Organised Violence and Torture and Elections in Zimbabwe
It seems clear in retrospect that the days of the autocrats and one-party regimes were numbered
following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The change in the international order meant that liberal democracy became the default arrangement for most countries, leading to the optimism of the “Third Wave” of democracy, and the new emphasis on elections and alternations in power, even in Africa. In fact, there was an enormous shift in Africa towards multi-party democracy, and the holding of regular elections, but it also became clear that elections were no panacea: too many countries realised that elections could be a very low bar for maintaining international credibility. Whether described as living under “competitive authoritarianism”, “dominant power politics”, or even a “predatory state”, the ruling party, ZANU-PF, has remained in power since 1980, confounding all logic and political science theory. The party won every election during the 1990s, mostly against very weak opposition, but the stakes grew much higher with
the emergence of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and elections became hugely competitive, and extremely violent. In fact, it is evident that Zimbabwe is the most violent country in SADC when it comes to elections.8 From 2000 onwards, the passing grade, usually accorded to Zimbabwe for its elections, changed to a fail, and the combination of violent and flawed elections (together with the problems about property rights that followed the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FPTP), led to Zimbabwe being placed under restrictive conditions by the EU, and both restrictive conditions and sanctions by the US. Thus, the relationship between Organised Violence and Torture (OVT) and elections became the new focus for human rights monitoring: not exclusively so, as the challenges to ZANUPF’s hegemonic power grew with every passing year, both through elections, but also through the growing discontent of the citizenry for its very poor governance. Nonetheless, it was during elections, both in the lead-up and the aftermath of elections, that the greatest frequency of OVT
was recorded. It is also worth pointing out that elections prior to 2000 were also marked by significant political violence, but not on the scale seen subsequent to 2000. Elections since 2000 have been marked also by accusations of electoral irregularities and rigging, and there is a very large literature on all these elections. Whilst rigging and fraud are obviously very serious issues, here we will concentrate on the aspects of all these elections in which OVT was documented.