Zimbabwe: Post-harmonised election violence in April 2008

Updated July 2008

See also Post-harmonised election violence in May 2008 and Post-harmonised election violence in June 2008.

Although a call for a general strike on 14 April 2008 by Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) went unheeded (see Rising tensions and legal manouevres), it resulted in increased tension between the conflicting parties and a ratchetting up of violence levels (Marawanyika 2008; AFP 2008). The MDC-T claimed that arrests of its members escalated after the stay away call and alleged that between 50 and 100 members, including an MP-elect and other office bearers had been detained; police responded by saying that the figures were lower than claimed and those that were arrested "barricaded streets and stoned buses that were transporting workers in the morning" (Guma 2008b).

Lance Guma (2008b) reported that on the day of the stay away: "There were however enough incidents to suggest a restive population. Angry youths in Harare threw a burning tyre into a bus, setting it alight, while others clashed with soldiers and police in the early hours of the morning", but that the situation calmed down later in the day. Doctors reported treating 157 victims of beatings and torture, while the MDC claimed that two of its members had been killed by ZANU-PF [Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front] supporters (AFP 2008; Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) 2008d).

ZANU-PF's call for a recount of votes in certain constituencies (see The partial recount) was accompanied by claims that the opposition had bribed electoral officials (Guma 2008a). The consequence was the arrest of electoral officials. In a statement on 25 April, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR 2008a) reported that: "Since 29 March 2008, many presiding and polling officers have been arrested and accused of having been part of a plot to rig the elections in favour of candidates from the Movement for Democratic Change". In Masvinga Province, alone, 34 Presiding Officers were arrested, while "non state actors such as ZANU-PF officers and war veterans have attempted to extract 'confessions' from these hapless presiding officers" (ZLHR 2008a, see also Sibanda 2008).

Violence, aimed at opposition members, civil society actors and the population in general, continued to escalate. According to AFP (2008): "Diplomatic sources told AFP that Mugabe's so-called war veterans and other loyal supporters of his ruling ZANU-PF party had been on the march, targeting certain opposition areas with intimidation and beatings. In further unrest, a farmers union said more than 130 white farmers had been driven off their land by Mugabe supporters, and around 30 had not been able to return to their farms". ZESN reported that its national election observers were increasingly the victims of harassment, threats and assault by ZANU PF supporters, especially in Mashonaland East and West (ZESN 2008a).

In a press release, ZLHR (2008b) reported:

Since 14 April 2008, at least 150 people have been arrested and are currently detained in custody at Harare Central police station alone. The recent arrests and continuing violations of fundamental rights and freedoms have been exacerbated by state actors who are working hand-in-hand with the ruling ZANU PF party militia to unleash their coercive apparatus on an innocent electorate. This campaign of terror has been widespread across the country and is being perpetrated against any person who is suspected to have cast their vote against the ruling party, as well as their families.

They went on to detail cases of abduction, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment of people illegally detained "by members of the military (in uniform and plain clothes), as well as the ZANU PF youth and militia in Budiriro, Mabvuku, Mutoko, St Mary's and Epworth and said that similar events had occurred in Bikita, Nyanga North, Gokwe, Mudzi, Chegutu and Mt Darwin. In Harare, they said, "members of the army and ZANU PF youths have cast a dragnet in the streets of most of the high density suburbs around Harare. The arrests have been indiscriminate, based on political affiliation and in most instances where the people are remotely associated or are suspected of being associated with the Movement for Democratic Change".

On 18 April the MDC claimed that hundreds of their supported had been arrested and that supporters in remote rural areas had had their homes burnt down by ZANU-PF militia (Mpofu 2008). ZLHR (2008a) too was aware of at least 30 houses that had been affected by arson across the country. ZADHR (2008a) issued a new statement, increasing the numbers of victims of violence and torture documented by members of the association by the end of 17 April to 242.

On 19 April 2008 based on reports by victims and eye-witnesses, Human Rights Watch (2008a) said that: "ZANU-PF members are setting up torture camps to systematically target, beat, and torture people suspected of having voted for the MDC in last month's elections". The goal of these activities was, according to the report, to punish those who had supported the MDC in the elections and to intimidate people to vote for Robert Mugabe if there is a presidential run-off. In one instance the police arrested those responsible for beatings, but generally they refused to intervene "saying that they are instructed not to interfere in 'political matters'. Several victims told Human Rights Watch that some police officers encouraged them to take the law into their own hands and 'go and fight back'". The report added that in the high-density suburbs of Harare at least 40 people had been driven from their homes.

Relations between state and some religious bodies became increasingly strained. In late 2007 the Bishop of Harare of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central of Africa (CPCA), Dr Nolbert Kunonga, broke with the CPSA and installed himself as Archbishop of the newly formed "Church of the Province of Zimbabwe" (Conger 2008a). The CPCA responded by removing him as Bishop and installing Dr Sebastian Bakare as acting bishop in his place. Kunonga was able to obtain the support of ZANU-PF in the conflict and ZANU-PF youth and the police disrupted services, beat church goers and denied access to churches to members of the Bakare party, despite repeated court orders ruling that both parties were to have access to church property (Conger 2008b). After the harmonised elections Kunonga accused the Bakare party of being pro-homosexual and pro-MDC and the police clamp-down intensified to the point where, after 21 May, the Bakare party abandoned the church properties and sought alternative venues for services (Bakare 2008a; Bakare 2008b). The CPCA excommunicated Kunonga and the members of his party (Davies, M 2008).

The Catholic Church reported that priests and laypeople were targeted for violence by soldiers and militia groups as perceived opposition supporters, especially in the rural areas, and that many had been forced into hiding (Catholic Information Service for Africa 2008). The church was also prevented from distributing food in areas where famine was prevalent (Catholic Information Service for Africa 2008). The National Association of Non-governmental Organisations (NANGO) complained that secular relief agencies were told by the government to hand over food to state organs for distribution, but had rejected the demand for fear that distribution would be used to reward ZANU-PF supporters and punish opposition supporters; instead they decided to distribute food clandestinely (Kandi 2008).

The general escalation in violence prompted the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches to appeal to the SADC, the African Union and the United Nations to act to prevent a "genocide similar to that experienced in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and other hot spots in Africa and elsewhere" (Churches 2008).

Matters did not improve. The ZADHR (2008b, 2008c) reported that their members continued to treat new victims of violence and torture, 153 cases between 18 April and 24 April alone. They observed (ZADHR 2008c) that "Severe psychological stress is common to all these cases, including the few without major physical findings". Moreover, medical personnel reported that they themselves were increasingly subject to intimidation and physical threat. ZADHR (2008c) also received reports from remote rural areas, where there was no immediate access to health care, of victims of violence being prevented from accessing treatment. Human Rights Watch (2008b) "documented a pattern of increasing violence by ZANU-PF militias and the military, both in the number of incidents recorded and the brutality used".

A new development in the situation was the resort to violence for the first time by members of the opposition. Human Rights Watch (2008b) received reports that "in parts of Mashonaland East and Manicaland provinces, MDC supporters had burned homes of known ZANU-PF supporters and officials". They qualified their report by observing that "the scope of these incidents bears no comparison to the widespread state-sponsored violence by ZANU-PF and its allies", but expressed fears that retaliatory attacks risked escalating the cycle of violence to the detriment of the general population. ZESN (2008b, 6-7) observed that: "Threats of repercussions and negative consequences were made by supporters of ZANU PF and MDC should they manage to clinch the presidential win. MDC supporters were threatened with exclusion in government programmes if ZANU PF won the presidential elections and MDC supporters also promised ZANU PF supporters the same fate should they win the presidential election".

On the morning of 25 April the offices of ZESN and the home of its executive director were raided by the police in a search for subversive material and confiscated files and documents (ZLHR 2008a, ZESN 2008c). ZESN board members, all prominent members of civil society, were ordered to report to Harare Central Police Station that same day "for questioning in connection with allegations of 'supporting or assisting any group to overthrow or attempt to overthrow the government by unconstitutional means or usurp the functions of government or to coerce or attempt to coerce the government'" (ZLHR 2008c). On 28 April ZESN Chairperson, Noel Kututwa, handed himself to the police (ZESN 2008c).

On 25 April, also, police raided the offices of MDC-T and, according to Human Rights Watch (2008b), "arbitrarily arrested scores of people, including women and children seeking refuge there". On 28 April MDC-T obtained a High Court order for the release of the members arrested, but the order was initially ignored by the police who only released 182 people on the 29 April and kept another three in custody (SABC News 2008, CNN 2008). On the 30 April ZLHR (2008d) reported presiding officers, mainly in Masvingo Province, continued to be arrested by the police.

The MDC-T claimed that in addition to the arrest, abduction, assault and torture of its supporters, 15 of its members had been killed by ZANU-PF supporters between elction day and the 29 April. ZANU-PF denied these accusations and asserted that the MDC-T were the instigators of violence (Association of Zimbabwean Journalists 2008). However, UN Special Rapporteurs issued a joint statement (2008) saying that MDC supporters were being victimised by security forces, paramilitary groups and gangs and that since election day:

[A]t least 351 persons were hospitalized for injuries; several cases of politically motivated murders occurred; nearly three hundred homes were destroyed through politically motivated arson; and fifteen women were abducted. As a result of the violence, hundreds of families and individuals -mostly women and children- have been displaced internally, and some are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Approximately 70 MDC members and 34 ZEC presiding and polling officers have been arrested, while national observers and other human rights defenders are being threatened because of their non-violent activities in defense of human rights, in particular their denouncing of the current situation.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP 2008) reported that in April 2008 alone the organisation had documented "4 331 cases of politically motivated human rights violations among these 10 were politically motivated murders".


AFP 2008 "Opposition supporters arrested in Zimbabwe crackdown", 16 April, [www] http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iKEE9iSaONx9OtTI0en3dLxGI36Q [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

ASSOCIATION OF ZIMBABWEAN JOURNALISTS 2008 "Violence fears grow as pressure piles on Harare", [www] http://www.zimbabwejournalists.com/story.php?art_id=4059&cat=1 [opens new window] (accessed 4 Mar 2010).

BAKARE, S 2008a "The Anglican Church continues to be persecuted", 20 May, [www] http://www.zimbabwejournalists.com/story.php?art_id=4164&cat=3 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

BAKARE, S 2008b "Pastoral letter 21st May 2008" , [www] http://www.zimbabwejournalists.com/story.php?art_id=4164&cat=3 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

CATHOLIC INFORMATION SERVICE FOR AFRICA 2008 "Catholic Clergy, Laity Targeted in Worsening State Terror", 27 May, [www] http://www.swradioafrica.com/pages/catholics270508.htm [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

CHURCHES 2008 "Churches' concern over the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe", The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference and Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), 25 April, [www] http://www.kubatana.net/html/archive/relig/080422hcd.asp?sector=RELIG [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

CNN 2008 "Zimbabwe: More than 200 opposition supporters freed", 29 April, [www] http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/africa/04/29/tsvangirai.un/?iref=mpstoryview [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

CONGER, G 2008a "Zimbabwe bishop creates new church", 18 January, [www] http://geoconger.wordpress.com/2008/01/18/zimbabwe-bishop-creates-new-church- cen-11808-p-1/ [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

CONGER, G 2008b "Mugabe calls for 'Africanisation' of churches in Zimbabwe", 27 March, [www] http://geoconger.wordpress.com/2008/03/27/mugabe-calls-for-africanisation- of-churches-in-zimbabwe-cen-32708/ [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

DAVIES, M 2008 "Harare bishop excommunicated as persecution of Anglicans continues", Anglican Communion News Service - Digest News, 20 May, [www] http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/digest/index.cfm/2008/5/20/Harare-bishop- excommunicated-as-persecution-of-Anglicans-continues [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

GUMA, L 2008a "Judge defers ruling on MDC demand for election results", SW Radio Africa, 6 April, [www] http://www.swradioafrica.com/news060408/judge060408.htm [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

GUMA, L 2008b "MDC Say Over 50 Arrested in Stayaway Crackdown", SW Radio Africa, 16 April, [www] http://www.swradioafrica.com/news060408/judge060408.htm [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH 2008a "Zimbabwe: ZANU-PF Sets Up 'Torture Camps'", 19 April, [www] http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/04/19/zimbab18604.htm [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH 2008b "Zimbabwe: Surge in State-Sponsored Violence", 25 April, [www] http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/04/25/zimbab18653.htm [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

KANDI, T 2008 "Mugabe wants control over food aid distribution", 21 May, ZimOnline, [www] http://www.zimonline.co.za/Article.aspx?ArticleId=3190 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

MARAWANYIKA, G 2008 "Tsvangirai warms to run-off as strike flops", Mail & Guardian, 15 April, [www] http://www.mg.co.za/article/2008-04-15-tsvangirai-warms-to-runoff-as-strike-flops [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

MPOFU, P 2008 "Hundreds of MDC supporters injured in post election violence", ZimOnline, 18 April, [www] http://www.zimonline.co.za/Article.aspx?ArticleId=3054 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

SABC NEWS 2008 "Court order to release MDC supporters ignored", 29 April, [www] http://www.sabcnews.com/africa/southern_africa/0,2172,168569,00.html (offline 5 Mar 2010).

SIBANDA, N 2008 "Union says teachers forced to admit electoral fraud", ZimOnline, 29 April, [www] http://www.zimonline.co.za/Article.aspx?ArticleId=3098 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS 2008 "Human rights situation deteriorating in Zimbabwe", [www] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/media.aspx [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

ZADHR 2008a "Cases of Post Election Violence Continue to Escalate", 18 April, [www] http://www.kubatana.net/html/archive/hr/080415zadhr.asp?sector=ELEC [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

ZADHR 2008b "Violent Assault and Torture Remains Unchecked - Zim Doctors", 24 April, [www] http://www.zimbabwejournalists.com/story.php?art_id=4027&cat=3 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

ZADHR 2008c "Statement concerning ongoing cases of organised violence and torture, and of intimidation of medical personnel, from April 22nd to April 24th 2008", 25 April.

ZADHR 2008d "Statement on upsurge in cases of organized violence and torture", 15 April, [www] http://www.kubatana.net/html/archive/hr/080418zadhr.asp?sector=ELEC [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

ZESN 2008a "Local Observers Targeted", 16 April.

ZESN 2008b "Post-Election Update No 1, 30 March to 7 May 2008", [www] http://www.swradioafrica.com/pages/postelect070508.htm [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

ZESN 2008c "ZESN Chairperson Hands Himself to the Police", 28 April, [www] http://www.zesn.org.zw/newsflash_view.cfm?nfid=33 [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

ZLHR 2008a "Continued Arrests and Harassment of Election Officers", 25 April.

ZLHR 2008b "Violent Retributive Action against Innocent Zimbabweans by State Agents on the Increase", 17 April, [www] http://www.kubatana.net/html/archive/hr/080417zlhr.asp?sector=ELEC [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).

ZLHR 2008c "Zimbabwe Election Support Network Board Members Face Imminent Arrest!", 25 April.

ZLHR 2008d "Ongoing Arrests of Presiding Officers", 30 April.

ZPP 2008 "ZPP monitors post-election violence", 8 May, [www] http://www.kubatana.net/html/archive/elec/080508zpp.asp?sector=ELEC [opens new window] (accessed 5 Mar 2010).