MASVINGO- While Covid-19 regulations stipulate that the maximum number of gatherings is 100 people, there are growing concerns that the ruling party Zanu PF is defying everything and getting away with it countless times as it continues to hold political rallies.
Zimbabwe is due for by-elections in wards and constituencies where there were recalls by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), among other reasons, but the Minister of Health and Child Care, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) seem to be conniving to breach the country’s Constitution.
Chiwenga last year issued Statutory Instrument (SI) 225A of 2020 putting a blanket ban on all electoral activities as long as government classifies Covid-19 as an epidemic disease.
However, the Constitution of Zimbabwe stipulates that a by-election should be held within 90 days after the death or recall of an elected official.
Responding to recent utterances by ZEC chairperson that they were waiting for clearance from Chiwenga, Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) deputy minister, Dr John Mangwiro denied that the ministry was responsible for the delay in holding of by-elections despite his superior being the one who banned all electoral activities.
“Elections have got nothing to do with the ministry. We don’t supervise elections,” said Dr Mangwiro.
Covid-19 has been used as a scapegoat to avoid by-elections thereby dragging time to the 2023 harmonized elections while the ruling party campaigns and drums up support.
Election Resource Centre (ERC) Legal and Advocacy Officer, Takunda Tsunga said the blanket banning of by-elections was illegal and cited that Vice President Chiwenga has no prerogative to suspend electoral activities.
“We have long questioned the legality of suspension of by-elections in Zimbabwe. This was illegal as ZEC had no power beyond going to court to seek the suspension of electoral activities.
“Firstly, the Minister of Health does not have the mandate to suspend by-elections. The actions by the Minister of Health is an infringment on the independence of the electoral board.” said Tsunga.
Commenting on the implications of continous ban of by-elections, Tsunga said many groups are now going unrepresented while the ban breaches the constitution.
“Large sections of society are now going unrepresented. It remains a concern therefore to ERC over failure to ensure that representative democracy prevails in Zimbabwe,” added Tsunga.
However, Zanu PF has held various meetings including District Coordinating Committee (DCC) elections across the country.
Political analyst, Dr Takavafira Zhou accused the ruling party of sabotaging rival political parties and hiding behind a finger whilst breaching the constitution.
“It is clear that Zanu PF would not call for by-elections that they or their proxies would lose. The ruling party is using Covid-19 alibi to restrict other political parties to campaign while it is campaigning on a daily basis.
“That strategy may not even produce the desired results as it has now become so naked that Covid-19 restrictions are selectively applied,” said Dr Zhou.
It is not a secret that the pandemic has ravaged and is lethal, but it seems the ruling party is immune to Covid-19.
Covid-19 has now been turned from a health hazard into a tool to shrink the political and civic society space.
However, Zanu PF acting political commissar Patrick Chinamasa was not reachable for comment as he did not pick up his mobile up until the time of going to print.
Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers have on numerous occasions arrested groups of opposition party supporters and other political activists.
Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) president Takudzwa Ngadziore, Nancy Njenge and Lennox Machoko were on October 9, 2021 arrested at Lees Inn hotel in Masvingo, where they were holding an Annual General Meeting (AGM) with student leaders from various universities.
Zanu PF rallies that attract thousands of party supporters are done under the watchful eye of the police who in turn should be the law enforcers are now becoming accessories to scofflaws.
National police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi declined to comment directing all questions to the provincial spokesperson.
“I think you can talk to the provincial spokesperson, that was a local arrangement,” said Nyathi.
However, Masvingo provincial police spokesperson, Inspector Kudakwashe Dhewa professed ignorance over the National Biotech Marula Processing plant in Rutenga where thousands of Zanu PF supporters congregated in defiance of Covid-19 protocols.
“Where did that happen? I am not aware of that issue, I was out of office so I am not privy to information of that gathering,” said Dhewa.
Police officers have been aiding and maintaining order at these political gatherings although they will be in full knowledge that the gatherings are in contravention of the law.
On September 30 this year, the police arrested four MDC Alliance activists and 10 journalists who reportedly wanted to cover a protest at ZEC offices in Harare over electoral reforms.
The law has been selectively applied and some animals are proving to be more equal than others when it comes to public gatherings.
The electorate has been crying foul and has on numerous occasions pointed fingers at the incumbent, together with the Douglas Mwonzora led MDC-T outfit, which has been responsible for recalling elected officials thereby being accused of sabotaging service delivery especially at local authorities where most councilors fell prey to factionalism in the opposition camp.
Meanwhile, over 50 council seats are vacant while 28 seats are unoccupied in Parliament and Senate.
Zanu PF recently held its annual national conference where hundreds of party officials gathered in numbers provinces defiance of Covid-19 restrictions.