By Ruzvidzo Jena
Opposition MDC backers report being harassed, detained and beaten after recent election
Hundreds more activists have gone into hiding in Zimbabwe as security agencies intensify a crackdown launched shortly after the election in July.
Millions of people cast votes in the poll, the first since the ousting of Robert Mugabe last year. The victor was Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former aide to Mugabe and a stalwart of the Zanu-PF party, which has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.Nelson Chamisa, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader, has called the election “illegitimate and fraudulent” and will not recognise Mnangangwa’s victory.
The poll was seen as a potential turning point for Zimbabwe, which desperately needs foreign investment to avoid economic breakdown. But hopes for dramatic and immediate change have been dashed by violence and alleged human rights abuses since the election.Last month the homes of leaders were surrounded by unidentified masked and armed men during the night, and homes of activists were invaded by gangs shouting pro-government slogans.
Dozens of independent media activists have gone into hiding, Caroline Tembo, a human rights activist, said she had gone into hiding after a warning that “the military” were looking for her.This was after she had sheltered victims of political violence sought who had sought refuge at her Harare home after their home were burned down by Zanu Pf miltia in Muzarabani last month.
Speaking from an undisclosed location Tembo said “I don’t know when we’ll speak again. If I’m found, I will disappear and it might be forever. I am frightened, but it is what politics here in Zimbabwe is all about.”
More than 20 MDC activists detained last month at the party’s headquarters in central Harare were released on bail by a magistrate. They have been charged with involvement in political violence. In a court hearing, defence lawyers said they were only polling agents who had come to the capital to deliver copies of election voting forms and collect travel allowances.
A statement by the heads of the mission of EU member states in Harare, along with the US, Canada and Switzerland, condemned the “violence, attacks and acts of intimidation targeted at opposition leaders and supporters”, saying they had no place in a democratic society.Ruling party officials deny the allegations. Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe’s foreign affairs minister and a retired army general, blamed “a lot of misinformation that is coming out from social media”.
He said: “Yes, they may be certain security or police operations, which are under way as a result of the death of six people, those normal police operations do not normally end up meaning or being interpreted as some kind of atrocities being perpetrated.”
Authorities in Zimbabwe need international legitimacy to obtain the multibillion-dollar bailouts required to avoid economic breakdown. The violence is a serious setback and some say the crackdown suggests splits within the ruling elite.