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Zimbabwe elections 2023 – A free and fair poll means the nation must cast votes without fear

epa10666956 A man reads a daily newspaper in Harare, Zimbabwe, 01 June 2023. Zimbabwean President Mnangagwa has set 23 August 2023 as the day for general elections in Zimbabwe and 02 October 2023 for a run--off election if necessary. EPA-EFE/AARON UFUMELI
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Like an abuse victim who stays with a partner who beats her repeatedly, cheats and controls every aspect of her life, Zimbabweans stay with their abuser.

By Thandekile Moyo

When asked why she doesn’t leave the financially, emotionally and physically violent partner, the Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) victim usually says they are “unable to leave” or that they are staying “for their children”. When Zimbabweans are asked why they do not remove Zanu-PF from power they also claim that they have failed to remove Zanu-PF when they tried in the past and thus they cannot exit the relationship.

Some abuse victims even say they are afraid to leave because if they do, the abuser might kill them. Zimbabweans express similar sentiments when asked why we allow Zanu-PF to rig elections, loot resources and so on. People know that the price of trying to remove Zanu-PF can be death.

All this confirms that Zimbabweans are in an abusive relationship with the government.

Post-elections, most Zimbabweans concur that the results were rigged. All our elections have been rife with voter intimidation, vote buying, and other forms of rigging that render them “unfree” and “unfair”. All elections, since Independence in 1980, have had disputed outcomes.

That said, Zimbabweans also realise that there are some among us who actually do vote for Zanu-PF. Regardless of whether these people vote for Zanu-PF under duress or by choice, people always blame these people for making it easier for Zanu-PF to rig elections and maintain their grip on power.

Another question that always comes up is: Why do victims of the Gukurahundi genocide vote for the party that perpetrated these crimes?

The response by people of Matabeleland is: Why do victims of Operation Murambatsvina, 2008 post-election violence and other cycles of violence committed by Zanu-PF in Mashonaland and other provinces, still vote for Zanu-PF?

Just as we always ask victims of domestic abuse why they do not leave, we also ask why victims of atrocities vote for the perpetrators or allow them to stay in power.

Victim-blaming

Experts on violence say asking victims of violence why they don’t leave or why they don’t “get rid of the perpetrator” is what is called victim blaming. They say instead of blaming people for failing to get out of abusive situations, we must enable them to leave.

We have the responsibility to protect them.

On 21 June 2023, aspiring candidates filed their nomination papers across the country for the 23 August elections.

The pre-election period has already been declared as not free and not fair. There have been reports of pre-election violence, the voter’s roll is questionable and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has refused to incorporate reforms demanded by opposition parties. The delimitation process was also rejected by many, including some in the governing party.

On these grounds alone, it is already clear that the results of the 2023 elections will again be disputed.

The strategy by opposition parties seems to be to try and “pull a Zambia on Zanu-PF” by making sure there is a record turnout on election day.

The assumption is if voter apathy is reduced, more people will vote against Zanu-PF and hopefully an increased margin will make it difficult for Zanu-PF to rig.

While I support this strategy, I believe it is just as necessary for opposition parties to incorporate into their strategy ways of enabling victims of intimidation and vote buying to leave.

Seeing as almost every Zimbabwean has been a victim of either physical or structural violence by the state, it is important to approach the election with this in mind. Some victims of violence perpetrated by the Government of Zimbabwe have a genuine fear of removing the perpetrators of that violence from power and unless that fear is invalidated, they will once again vote for Zanu-PF come August 2023.

Many victims know that it is dangerous to vote against Zanu-PF because they have suffered the consequences of voting before. They care not for pie-in-the-sky promises of change – what they need is assurance that if they vote against Zanu-PF, the genocide will not return.

As in cases of IPV, chances that an abuser will harm their victim if they leave are extremely high.

One recent British study revealed that “41% of women killed by a male partner/former partner had separated or taken steps to separate from them”. (Read: Femicide census, 2020)

Similarly, each time people have overwhelmingly taken steps to remove Zanu-PF from power, Zanu-PF responded by murdering them. Examples are the Gukurahundi genocide, 2008 atrocities, and the August 1, 2018 shootings.

It is therefore important for opposition parties in Zimbabwe, regional organs such as the African Union (AU) and SADC, and the United Nations to assure Zimbabweans that no post-election violence will be tolerated in Zimbabwe after the August 2023 elections. If, for once, Zanu-PF says it is also invested in having free and fair elections, they too should be asked to join the campaign to assure victims of past atrocities that if they lose the election, they will concede.

Instead of waiting to blame the victim by asking them after the election, why they voted for their oppressor, we need to come together to enable victims of violence to cast their votes without fear. It is an act of irresponsibility by the regional and international community to ignore the violence that the Zimbabwean government has been perpetrating on Zimbabweans with impunity since 1980.

Responsibility to protect

The United Nations committed to the principle of “the responsibility to protect” in the 2005 World Summit. It says “the international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the UN Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.

The silence of the United Nations on the conflict in Zimbabwe is deafening.

The AU also has the responsibility to investigate the conflict in Zimbabwe and to apply its Early Warning System before the August 2023 elections. The failure to protect civilians against atrocities is against the AU’s principle of no indifference. The AU Constitutive Act contains provisions that grant the AU the right to intervene in member states in the event of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Clearly meeting all elements of a crime, according to Article 7 (1) of the Rome Statute, the Zimbabwean government has been knowingly (mental element) perpetrating physical violence (physical element) against Zimbabweans who have opposed their rule from 1980 to date (contextual element). If the systematic and widespread murders of opposition members, attempted extermination of the Ndebeles through the Gukurahundi genocide, imprisonment of dissenters, torture of activists, rapes, enforced disappearances and “other inhuman acts that are intentionally causing great suffering and serious injury” perpetrated by the Zimbabwean government against unarmed civillian dissenters from 1980 to date are not crimes against humanity, then I don’t know what are. DM/MC