ZESA accuses Mugabe of vote-buying

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe has been accused of using farm implements and traditional leaders in a vote-buying campaign that includes starving opponents and intimidating voters ahead of the March general election, an independent poll monitoring group said this week.

Recipients of farm implements being distributed under the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s farm mechanization program are being challenged to first prove their allegiance to the ruling party.

The report by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), which has deployed 120 observers across the country in the run-up to the March polls, chronicles several cases of vote buying and blatant intimidation of voters.

The ZESN report says its observers had witnessed several cases of politicization of state and public functions to the benefit of the ruling party.

“There were reports that in Hwedza and Chiredzi North participants at a meeting under the Reserve Bank’s Farm Mechanisation program to donate ox-drawn ploughs to poor villagers were made to chant Zanu (PF) slogans,” the report says. “In Masvingo Central constituency at Roger Howmann Hall the ploughs were only allocated to people who held a fully paid up Zanu (PF) membership card and could chant correctly at least three of the party’s slogans.”

The ZESN report says the ruling party was assuring receipients of the ploughs that they would not repay the loans if the ruling party won the March general election.

“ZESN observers in Gokwe Sengwa, Chivi North, Mutare South have reported the partisan distribution of agricultural inputs under the Operation Maguta (a government farming programme coordinated by the Zimbabwe National Army) to members of the ruling party,” says the report.

The Masvingo Provincial Governor Willard Chiwewe is singled out in the report as having stated that the ox-drawn ploughs donated to poor peasants would be withdrawn if Zanu (PF) lost in the elections.

In Zaka West, a local councilor warned opposition supporters that they would be “bitten by dogs” if they supported the MDC.

The report said political campaigns, though still relatively low key, have started countrywide, adding there have been  reports of “violence and coercion” in Harare, Mashonaland East and West during the mobilisation of marchers for the flopped Zanu (PF) “million man” march last month, called to endorse Mugabe’s candidacy. An estimated 200,000 people took part in the march in stark contrast to the much-vaunted one million.

ZESN said it had not received any reports of campaign meetings being disrupted. But the observers reported chiefs were doing the bidding for Zanu (PF) and had shutdown some areas to the opposition.

“In the Midlands province, traditional leaders in Silobela, particularly, Chiefs Gobo and Ruya, are alleged to have indicated that they do not welcome opposition supporters in their areas of jurisdiction,” the ZESN report says. “Similarly, in Manicaland, ZESN observers in Nyanga note that Chief Chifodya has been openly campaigning for the ruling Zanu (PF) party.”

The observers said voter registration was still continuing, albeit at a “slow pace” at static centres set up by the Registrar General’s Office.

“ZESN believes that the exercise risks becoming a cosmetic exercise unless it is adequately resourced and given the prominence it deserves.” – Chief reporter

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