VI. Political Violence and Intimidation in 2007 and 2008

The history of violence and intimidation during Zimbabwe’s previous elections does not bode well for these elections. Of particular concern is the impunity that perpetrators of past violence enjoy, in particular those from the ruling party. The increasing involvement of the police and officers from the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) in incidents of violence and intimidation in the past three years, and the lack of punishment for those officers involved in such violence, have eroded the public’s trust in the police force. 

In the run up to the March 2008 elections, the government and senior police officers have publicly sought to assure voters that they will take a “zero tolerance” approach to violence.27 But with perpetrators of past violence continuing to operate around the country,28 it is difficult to see how Zimbabweans can openly display their support for the opposition, especially in the countryside. 

While conducting our research in September 2007 and February 2008, in the areas that we visited Human Rights Watch was informed of 12 incidents of intimidation and violence, mainly perpetrated by ZANU-PF supporters and security agents. In spite of the new provisions in the Electoral Laws Amendment Act explicitly banning intimidation and violence, which came into force in January, three of the incidents of violence took place after the amendments.  Local organizations such as the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) reported a far higher number of such incidents during the period from September 2007 to February 2008.29 

High levels of intolerance continue to exist in provinces considered to be ruling party strongholds such as Mashonaland West, East and Central. For example, a local activist from Makonde in Mashonaland West informed Human Rights Watch that opposition activists were forced to campaign at night due to threats from ruling party supporters.30

Human Rights Watch is concerned that incidents of violence may increase immediately after the elections as the political intolerance that has been on display during the past eight years continues to manifest itself. A recent statement attributed to the commander of Zimbabwe’s army, Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, also raises the serious possibility of post-election violence. The general was quoted by The Standard newspaper as saying that “the army will not support or salute sell-outs and agents of the West before, during and after the presidential elections.”31

During past elections, government officials and ruling party supporters and members have been the main perpetrators of violence.  Human Rights Watch observed that this appears to remain the same in the run up to the 2008 elections, although there have been some incidents of violence perpetrated by the opposition. In a positive move, police recently stepped up arrests of supporters from all parties involved in acts of politically motivated violence. However, the concern remains that opposition supporters are more vulnerable to arbitrary arrests, while ruling party supporters who are often the main perpetrators of violence are able to act with impunity.

Beating of Members of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe by ZANU-PF Supporters in February 2008

In an act of political intolerance and violence that has significantly affected the political environment in the pre-election period, nine members of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ)32 were seized by a group of up to 70 ZANU-PF supporters on February 19, 2008, in Harare as they tried to distribute flyers for the organization’s “save our education” campaign. The campaign called on the government to address the country’s collapsing education system.33 The ZANU-PF supporters took the PTUZ members to ZANU-PF provincial headquarters in Harare, and beat them with iron bars, pieces of wood, and pieces of furniture for over an hour. A woman PTUZ member was sexually assaulted.  At a press conference describing their experience, Raymond Majongwe, secretary general of PTUZ, narrated what happened to the PTUZ members:

The plan was for us to distribute flyers in every urban set up. Teams were sent to distribute them around the city.  One of the teams went to 4th Street. I had just dropped them off when I got a call from one of them saying that they had been abducted by ZANU supporters,  then someone who identified himself as a policeman took the phone from my colleague and said, “Majongwe, come and pick your people.” I went to ZANU HQ together with my colleague Harrison Mudzuri to pick them up in my PTUZ vehicle, but as soon as I got out I was pounced upon and they started beating us—Oswald Madziwa, Washoko Bernard, Hillary Jana, Linda, and Charles. We were beaten for one-and-a-half hours with iron bars, logs, sticks, booted feet, and clenched fists. One of our women comrades was forced to take off her clothes, kicked in the private parts, and taunted. Harrison passed out twice.34

The ZANU-PF supporters accused the PTUZ members of supporting the MDC. Raymond Majongwe continued,

We were accused of being sent by Tsvangirai to distribute the flyers to decampaign [campaign against] ZANU-PF. We were forced to sing songs and chant ZANU-PF slogans. Hillary was asked to sing songs and do slogans, and then they started thumping her until she passed out. We were being beaten by groups of youths. They were about seven groups that would take it in turns to beat us up.35

The president of PTUZ, Takafavira Zhou, explained to those at the press conference,

When I got the call that my comrades were taken, I went to ZANU HQ and they asked, “How do you know they are here?” When I said I was the president of PTUZ over 30 of them jumped on me and started beating me saying “there is only one president.” When I got to the room where my comrades were I found that Majongwe had passed out, Mudzuri had passed out.36

The ZANU-PF supporters also took cell phones, money, and watches from the PTUZ members. The PTUZ members informed Human Rights Watch that a number of police officers and CIO officers were present during the beatings. According to Raymond Majongwe,

There were consultations as they were beating us up. When the CIOs would come into the room, the beatings would stop. Members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police came in, left, and the beatings continued. Then they [the ZANU-PF supporters] panicked about the medical condition of Harrison Mudzuri and they stopped.37

After noting the serious injuries they had inflicted on the PTUZ members, the ZANU-PF supporters called the police present at the ZANU PF headquarters into the room. The police then transported the PTUZ members to Harare police station and then to the Avenues clinic for treatment. At the clinic, the group was kept under heavy police guard.  Majongwe told Human Rights Watch, “When we were beaten they [the police] were panicking. They were loads of them at the hospital and they were checking everyone for cameras to stop photos of us being taken. It is funny that even though we were the victims, we were being treated as criminals.”38

All nine of the PTUZ members sustained serious bruises to their bodies and were hospitalized for two days. Two of the PTUZ members showed visible marks to Human Rights Watch on their backs and buttocks two days after the incident. A medical doctor who treated the victims told Human Rights Watch that the severe bruising and marks on the victims’ bodies were consistent with beatings by blunt objects.39

Police response

The alleged presence of police officers during the beatings calls into question the police’s stated adoption of a “zero tolerance” stance toward politically motivated violence. In response to the beatings, police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena was quoted in the state-run Herald newspaper as saying that the PTUZ members were injured during clashes with ZANU-PF supporters and that they had provoked the supporters by throwing flyers with provocative political messages; the PTUZ members and their lawyers deny this.40

According to lawyers representing the PTUZ, police accused the PTUZ members of contravening sections of the Criminal Law (Codification & Reform) Act outlawing the distribution of pamphlets, placards, etc. in public places and or buildings.41 Police informed the PTUZ members that they would be summoned to answer the charges at a later date.42 

Later on the day of the attacks, police arrested two of the ZANU-PF supporters believed to have been responsible.43 At this writing, however, it was not clear what charges the police were bringing against these two, or whether police would arrest others of the 60 or so ZANU-PF supporters allegedly involved in the beating of the PTUZ members.

Intimidation and Violence by ZANU-PF Supporters against Teachers in 2007 and 2008

The beating of the PTUZ members is not a new phenomenon. In the past, attacks on teachers in Zimbabwe by ruling party supporters have often intensified in the period before elections. In previous elections, ruling party supporters, youth militia, and war veterans44 targeted teachers because they perceived them as being supporters of the opposition and of having an influence on local communities.45 In the run up to elections in 2008 this has not changed.

In one incident in early August 2007, seven youth militia attacked a primary school teacher with clubs in Bikita, Masvingo province, and accused him of belonging to the MDC after they heard him encouraging people to register to vote.46 He was hospitalized for two days and the scars on his head were still visible when a Human Rights Watch researcher interviewed him.47 He reported the case to the police, who took note of the incident (he showed Human Rights Watch the police docket) but they had not found the perpetrators.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four other teachers in Masvingo who were concerned that incidents of intimidation and violence against them were likely to increase as the date of the elections drew closer.48

Human Rights Watch was also informed of cases of intimidation and violence early on in the voter registration process in a number of rural areas, in particular those believed to be strongholds of ZANU-PF. For example, in September 2007 Human Rights Watch interviewed seven villagers who had been harassed and intimidated by ZANU-PF supporters in the provinces of Mashonaland West, Masvingo, and Midlands.49 The villagers were suspected of supporting the MDC.  Two of the villagers, one in Mashonaland West and the other in Masvingo, were local high school teachers.  One of the teachers told Human Rights Watch, “Once the voter registration started, the ZANU supporters started targeting us. They warned us that they were watching us because we are teachers and that we would be chased from the village if we engaged in political activities.”50 All those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that police were unwilling to do anything to deal with the violence from ruling party supporters.

Police Involvement in Incidents of Intimidation and Violence against the Opposition, Students, and NGOs in 2008

The partisan nature of policing in Zimbabwe has been well documented by Human Rights Watch and other international organizations such as the International Bar Association.51 As the election date draws closer the police have targeted particular groups that they perceive to be supporters of the opposition including students, human rights activists, and representatives of certain NGOs.  

On February 14, 2008, police raided the offices of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (Crisis Coalition)52 looking for Marvellous Khumalo, advocacy officer for the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU).53 Marvellous Khumalo is a student who is running for a parliamentary seat for the MDC (Tsvangirai) in St Mary’s constituency, Chitungwiza, Harare.

Xolani Zitha, who coordinates the Crisis Coalition, told Human Rights Watch about the case:

I got a call from the office that four people from the Law and Order Criminal Investigation Department were looking for Marvellous Khumalo. When they didn’t find him they started to harass our staff asking them about why we were hiding this person. They took materials from the office including a camera.  After an hour of harassment they were told that Marvellous was at the ZimRights office so they took two of my staff to the offices. I went to ZimRights with two lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. When they were informed I was coordinator of the organization they arrested all of us and asked us why we were keeping Marvellous. They kept asking us about who funds us, why we have an organization called Crisis, saying that there is no crisis in Zimbabwe and that we are filling the internet with lies and false pictures. They told us that they would deal with us accordingly.  We were questioned for two hours and then released without charge.54

According to Xolani Zitha, two days before the incident the police had already arrested Marvellous and were holding him in police custody in Chitungwiza on charges of committing political violence. He was later cleared of the charges, and it was not clear why the police claimed that they were still looking for him. Xolani Zitha suggested to Human Rights Watch that “the police just wanted to frustrate Marvellous’s campaign and prevent him from presenting his papers to the nomination courts.”55 

In another case, police beat and arrested 25 members of the organization Restoration of Human Rights in Zimbabwe (RoHRZ) in Harare on January 25, 2008, as they marched to protest against repressive legislation and police harassment of the MDC.56  Police disrupted the march a few minutes after it began and told the protestors to go back to where they had come from. As the crowd was walking away, a truck transporting up to 15 police officers arrived and arrested four of the members of RoHRZ, including the vice chairman and national chairman.  The rest of the members were sent away, and walked to the organization’s offices, about 10 minutes away. About 30 to 45 minutes later, a truck full of riot police arrived at the offices, forced the members outside, and started beating them with batons.  Police then arrested 25 of the members and took them to Harare Central Police station. One of the activists told Human Rights Watch about their treatment beginning at the RoHRZ offices:

A policeman hit me on the nose with his fist and then hit me with his baton on my back and on my feet. It was raining; they took us outside and made us lie down in the dirty water and made us crawl as we were being beaten. In the car they were hitting us again and made us put our dirty shoes in our mouths. At the station they told us, “You will never take the president out of power. It will never happen.”57

According to medical examinations, most of the activists sustained numerous bruises consistent with beatings with a blunt object.58 

Those arrested were made to pay fines for “disorderly conduct or conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace” under the Miscellaneous Offences Act. The vice chairperson of RoHRZ was charged with violating the POSA for “failure to notify the regulating authority to hold public procession or demonstration.”59  

27 “ Police ban dangerous weapons,” The Herald (Harare), February 20, 2008; “Blitz on political violence nets 13,” The Herald, February 21, 2008. See also comments by Minister of Information and Publicity Sikhanyiso Ndlovu in“UK, US regime change agenda doomed: Ndlovu,” The Herald, February 22, 2008.

28 Zimbabwe’s long history of impunity for perpetrators of violence and torture is well documented by Human Rights Watch and by organizations such as Redress and Amnesty International. See, for example, Redress and the Amani Trust, “Torture in Zimbabwe, Past and Present,” June 2005, (accessed March 11, 2008); Redress, “Zimbabwe: From Impunity to Accountability: Are Reparations Possible for Victims of Gross and Systematic Human Rights Violations?” March 2004, (accessed March 11, 2008), p. 29; and Amnesty International, “The Toll of Impunity.”

29 Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum monthly violence reports, (accessed February 28, 2008); and Zimbabwe Peace Project Monthly Monitoring Reports, on file with Human Rights Watch.

30 Human Rights Watch interview with local human rights activist, Harare, March 7, 2008.

31 “Army chief warns of coup if ‘sell outs’ win,” zwnews online, March 11, 2008, (accessed March 12, 2008).

32 The PTUZ represents teachers’ rights around the country.

33 Human Rights Watch interview with members of PTUZ, after press conference, Harare, February 21, 2008.

34 Raymond Majongwe speaking at PTUZ press conference attended by Human Rights Watch, Harare, February 21, 2008.

35 Ibid.

36  Takafavira Zhou speaking at PTUZ press conference attended by Human Rights Watch, Harare, February 21, 2008.

37  Raymond Majongwe speaking at PTUZ press conference attended by Human Rights Watch, Harare, February 21, 2008.

38 Ibid.

39 Human Rights Watch interview with medical doctor (name withheld), Harare, February 23, 2008.

40 “Blitz on political violence nets 13,” The Herald.

41 Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, “Press statement on the assault of PTUZ members,” February 21, 2008.

42 Response of PTUZ members to question put by Human Rights Watch, PTUZ press conference, Harare, February 21, 2008.

43 “Blitz on political violence nets 13,” The Herald.

44 War veterans are former guerillas who fought for Zimbabwe’s independence against the Rhodesian government in the 1970s. The war veterans are widely seen as staunch ZANU-PF loyalists, and many were widely implicated in acts of violence during Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reform program.

45 Amnesty International, “The Toll of Impunity.”

46 Human Rights Watch interview with teacher (name withheld), Bikita, Masvingo province, October 4, 2007.

47  Ibid.

48 Human Rights Watch interviews with teachers (names withheld), Masvingo province, October 4, 2007.

49 Human Rights Watch interviews with villagers, Mashonaland West, Masvingo, and Midlands provinces, September 24–October 6, 2007.

50 Human Rights Watch interview with teacher, Masvingo province, October 4, 2007.

51 Human Rights Watch, You Will Be Thoroughly Beaten: The Brutal Suppression of Dissent in Zimbabwe, November 1, 2006, International Bar Association, “Partisan Policing, An obstacle to human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe,” November 2007,, (accessed February 28, 2008).

52 The Crisis Coalition, of which ZINASU is a member, is a coalition of organizations working for democratic change in Zimbabwe.

53 Human Rights Watch interview with Crisis Coalition Coordinator Xolani Zitha, Harare, February 20, 2008.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid.

56 Human Rights Watch interviews with members of ROHRZ (names withheld), Harare, February 11, 2008.

57 Ibid.

58 Human Rights Watch interviews with medical personnel  (names withheld), Harare, February 11, 2008. Documents from medical personnel  who treated the activists privately show that they received extensive bruising and swellings to various parts of their bodies including the legs, buttocks, and back.  The document also highlighted that “for the first time there were reports and evidence of heavy beatings on the palmar surfaces of the hands which is very painful.”

59 Section (25) (5) of POSA amendment number 18/ 2007. Human Rights Watch interview with Tafadzwa Mugabe, lawyer, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Harare, February 6, 2008.