Mourners gather in Buhera, Zimbabwe, for the burial of the late Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, February 20, 2018. 

© 2018 Dewa Mavhinga/Human Rights Watch

Opposing factions of Zimbabwe’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), descended into violence as they struggle for control in the wake of party leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s death last month.

On Sunday, violence within MDC-T’s offices in Bulawayo, in southwest Zimbabwe, spilled over into the streets. The fracas left scores injured and several vehicles damaged. Anti-riot police were deployed to stop the violence, but no arrests were made.

This incident follows other outbursts of violence within the party, including at the February 20 burial of Tsvangirai in Buhera, Manicaland province. There, scores of MDC-T party youth threw stones at and roughed-up party leaders Deputy President Thokozani Khupe and Secretary General Douglas Mwonzora, trying to prevent them from attending the funeral.

In August, party youths beat Khupe after she openly spoke out against Tsvangirai.

The MDC-T appears to have established a militia-type, uniformed youth group called the “Vanguard.” When I asked her about the violence, Khupe said that some Vanguard members were among the people who attacked her in August and on the day of Tsvangirai’s funeral.

Some media have even made shallow attempts to justify the violence, claiming that perhaps Khupe and her supporters had provoked it by seeking to hold “unsanctioned meetings.”

Interim MDC-T leader Nelson Chamisa has condemned the violence, but he and the party leadership need to take concerted action to stop it, including punishing those responsible. Any violence involving the Vanguard warrants a particularly strong party response. 

Political party violence, whether within parties or between them, has long been a problem in Zimbabwe. The ruling ZANU-PF party has frequently used violence to achieve political advantage, for instance during the 2008 presidential runoff elections when political violence resulted in the killing of more than 200 people, the beating and torture of 5,000 more, and the displacement of about 36,000 people.

As Zimbabwe prepares for national elections this year, slated for between July 21 and August 22, it is important that all parties ensure that their members act peacefully, allowing others to freely associate and express themselves no matter their political views, and permit the people of Zimbabwe to choose their leaders without fear of violence.