Election date set for Zimbabwe, but will it hold?

Update 17June: Following the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Mozambique on Saturday, SADC recommended that the Zimbabwean government push the election date back to 14 August. Zimbabwe's constitutional court now need to decide whether to act on their recommendations. Whatever decision is made, the most important thing still remains that we do not see a repeat of the violence of the 2008 presidential elections.

Please join us in helping prevent a repeat of the bloodshed of 2008.


So, we finally have a date set for Zimbabwe’s next presidential election – 31st July.  Or do we? Even by Zimbabwe’s recent standards, yesterday was a day of high political drama.

It was around 10am when the first rumours on twitter surfaced, that President Mugabe had declared the date of the election. Could it be true? With the political environment being so uncertain, speculation increased but there was still nothing official from the country’s leaders.

Then came the leaked document, a private letter from President Mugabe to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, proclaiming the date of the polls.

Within hours of the first rumours Morgan Tsvangirai issued a statement challenging the legitimacy of President Mugabe’s declaration, stating that the ruling was unlawful, unconstitutional and that he would not accept it. There were also rumours of an MDC press conference to take place at midday. It was early afternoon before international broadcasters published news of developments.

Yesterday’s events have highlighted how fractious the political situation in Zimbabwe is. That coupled with the recent crackdown on human rights activists suggest we’re looking at a worryingly similar environment to that of the 2008 elections, which saw high levels of state-sponsored violence and intimidation, with extreme pressure being put on human rights defenders.  

Just last week three activists from the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) were detained, interrogated and then released by police in the eastern town of Mutare. According to their lawyers, the three were interrogated for allegedly possessing human rights promotional materials.

Back in March the prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa was arrested and held in custody for 8 nights after responding to the call a client – a staff member of Morgan Tsvangirai’s office, whose house was being searched by the police. When she arrived she asked to be shown the search warrant and told police what they were doing was “unlawful, unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic”. The police didn’t show her a search warrant, and instead arrested her for “obstructing the course of justice”.

There have been a number of other activists that have been arrested and had their offices raided along with a ban on shortwave radios, in an apparent attempt to restrict access to alternative sources of news.

Whatever date is decided for the election, the most important thing is that we do not see a repeat of the violence that marred the 2008 elections, and that Zimbabwe’s human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals.

This Saturday the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will be holding a summit in Mozambique to deal with rules governing the forthcoming elections. SADC played a critical role in ending the violence in 2008, and we believe that they can be instrumental in preventing the same happening again this year, including deploying human rights monitors before, during and after the elections.

Please join us in putting pressure on SADC to help prevent a repeat of the bloodshed of 2008.

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