Elections are in the air in Zimbabwe. A referendum on the new constitution was held this weekend and the general election is due before the end of October. But the signs all suggest that the upcoming vote will take place under conditions not dissimilar to 2008, when elections were characterised by widespread intimidation and political violence. Yesterday the office of the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, was raided by police, who arrested four officials – apparently for impersonating officers. A prominent human right lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, was also arrested for “defeating the course of justice”.
I was in Chegutu, near Harare, recently. An elderly church pastor had held a meeting at his local church to discuss the constitution. Three policeman barged in and arrested the pastor and some of his parishioners under the notorious public order and security act, as they had been having a meeting of more than three people without getting police clearance, as required.
Gift Konjana and Pastor Bere described their ordeal of sleeping on the concrete in a dark and over-crowded cell, sharing dirty blankets and a toilet, an often overflowing hole in the ground, in the corner of the room. It is an experience that many Zimbabweans know only too well.
After a couple of nights inside the magistrate gave Konjana bail, but he was immediately re-arrested without charge. Konjana went on hunger strike, saying that he would not eat until he had been charged. They finally let him out the next day.