Villagers wary over Zanu PF sincerity

MUZARABANI - When the past is one of political violence and repression, attempting to suture past wounds and raptures is never easy.

Many folks in rural Muzarabani in the Zambezi Valley are nervous over attempts by Zanu PF to spread the gospel of peace and non-violence in the build-up to polls set for this year.

Zanu PF has toned down on violence calls, encouraging its supporters to maintain and ensure violence-free polls this year.

After the 2012 Zanu PF Gweru annual conference, the party leadership in Muzarabani district has been out in villages reinforcing the message of peace and violence-free elections.

This new peace drive has surprised many villagers who are sceptical of Zanu PF’s sincerity in preaching violence-free elections. What is surprising villagers is the sudden shift to peace by a party known for a history of violence and intimidation.

The 2008 political violence was the worst episode of violence that is still fresh in the minds Muzarabani villagers.

And now, those who have been busy  addressing meetings include Zanu PF provincial youth chairperson Gilbert Kanhutu.

In an interview in Harare recently, Kanhutu admitted that they were spreading the message of peace in the whole of Mashonaland Province, stressing that Zanu PF wants to go to elections without violence tags.

“People are going out saying Zanu PF is violent, so we want to show that we understand the importance of peace,” said Kanhutu.

“We want to take people from the opposition and show them the good things done by Zanu PF, there is no need to deny them food aid and they should know that Zanu PF is the best party.

“We don’t have to campaign intimidating people, we are promising peace,” Kanhutu said.

The party has a culture of addressing and briefing its membership on the resolutions and proceedings from the annual conference or congress.

Villagers in Muzarabani said previous annual conferences resulted in increased violence targeted at MDC supporters in the area.

“Each time they came from the conference or congress, they would be on the high and would promise to deal with MDC supporters and we are surprised at the sudden toning down of such calls,” Freddy Matonhodze, a villager in Muzarabani said.

Matonhodze added that the Zanu PF annual conference had the power to shape the flow of politics in Muzarabani.

“Previously they would start from the time they disembark from buses and for us, it was one of the most challenging moments as we would be forced to either disappear or seek refuge in some secret places waiting for them to cool down,” Matonhodze added.

At one of the feedback meetings held last year, Zanu PF leadership told villagers that if ever any of their members was going to assault an MDC supporter, he/she would face justice without support or help from the party.

“We say no to violence, but we don’t want you to interact with them. It is not allowed to engage in violence but we will find ways of dealing with them,” Kanhutu was heard saying at the feedback meeting at Muzarabani Growth Point.

Kanhutu is also reported to have appealed for non-politicised distribution of food aid in all villages.
Kanhutu told villagers that they were prepared for peaceful elections and will not engage in acts of violence.

In Ward 7, Hwata area, the local leadership addressed a feedback meeting encouraging party members to give food to everyone regardless of political membership.

One of the villagers who attended the meeting said the party leadership, including Kanhutu, said everyone was supposed to get seed regardless of their political affiliation.

Some villagers said this was a major climb-down because it was the first time Zanu PF leadership in Muzarabani had campaigned for peace.

“We were surprised, it had become common that after their annual conference, violence threats would escalate.

“We could not believe it, when we heard them preaching peace throughout their address, we thought they were going to resort back to their usual song.

“We wish these could be genuine calls because it helps us settle down,” a villager said.

At Hoya Business Centre in Ward 17, Faiton Mupinga who is the district chairperson together with Tafira Mahau and James Chibau addressed a feedback meeting urging party supporters to maintain peace and share Grain Marketing Board (GMB) grain loan scheme with MDC members.

The same message of peace was delivered to Muringazuva area Ward 8 and Dambakurima area Ward 5.

In these areas, the Zanu PF local leadership told villagers that the referendum was going to be yardstick for the party’s popularity.

However, in Kaerezi village Ward 23, Amon Mavedzenge a Zanu PF youth addressed a meeting warning MDC supporters that “zvakaitika 2008 zvishoma”.

Villagers who quizzed the sincerity of Zanu PF calling for peace said it was hard to tell if the calls were genuine because there were still incidents where MDC supporters were being intimidated and harassed by Zanu PF members.

Itai Charumbuka, MDC Muzarabani District chairperson, said on October 27, 2012 he was forced out of a commuter omnibus by touts believed to be Zanu PF members.

“A tout came and told me to get off the kombi as the driver was uncomfortable taking off with me
“After I refused to disembark, all the other passengers were told to change into another kombi leaving me alone,” Charumbuka said.

Charumbuka added that the kombi driver  finally came himself and instructed that I should leave the kombi, in the process inciting other passengers to force me out.

“My crime was that I was going to attend an MDC rally where the party president was due to address at Chaona Growth Point,” Charumbuka added.

Villagers also raised allegations that Zanu PF was interfering in the recruitment of workers at cotton companies operating at Muzarabani Growth Point.

But a party member who did not want to be named dismissed the allegations saying that all the people in Muzarabani were Zanu PF supporters.

“If you ask any person you meet here in Muzarabani, they are Zanu PF supporters, so as long as those employed at the cotton companies are from Muzarabani, they are Zanu PF supporters,” he said.

Commenting on the reports of partisan recruitment of workers at cotton companies, the soft spoken Kanhutu said he is a worker at the company and has every reason to employ those he likes.

“As a worker of Cottco and as a leader in Zanu PF I will take advantage because it’s sort of campaigning, if Tendai Biti is to have a company he cannot employ a wrong person because he may be looking for support.

“I am a leader in Muzarabani and this is an opportunity to give back to the people who made me a provincial youth chairman,” he said.

Kanhutu added that he does not recruit Zanu PF members arguing that they make announcement on days of recruitment.

“I only announce that on this day we are recruiting workers and people come and we employ them, we recruit from as far as Chadereka, Kanyemba Chiwenga,” said Kanhutu.

Muzarabani district is still regarded as a “one-party state” continues to rally behind Zanu PF and the party controls most rural district councils with the MDC having only one councillor.

The district is volatile as MDC supporters claim that Zanu PF systematically monitors  virtually all institutions from council, cotton companies, teachers and agricultural extension services workers to touts. - Thomas Madhuku

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