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Political Violence on the Rise in Zimbabwe

With 2018 Elections Ahead, Police Fail to Investigate Attacks on Opposition

A man reacts to teargas fired by police at protesters calling for electoral reform in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 12, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

On Tuesday night, unidentified assailants burned down a bar in Harare owned by Elias Mudzuri, the deputy president of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, MDC-T. Mudzuri and several other local activists with whom I spoke believed that supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party were responsible for this attack, as well as the one that destroyed the house of an MDC-T local councilor.

ZANU-PF has not only rejected such allegations, but sought to blame the opposition. Last week, after an MDC-T vehicle was torched, Ignatious Chombo, the minister of Home Affairs responsible for the police, dismissed the attack as “an inside job [by the MDC-T] to get attention and a trick by a fracturing party that is facing loss in the next election.”

The recent cases of apparent political violence, like those in past years, have one thing in common: no arrests despite the victims’ willingness to file a report with the police. Human Rights Watch research has shown that the police’s failure to make arrests in these cases and the resulting impunity has helped fuel cycles of political violence in the country.

Nor does the minister responsible for the police enhance his and the department’s credibility by making partisan statements about criminal acts even before the police have investigated. Instead, Chombo should be directing the police to make impartial and thorough investigations, and arresting those found responsible. He is responsible for ensuring that the police work for all Zimbabweans regardless of their political affiliation.

In the current highly polarized environment, one of the biggest challenges Zimbabwe faces ahead of elections next year is to have independent, professional, and non-partisan institutions of justice. Zimbabwe’s neighbors in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) should press the government to provide justice for past abuses, end further violence, and ensure elections are credible, free, and fair. 

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