'Zanu PF politicising aid in Chimanimani'

CHIMANIMANI - Zimbabwe’s ruling party has been accused of deliberately withholding aid from opposition supporters ahead of the Chimanimani National Assembly by-election.

The by-election was called after the expulsion of former Zanu PF MP Munacho Mutezo for defecting to Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First party.

The by-election, scheduled for Saturday, November 26, pits Zanu PF’s Nokuthula Matsikenyere against Peter Gudyanga (Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe), Pesanai Musakanuka (National Constitutional Assembly) and Edmore Mtetwa, an independent candidate.

Election watchdogs said an official investigation into alleged discrimination in the distribution of food had uncovered evidence of political bias, intimidation of opposition supporters and that opponents of President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party had been told they would never get any food aid. The government has not yet commented.

The rural hamlet is facing acute starvation because of drought. This also comes as President Robert Mugabe declared a state of disaster in February as the country struggles to cope with a prolonged El Nino-induced drought, with the government estimating that over four million people would need food aid.

The scathing report on the allegations of the politicisation of food aid in rural areas by senior government officials and public servants lays bare accusations that have long been denied by Mugabe.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), a non-partisan network of 34 member organisations and the faith-based rights organisation Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), said they were concerned by ongoing vote buying using food aid and farming inputs and the alleged intimidation of voters in the by-election.

Uniformed forces such as members of the Zimbabwe National Army and Zimbabwe Republic Police have also been spotted driving around Chimanimani West over the last two weeks.

The rights groups warned that the sudden increase of army and police presence in the constituency was intimidating and curtailed the activities of contesting candidates as their meetings were constantly disrupted.

Their findings were a result of extensive investigations in the run-up to the by-election.

“Zesn condemns the partisan distribution of food and farming inputs in a bid to secure an electoral victory for the Zanu PF candidate . . . Matsikenyere,” its statement said.  

“The use of gifts to procure votes is illegal according to Section 136 of the Electoral Act (Chapter 2:13), therefore it is critical that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) deals with vote buying as it amounts to undue influence.

“At rallies held in wards 2, 3, 4 and 17 last week, villagers were given rice and informed that if they wanted to continue receiving food aid they should vote for the Zau PF candidate or risk being sidelined.”

ZPP said it was worried about the risk of citizens in the constituency being victimised and disenfranchised.

“It is alleged that Zanu PF, through village heads, has been intimidating villagers by making announcements to the effect that Zanu PF supporters are the only ones who should vote at the by-election,” the ZPP statement said.

“Zanu PF provincial youth chairperson Mbuso Chingono is also allegedly threatening known opposition activists that on election day, there will be people ready to vote on their behalf. ZPP is therefore imploring the Zec to be strict about who qualifies to be an assisted voter.”

ZPP also reported that at Nhedziwa Secondary School in ward 4, there was distribution of rice and sugar a few days back but only Zanu PF supporters and villagers who produced voter registration slips benefited.

“It is alleged that Zanu PF local leadership turned away beneficiaries that have not been attending the party’s meetings.”

The election watchdogs called upon Zec and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to institute investigations into the vote buying and intimidation reports in Chimanimani West and to ensure that the electoral playing field is even for the conduct of a free, fair and credible by-election.

The political implications of the reports are grave, especially with general elections due in 2018, although similar allegations have been made in the past. It will be difficult for Mugabe to simply dismiss the allegations.

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