By Buhle Tshavango
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) has accused traditional leaders in Mwenezi of violating the constitution alleging them of being partisan ahead of a by-election scheduled for April 8.
Mwenezi east constituency is scheduled to conduct a by-election this coming Saturday where four candidates namely Joosbi Omar (ZANU PF), Kudakwashe Bhasikiti (NPP), Turner Mhango (FreeZim congress) and Welcome Masuku (NCA) are set to compete.
Religious sects are said to have been roped into campaign strategies as a way of enticing their followers, ZimRights reports that electoral strategies have also branched out to involve intimidation and vote buying.
“ZimRights is particularly worried by the rife evidence of partisan involvement by traditional leaders in the Mwenezi East by-election campaigns.
“Although the Constitution of Zimbabwe bars traditional leaders from partisan politics, kraal heads and chiefs in Mwenezi have been openly supporting the Zanu-PF candidate, Omar Joosbi”, states ZimRights.
Section 281(2) of the Zimbabwean constitution under Traditional leadership clearly states that traditional leaders must not in any way participate in partisan politics, act in a partisan matter or further the interest of any political party or cause.
“Traditional leaders must not –
(a) Be members of any political party or in any way participate in a partisan politics
(b) Act in a partisan manner ;
(c) Further the interests of any political party or cause or ;
(d) Violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of any person”.
ZimRights states that during a field day on March 29 2017, at Rata Business Centre in Ward 2, six kraal heads namely, Masvasvuke, Matande, Manhondo, Masvosva, Tengera and Zihwa under Chief Negari reportedly endorsed Zanu-PF candidate Omar.
“On March 17, 2017, Chief Chitanga who was chosen as a Zanu-PF senator in 2013 called a meeting at Neshuro Growth Point to influence other traditional leaders politically, He told Chiefs Maranda, Mawarire, Negari, Neshuro, Murove and Mazetese that they should support Zanu-PF in all their activities as they are getting their official allowances from government and Zanu-PF”, says ZimRights.
Vote buying is said to be rife in the area with villagers being coerced into attending rallies in exchange for rice and fertiliser.Vilili school in the area is said to have been promised roofing materials, fertilizer and rice at a Zanu PF rally in exchange for votes.
The Mwenezi east member of Parliament seat fell vacant following the death of Zanu PF national assembly member Joshua Moyo. Moyo had been appointed as a replacement of Kudakwashe Bhasikiti who was facing allegations of facing factionalism.
Bhasikiti who is the main ZANU PF opponent in this election seems to be a curious candidate after he came out saying he had withdrawn his candidature for this by election, critics have however dismissed this as a political gimmick to make his opponents relax.
Bhasikiti however insists he will no longer participate come April 8 alleging his supporters were being intimidated by ZANU PF supporters who were certain he would win as he was conducting door to door campaigns as compared to their campaign by polling station.
It is not clear whether he has formally withdrawn his candidature.
The constituency has 62 voting polling centres and over 56 000 people have registered to vote.
Election Resource centre reports that Mwenezi district has been a stronghold of Zanu PF. Since delimitation in 2008 the trend did not change in the 2008 and 2013 elections as the constituency has been held by Zanu PF, winning by wide margins. In 2008 in the run-up to the harmonised elections, Isaiah Shumba former MP Mwenezi constituency was together with twelve other Zanu PF supporters arrested for political violence and intimidation, he had run and lost to Bhasikiti.
Mwenezi East is a new constituency created by the 2008 delimitation process. It is located in Masvingo province encompassing Masvosva, Neshuro, Sarahuru and Chizumba. The constituencies were removed from the old Mwenezi constituency of 2005 before delimitation. According to the 2012 national census the constituency has a population size of 166 993.