The United Kingdom legislators have expressed outrage after Zimbabwe’s Vice President Constantino Chiwenga threatened to crush the country’s mainstream opposition “like lice” ahead of crucial by-elections this month.
Retired General Chiwenga, who led the coup that toppled the late strongman Robert Mugabe in 2017, made the threats while on the campaign trail a fortnight ago.
A day after his threats, a supporter of the country’s opposition movement Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) was killed in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s home town of Kwekwe. This happened after supporters of the ruling party Zanu PF attacked people attending a rally addressed by CCC’s leader Nelson Chamisa.
Human rights groups say incidents of political violence perpetrated mainly by Zanu PF supporters and security forces are on the rise ahead of the March 26 by-elections.
The by-elections to choose 29 MPs and over 103 local government councillors are seen as a dry run for next year’s elections, during when President Mnangagwa, 80, will seek a second full term.
He will be competing against the 44 year-old Nelson Chamisa, whom he narrowly beat to the presidency in the disputed 2018 elections.
In the UK House of Lords, Lord Jonathan Oates this week moved a motion urging British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lean on the Zimbabwe government to stop the violence and guarantee that the country will hold peaceful elections.
Lord Oates asked the British government to condemn Gen Chiwenga’s “violent language.”
“Will the government condemn the vice president’s violent incitement and work with the international community to hold the Zimbabwean government accountable for the safety of all Zimbabweans, who should have the right to freely elect their leaders without fear of violence or intimidation?” Lord Oates asked, quoting Gen Chiwenga’s sentiments.
UK minister for Africa Vicky Ford said Zimbabwe must fully investigate any acts of political violence and bring perpetrators to justice.
“Inciting political violence has no place in any country, including Zimbabwe,” Ms Ford told the House of Lords.
“We urge the government of Zimbabwe to live up to its constitution in ensuring that all political parties are allowed to operate and campaign without harassment – as our ambassador publicly stated after the death of a CCC supporter at the rally on February 27.
“We urge the police to fully investigate any acts of political violence and bring perpetrators to justice.”
President Mnangagwa’s spokesperson lashed out at Lord Oates for introducing the motion, saying he was interfering in Zimbabwe’s internal politics.
“Zimbabweans cannot be used by the hoary British lord to question their president,” Mr Charamba said.
“President Mnangagwa is known for preaching peace and it is the opposition that has filled the internet space with their messages of violence,” he added.
Zimbabwe has a long history of political violence and disputed elections that dates back to the era of Mr Mugabe, who ruled with an iron fist for nearly 38 years.