
“In the case of Masvingo Province, senior army officers and Zanu PF politicians are on record threatening violence against opposition supporters and it has become quite apparent that Zanu PF is out to win elections at all costs and this includes unleashing violence.
“Events in Bikita West raise fears of another bloody election in 2018 and we fear a repeat of the 2008 elections during which Zanu PF violence resulted in the death of more than 200 opposition activists around the country.
“Intimidation and violence by Zanu PF supporters has brought the credibility of elections in Zimbabwe into disrepute as is the case in Bikita West where there have also been reports of vote buying by the Zanu PF candidate Beauty Chabaya.
“Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition implores the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to investigate all cases of violence and intimidation ahead of the Bikita West by-election set for January 21, 2017,” CiZC said.
New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch also condemned the savage attacks on Chivasa and his election agent.
“We ask the police to thoroughly investigate the abuses and arrest those responsible and make sure that they face justice.
“Zimbabwe remains trapped in the vicious cycle of political violence partly because of impunity which gets entrenched when perpetrators of violence are not held accountable.
“The violence against Chivasa and many others in Bikita West, accompanied by inaction on the part of the police, is a clear indicator that the 2018 national elections could be just as violent, if not worse.
Zanu PF’s machinery and infrastructure of violence remains intact, and the police remain highly partisan and extremely politicised, rendering them useless when it comes to human rights protection and upholding the rule of law,” its senior researcher for southern Africa, Dewa Mavhinga, told the Daily News.
Tension has been high in the volatile Bikita West constituency which historically, is a hotbed of political violence, since sickly Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Shuvai Mahofa threatened to unleash violence in the area against the opposition.
She told ruling party supporters who gathered for the campaign rally at Gwindingwi Primary School earlier this month to vote “wisely” or else suffer the consequences.
“Haa, munozviziva, muno hamusi mekutamba namo (You all know it. This is not a constituency to play silly games). Kune vamwe vakatsakatika muno umu gore riya, munoriziva. Handei tinovhota zvakanaka. (There are some who disappeared in this constituency as you know. Let us go and vote wisely),” she bellowed ominously.