THE 2008 run-off elections pitting former President Robert Mugabe and MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai (now both late) witnessed violence on an unprecedented scale.
Mugabe had been outpolled by his great rival, Tsvangirai, who however, did not garner enough votes to avoid a run-off and the stakes were high, possibly his political life and the continued existence as a force to reckon with on the political arena of his beloved Zanu PF party which had lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1980.
And so, he unleashed the party militia on suspected MDC supporters. According to Tsvangirai, over 200 of his supporters were killed in politically-motivated violence perpetrated by Zanu PF supporters aided by State security agents while over 25 000 were displaced. Alarmed, Tsvangirai pulled out of the presidential role and Mugabe won the run-off election which was mired by controversy.
A report by advocacy group, Aids-Free World released in December 2009 said Zanu PF supporters, including youth militia and war veterans “committed widespread, systematic rape in 2008 to terrorise the political opposition.”
The level of election violence, however, forced Zimbabwe’s neighbours to broker a shaky unity government between Zanu PF and the MDCs that ran from 2009 to 2013.
Signs point to an even more violent poll in 2023. The opposition MDC Alliance reported attacks on its leader Nelson Chamisa on four separate occasions on Monday this week.
Police in riot gear teargassed Chamisa and his supporters at a private residence in Masvingo, while suspected Zanu PF youths attacked on his convoy three times, injured several aides while causing damage to several cars.
The violence and attacks against Chamisa and his entourage continued on Tuesday and will likely persist as long as he tries to meet the people in the rural areas.
Taking a leaf from Mugabe’s political playbook, Zanu PF initially denied that the attacks happened at all and that they were possibly stage-managed. Its apologists, including Information secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana, piled on. Then yesterday, Zanu PF acting national commissar Patrick Chinamasa, accused Chamisa of trying to impose his views on disinterested Zanu PF supporters.
“What I hear happened in Masvingo was that the opposition leader wanted to force himself on an audience which did not want to listen to him, he had no right to force people to listen to him, he had a right to address people but only those who were willing to be addressed by him,” an arrogant Chinamasa told journalists.
“In this case my information is that the villagers did not want to be addressed by him for obvious reasons, if you listen to a mad man you become part of his cast, you will be portrayed as part of his cast, he will then go ahead and say, I have lots of support, which he does not have, So our Zanu PF people have a right to say we don’t want you to address us, we don’t want, it’s my right, but if you force me to listen to you, I have reason to be angry.”
He did not explain what Zanu PF supporters were doing at an MDC Alliance event, without invitation. Mugabe was one of the grand old men of southern Africa’s liberation struggle that ended white minority rule and was widely admired as a defiant nationalist by some Africans.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on the other hand, is just plain violent and is seen by critics as a ruthless despot willing to do whatever to retain power. Addressing supporters at a rally in Mwenezi in the run-up to the 2018 elections, Mnangagwa told his supporters to “thoroughly beat them up and continue to beat them up as we are easily beating them up right now”.
The youths and police who attacked Chamisa and the MDC A lliance officials in Masvingo were merely following their master’s voice. And it will get worse as 2023 approaches.