The move by rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai last Friday to jointly take to the podium to condemn political violence at the same time urging their parties to freely hold meetings is a welcome development indeed.
The move comes at a time tensions are rising ahead of possible elections in 2012. Zimbabwe’s successive polls have over the last decade been marred by political violence.
While Tsvangirai and his MDC-T party have blamed Zanu PF and its State security agents of fomenting violence to remain in power, the latter have accused the former opposition party of using violence to destabilise the country and effect regime change. Various solutions to end political violence each time the country draws towards elections have been tried, but without success.
And in the process, so many innocent lives were left dead or seriously maimed while innumerable quantities of property was destroyed.
Last week’s major political parties’ indaba could not have come at a better time. At the meeting, President Mugabe and PM Tsvangirai jointly addressed senior members of their respective parties and said “endemic” political violence had to end ahead of the next elections, likely to be both parliamentary and presidential.
“We have committed heart and soul that we ensure that our country is without violence. We want to live in a peaceful country,” President Mugabe said. The 87-year-old leader said he had been discussing the issue with Tsvangirai during weekly meetings, adding that parties should set up inter-party committees across the country to stop violence.
PM Tsvangirai and President Mugabe said their relationship had changed from one of hostility to one of friendly opposition and urged party supporters to emulate this.
“Let us differ with dignity. Violence is a collective national shame,” said the Premier while addressing that same meeting.
The violence scourge which had engulfed most parts of the country over the past weeks could have been reignited by talk of a possible election next year. The violent clashes are a sad reminder of the June 2008 bloody election period. Police have in the past few weeks disrupted Tsvangirai’s rallies in the western Matabeleland region where his MDC-T won the majority of parliamentary seats in 2008.
Suspected Zanu PF militants last Sunday forced the Premier to cancel a big rally when they attacked MDC-T youths in Chitungwiza town outside Harare. President Mugabe said he was sincere in calling for an end to violence and parties should not force people to attend rallies.
He also said the police should protect all citizens, noting that there were complaints some officers stood by whenever Zanu PF members attacked Tsvangirai’s supporters.
“Let us walk the talk of peace. This is our sincere plea from our hearts,” President Mugabe said.
“People must hold their meetings freely. Don’t stand in the way of those who are holding a meeting.”
The parties also agreed on a code of conduct against political violence. President Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 and critics say the veteran leader has clung to power by using violence against opponents and through coercion and patronage to retain support within Zanu PF. He is Zanu PF’s presidential candidate in the next poll.