ZIMBABWE: Shut your mouth or else
President Robert Mugabe wants no limits on presidential terms
Rushinga, 12 July 2010 (IRIN) - Jairos Mukotosi, 50, is avoiding a team of consultants, sent as part of a parliamentary outreach programme to the Rushinga area of rural Mashonaland Central Province in northeastern Zimbabwe, to find out what people would like included in a proposed new constitution.
But for the past two months the members of the youth militia aligned to President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party - have been warning villagers to either shut up or support ZANU-PF's view on the new constitution, which includes no limit on the number of presidential terms that can be served. They have dubbed their operation "Vhara Muromo", or Shut Your Mouth.
Mugabe has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980 and the new constitution will replace the Lancaster House agreement, which has been amended 19 times. In 2008 ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence, and Mugabe nearly lost the presidential poll outright.
Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), withdrew from the run-off election in protest over the high levels of political violence and intimidation. The MDC claimed that more than 4,000 people were killed, although the official figure is a hundred or so.
|I am a victim of the June 2008 elections and still live in fear
"I am a victim of the June 2008 elections and still live in fear," Mukotosi told IRIN. "Even though we were living in peace following the formation of the inclusive government [in February 2009, when ZANU-PF and the two factions of the MDC formed a coalition government], the ghost of violence and fear is returning."
ZANU-PF wants a draft constitution, commonly referred to as the Kariba Draft, to be adopted. Apart from placing no limit on presidential terms, it also gives the president wide-ranging powers.
"I am not taking any chances; these militia stole and killed my cattle because they thought I was a member of the MDC, since my son works in Harare [the capital, an MDC stronghold]. Now I will not participate in the constitution-making process because they might kill me and my family this time," he said.
Mashonaland Central Province is a traditional ZANU-PF stronghold, but wavered in its support for Mugabe in the 2008 elections. Mukotosi said the militia were re-establishing the torture camps set up then, and forcing villagers to attend political rallies that ZANU-PF activists call "political orientation" meetings.
At these meetings "we are reminded of what happened in 2008", and "warned that those that escaped with maiming will die if they support imperialist views, like legalising homosexuality and advocating for the post of a prime minister [currently held by Tsvangirai]". Mukotosi said the militia recently assaulted two young men for wearing anti-violence T-shirts donated by a non-governmental organisation.
A villager from Magaranhewe, near Rushinga, about 200km from Harare, told IRIN the army presence in the province was increasing. "Two of the soldiers are our sons from this village, and when they returned we thought they were on leave," said Samuel Mukarati, 43.
"However, they are always in uniform and team up with their colleagues from the barracks next to Rushinga police station to patrol the villages. Nobody has been beaten up yet, but we fear there could be violence because this is how things happened in 2008."
He said because of fear, few people were attending the constitutional outreach programmes spearheaded by parliament, and that the youth militia were approaching villagers to check whether they held ZANU-PF membership cards.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), a human rights watchdog, noted that the expectation of elections taking place next year and the deployment of teams consulting on a new constitution were stoking political tension.
"President Robert Mugabe's announcement of possible elections in 2011, compounded by speculations that the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee [COPAC] consultations were to commence at the end of April or early May 2010, has given rise to political tensions in the different provinces as political parties jostle to control the events and views on the constitution," the ZPP said in a recent statement.
Douglas Mwonzora, an MDC parliamentarian and co-chairperson of the constitutional parliamentary committee, told Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR): "We have heard reports of intimidation, but we hope the police are ready to deal with those unruly elements behind it, so that the outreach programme is finished on time."
The ZANU-PF co-chairperson of the committee, Munyaradzi Mangwana, who is also a parliamentarian, told local media there were no cases of violence related to the constitution consultation process.
ZLHR spokesperson Kumbirai Mafunda told IRIN his organisation and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) would send observers to monitor the constitutional consultations.