In his weekly column in the state-run Sunday Mail, President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared that next year Zimbabwe would “hold elections in the full glare of world attention”.
“We have nothing to hide,” he said.
The polls are high stakes on numerous fronts. Next week, the ruling party will hold its first elective congress since Mnangagwa usurped power from the late Robert Mugabe through a coup in November 2017.
So far, no one has raised a hand to challenge him for the party’s leadership, although there are whispers that his deputy, Constantine Chiwenga, is agitated.
If things go his way, Mnangagwa, 80, will be seeking his second, and last, term as president.
In the past, he has openly said whoever comes after him should be relatively young.
His biggest rival, 45-year-old Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), will challenge Mnangagwa for the country’s presidency after their first disputed encounter in 2018.
Zanu-PF enjoys a majority in rural areas and will do anything to keep the opposition at bay.
On Saturday, a CCC member of parliament, Daniel Molokele sent a distressed voice note claiming that he and other party members had been attacked by Zanu-PF members in Matobo Ward in Matabeleland South.
The CCC members reported the matter to the police, who told them they had no vehicles to go to the area. CCC members could either hide in the thick bushes or face the violence. They retreated to the bush.
But while political violence continues to be a menace, Mnangagwa wrote in his column: “No violence will be tolerated, whether before, during, or after the elections.”
“Zanu-PF has lost the battle of hearts and minds; that’s why it resorts to violence against CCC supporters,” argues a political commentator, Pedzisai Ruhanya, who is also a human rights law fellow.
Job creation and economic empowerment are at the centre of Zimbabwe’s election promises by the contesting parties.
With high unemployment and a youth bulge – with more people of working age being idle – informal trade is the safest choice in an uncertain economy.
As such, vending bays in flea markets are becoming politicised.
Things got heated when CCC and Zanu-PF youths at Mupedzanhamo Flea Market in Harare’s Mbare township clashed over control of the market last week.
A Zanu-PF member died in the confrontation. Eighteen people have since appeared in court over the skirmishes.
Meanwhile, opposition legislators Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole, as well as 14 people from Nyatsime, Chitungwiza, have been in prison since June on allegations of inciting and participating in violence that erupted in retaliation of the killing of CCC member Moreblessing Ali.
While the state claims the accused have a case to answer, activists and their political party insist they are political prisoners.
A long history of political violence
Two years into independence in 1982, then prime minister Mugabe introduced a North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade elite army unit to deal with alleged dissidents in what became known as Gukurahundi.
In unison with other state arms, the brigade preyed on mostly Ndebele-speaking civilian communities in Matabeleland and the Midlands, the stronghold of opposition leader Joshua Nkomo and his Zimbabwe African People’s Union.
A 1997 report by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe and the Legal Resources Foundation titled “Breaking the Silence; Building True Peace”, documented the abuse and killing of innocent civilians by state actors during the Gukurahundi period.
The report and various academic research estimate that around 20 000 people were killed.
However, government actors dispute this figure. For its part, the government carried out reports, namely by the Chief Justice Enoch Dumbutshena Commission and the Chihambakwe Commission of Inquiry.
The country’s National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) claims both reports cannot be found.
Gukurahundi is still a thorny issue.
“It was a moment of madness,” the late Mugabe said in his closest attempt to address the matter.
But with Mnangagwa now in power, implicated in many reports about Gukurahundi since he was the minister of state security – whose ministry was central in the operation – he has been forced to address it.
“There is no nation that has ever been built by a people in conflict,” Mnangagwa said on Monday at a meeting with traditional chiefs of Matabeleland in Bulawayo.
A recent Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission inquiry report states that approximately 90% of survivors of Gukurahundi suffer from mental health impairments caused by trauma.
But while Mnangagwa attempts to address Gukurahundi, critics say the process should be led by an independent body, not someone who is implicated.