Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Post-Election Crackdown Underway

Youngest MDC MP arrested amid reports of murder of a party activist and attacks on white farmers and their employees.
By Chipo Sithole

While Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome on April 8, back home a post-election crackdown on his domestic opponents was getting underway.


Just a week after Zimbabweans went to the polls – with international monitors and journalists once again out of the picture – police arrested the youngest MP from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which won 41 out of 120 seats in an election that has been widely denounced as rigged.


There have also been reports of the murder of another MDC activist by supporters of Mugabe’s ZANU PF party and attacks on white farmers and their employees.


The arrest of Nelson Chamisa, the 26-year-old MP for the Harare constituency of Kuwadzana, only became known when he managed to send out text messages on his mobile phone to friends in the domestic media.


The messages suggested police and agents from the Central Intelligence Organisation, CIO, were torturing him.


“I am in trouble,” Chamisa wrote in one.


Chamisa was arrested on the afternoon of April 7 after being informed at a police roadblock that he was wanted in connection with a spate of anti-government demonstrations in central Harare on April 4.


Chamisa’s lawyer, Alex Muchadehama, said his client handed himself in and was initially detained in a central Harare police station before being transferred and held overnight in police cells at Matapi, in the Mbare township on the outskirts of the city. Muchadehama said the police intended to charge Chamisa with inciting public violence.


An appearance in the courts is likely on April 11.


“They are determined to torture him,” said Muchadehama. “I don’t see him being taken to court today or even at the weekend... [The] Matapi cells are very filthy and the transfer is a way of humiliating him.


“Why they are detaining him I just don’t understand… he surrendered himself and he won’t run away.”


The police cells at Matapi are renowned for being the filthiest in a country where prison conditions generally are grim.


Muchadehama said there were no signs of obvious physical injury when he met Chamisa briefly – but the MP looked dishevelled and disoriented, suggesting that some form or torture or intense interrogation had taken place.


The police are alleging that Chamisa organised young demonstrators who ran through the city centre stoning shop windows. During the alleged demonstration, the MDC youths apparently distributed pamphlets which said “Reject Fraud” and urged people not to accept the results of the parliamentary election.


Reports coming in from around the country suggest Chamisa’s arrest is part of a broader wave of post-election violence organised by the government against its political opponents.


In Kwekwe, about 160 kilometres southwest of Harare – where ZANU PF parliamentary speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa was defeated at the polls by MDC candidate Blessing Chebundo – a young MDC activist has been found dead, with his stomach slit open, after an alleged attack by ZANU PF supporters.


And on April 6, a security guard on a white-owned farm at Marondera, 80 km east of the capital, was beaten to death and the farmer himself was attacked by ZANU PF land invaders.


“ZANU PF have begun systematically hunting down people who voted for us and our election agents,” said the MDC’s secretary general Welshman Ncube. “The attacks started on Sunday, after the last result was announced. People have fled. Others are missing and no one knows what has happened to them.”


He added that he had heard reports of more attacks on the remaining 400 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe. There were 5000 such farms when President Mugabe first launched his strategy of land seizures before the last parliamentary election in 2000.


Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.