Increased police and army deployments have sent panic among villagers in Chimanimani West constituency who are set to vote for their parliamentary representative in a weekend by-election.
However, the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) is worried the conspicuous presence of security agents has not deterred alleged Zanu PF supporters from intimidating their opponents ahead of the poll.
In a statement, ZPP raised concern over continued voter intimidation reports emanating from the Manicaland constituency.
The acts have mostly manifested in open threats and partisan food distribution by known Zanu PF officials and traditional leaders.
“ZPP and other concerned civic organisations are gravely worried about the risk of citizens in the constituency being victimised and disenfranchised,” said the rights group.
Reports link some village heads to threats to deal with known supporters of Zanu PF opponents if they took part in the vote with Zanu PF provincial youth chairperson, Mbuso Chingono allegedly threatening opposition activists to feign illiteracy during voting so that others could vote on their behalf.
“ZPP is therefore imploring the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to be strict about who qualifies to be an assisted voter,” said the group.
ZPP further says there some Zanu PF officials were demanding voter registration slips for villagers to qualify to receive rice and sugar at a local secondary school.
It is further alleged that the Zanu PF local leadership turned away beneficiaries that have not been attending the party’s meetings.
Campaign agents for opponents have allegedly been harassed with one Nyanyadzi incident in which Zondai Mutezo and Gladman Mutezo were said to have torn an agent’s t-shirt for distributing fliers on behalf of Edmore Mtetwa, a candidate.
Said ZPP, “Uniformed forces like members of the Zimbabwean National Army and Zimbabwe Republic Police have also been spotted driving around Chimanimani West.
“Over the last two weeks, the sudden increase of army and police presence in the constituency is intimidating and curtails the activities of contesting candidates as their meetings are disrupted.”
Mtetwa, the independent candidate, will be contesting against Nokuthula Matsikenyere of Zanu PF, National Constitutional Assembly candidate Pesanai Musakaruka and Peter Gugyanga of the Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe.
The Chimanimani West seat fell vacant after Munacho Mutezo was fired from Zanu PF over his association with Joice Mujuru, leader of Zimbabwe People First.
President Robert Mugabe’s government has repeatedly denied any partisan food distribution by Zanu PF