Principals' peace talks fail to stop violence

HARARE - On November 11  2011, three political party principals stood on a pedestal at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) to preach peace.

President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and leader of the smaller MDC party Welshman Ncube spoke passionately about the urgent need to build peace in the country.

Their messages, coupled with moves towards enacting a new Electoral Act and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Act, the country appeared to be well on a path to peace.

But months after their public declaration the three leaders have failed to follow their word. Their joint declaration for peace remains largely on paper since November 11.

With the country slowly drifting towards the referendum and a possible election, which Zanu PF wants held this year, many Zimbabweans have expressed concern for their safety if the country’s political environment remains unchecked.

Harare residents still live in fear of the marauding Chipangano gang (a shadowy vigilante group aligned to Zanu PF) which has taken control of virtually all business facets in most parts of the capital, particularly in the small-scale business hub of Mbare Musika.

Human rights groups say the police who are accused of supporting Zanu PF are not doing anything to bring the culprits to book.

Residents’ pressure groups such as Harare Residents Trust (HRT) maintain that lucrative markets in Mbare remain an enclave of people associated with Zanu PF.

“As Harare residents what we want to hear is tolerance. If Chipangano leaders are arrested for the crimes they are committing against residents of Harare then we would say there is movement in terms of progress towards peace."

“However, the situation is as it was three years ago. MDC offices in Mbare are still closed and the police have not done anything to protect the people,” said HRT chairperson Precious Shumba.

Calls for reforms which can put a stop to the chaos have largely fallen on deaf ears and institutions like the police have remained in the spotlight for failing to nab Chipangano.

And that is not all.

Across the country observers note a resurgence of political intimidation and violence from Zanu PF supporters targeting MDC leaders and their supporters.

Soldiers continue meddling in politics.

The MDC says its secretary-general Tendai Biti who is also Finance minister, has been banned from visiting Mashonaland West Province.

Reports from various civil groups such as the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), paint a gloomy picture on the ground.

Centre for Community Development Zimbabwe (CCDZ), a grassroots watchdog group that works in communities warned that tensions are rising and that people will not be able to freely express themselves during the constitutional referendum and elections.

CCDZ noted that people in different areas made specific mention of the politically motivated violence which took place during the 2008 Presidential run-off elections as a reason why there is a need to wait until the political environment is conducive before elections are held.

Zanu PF insists elections should be held this year, but civilians fear going to polls without adequate reforms would tailspin into further turmoil for the country. In its latest ballot update Zesn noted that human rights are not being religiously observed in some constituencies.

“Human rights are an inalienable fundamental right to which a person is inherently entitled simply because he or she is a human being and as such Zesn believes that these rights ought to be guarded jealously.”

“However, in a number of areas reports from observers have shown how these rights are being infringed with citizens unable to enjoy their fundamental freedoms. Reports from Goromonzi West have noted that some residents were arrested upon commenting on the prevalence of road blocks in the constituency, a clear infringement of their freedom of expression. Observers in some constituencies have reported fear instilled in citizens by people masquerading as Central Intelligence Operatives (CIO) and their inability to exercise their freedoms particularly freedom of association, assembly and expression.”

Zesn also notes that in areas such as Hatcliffe, MDC members are living in fear of intimidation and harassment.

Commenting on the lifting of sanctions by the European Union (EU), Tsvangirai expressed concern on the upsurge of political intimidation.

“We are taking stock of the positive aspects and of course the situation is that significant areas of concern remain,” he said in apparent reference to acts of violence by Zanu PF supporters against members of his MDC party.

Media watchdog Misa-Zimbabwe, while acknowledging the improvement in the media situation, says more still needs to be done.

“Misa-Zimbabwe reiterates its calls for comprehensive media reforms that would facilitate the repeal of the country’s broadcasting laws to facilitate the establishment of a representative independent broadcasting regulatory board that promotes the licensing of all aspiring private and independent broadcasters,” stated Misa in a recent statement.

Freelance reporter, Thomas Madhuku was arrested simply because he sought to inspect the closely-guarded voters’ roll.

Madhuku is being charged for allegedly tempering with the voters’ roll.

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