Civil society organizations in Zimbabwe are calling upon the country’s politicians to move quickly to wrap up the constitution-making process and spell out a clear timetable for both the referendum and the elections.
The organizations’ leaders told reporters in Johannesburg after a meeting Wednesday that the continuous involvement of the state security organs in partisan politics poses the greatest threat to free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.
McDonald Lewanika, director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, said Zimbabweans are disappointed that politicians cannot agree on when and how both the referendum and the elections will be held.
Lewanika also criticized the recent move by political parties to appoint cabinet ministers to resolve sticking issues around the draft, saying the new constitution is the business of parliament, not the cabinet.
The civil society organizations pressed for an end to what they charge is state sponsored violence, saying violent militia groups like Chipangano and Al-Shabab must be disbanded.
Thabani Nyoni, spokesperson for Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the director of Bulawayo Agenda, said holding free and fair elections in Zimbabwe will need far more than new laws and rhetoric and called for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to closely monitor the situation in the country.
Joy Mabenge, director of programs at the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe, spoke against recent statements by some in the security sector that have been overtly political.
Speaking on behalf of the Combined Harare Residents Association, director Mfundo Mlilo also lamented the raids and reported harassment of civil society organizations, including pro-democracy groups.
Meanwhile, recent comments by Media Minister Webster Shamu urging regulation of the internet and other new media platforms has rekindled debate on the freedom of expression in Zimbabwe.
The state-run Herald newspaper quotes the minister during a visit by Chinese state officials as calling for “appropriate regulations” on such media that he said can cause “strife in society.”
Critics said such statements signal Zimbabwe is willing to stifle outlets like Facebook, and Twitter, popular websites that provide people with information and allow them to share views.
Shamu charged that these new media platforms disseminate information that is at times inaccurate and undesirable and in total disregard of national interest.
Takura Zhangazha, director of the Voluntary Media Council, told VOA that the minister’s statements should not be ignored. In the past, Zimbabweans have been arrested for what they post on social media sites.
He referred to the cases last year where a Bulawayo man was arrested after the Egyptian uprisings for stating on his Facebook page that “I am overwhelmed, I don’t want to say Mr. or PM what happened in Egypt is sending shockwaves to dictators around the world."
Some members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise were once arrested for protesting against plans by some sections of the Zimbabwe government to monitor and muzzle social networking sites.