Four Zimbabwean journalists were seriously injured on Thursday by alleged ruling party Zanu-PF supporters as they covered a campaign rally by the country’s main opposition.
The vicious onslaught on Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa’s gathering in central Zimbabwe by alleged ruling party (Zanu-PF) activists was the second violent incident this week against the opposition, which was blamed on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s party as the country gears for major elections in 2023.
CCC, which was formed early this year and went on to win the majority of parliamentary and local government by-elections held on March 26, said journalists Chelsea Mashayamombe, Pellagia Mpurwa, Tongai Mwenje and Toneo Rusito were attacked in the remote area of Gokwe.
One of the journalists lost a tooth and another one was left unconscious in an incident that has ignited fears that Zimbabwe is heading for yet another violent election.
Mr Chamisa addressed a rally in Gokwe ahead of a parliamentary by-election on Saturday.
The journalists came under attack after they filmed a convoy of 20 vehicles belonging to the ruling Zanu PF party that were blocking a road leading to the venue of the rally.
“The journalists report that they were made to lie face down on the tarmac,” CCC spokesperson Fadzai Mahere said.
“Zanu PF thugs beat them up and left them severely injured. Toneo Rusito lost his tooth.
“Their car keys and cell phones were taken, which has delayed them seeking badly needed medical assistance.”
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CCJ) condemned the attacks and called on President Mnangagwa’s government to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“About 10 Zanu-PF supporters, some of whom wore party regalia, punched and kicked the journalists all over their bodies and ordered them to delete their photos and videos,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa programme coordinator in New York.
“Zimbabwean authorities must investigate and hold those responsible to account for Thursday’s brutal assault of four journalists in Gokwe and ensure that the press can report freely without fear of attack, especially with the country set to hold national elections next year.
“Impunity for crimes against journalists remains high in Zimbabwe and it is time that authorities arrest and prosecute those who believe that it is open season on the press.”
Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who is also the CCC vice president, accused President Mnangagwa of encouraging impunity.
“The escalating levels of violence across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe are simply not acceptable,” Mr Biti said.
“(President) Mnangagwa has the power, the duty and obligation to uphold the constitution and stop the orgy of lawlessness.
“The attack on our members, journalists doing their job, and on innocent by-standers are all crimes against humanity.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that this behaviour can go on 42 years after independence.”
President Mnangagwa will be seeking a second full term in office in next year’s elections after he narrowly beat Mr Chamisa in the disputed 2018 elections.
The 79-year-old ruler came into power in 2017 following a military coup that toppled long-time ruler Robert Mugabe.