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Outrage As Top Soldier Threatens 2008 Violence

Human rights organisations have condemned threats by Zanu PF’s national political commissar, retired army boss Engelbert Rugeje, describing them as anti-peace and dampening the prospects of a free election.

Rugeje, addressing a party meeting last week in Gutu, said people should remember the violence which followed the 2008 elections which left hundreds dead, according to opposition, as the country gears for another watershed election late this year.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) said the remarks were in conflict with the gospel of peace and unity that president Emmerson Mnangagwa has been preaching since he took office two months ago.

“ZimRights unreservedly condemns the statements by the Zanu-Pf National Commissar, Rtd. Lt. General Engelbert Rugeje in which he appeared to intimidate people during an address in Gutu in Masvingo province ahead of the 2018 elections,” said the organisation in a statement on Tuesday.

Rugeje joins other senior ruling party officials such as minister of state affairs for Masvingo Province Josiah Hungwe and party secretary for Higher education Christopher Mutsvangwa in perpetuating the legacy of militarization of elections.

The rights civic organisation said it has become pertinent for the president and other relevant bodies to set the record straight on military role in the country’s elections.

“We urge President Emmerson Mnangagwa to publicly chastise his officials and make them refrain from making such threats,” ZimRights added.

“Equally, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) are urged to unanimously and without delay condemn such malpractices.”

Heal Zimbabwe weighed in saying Rugeje’s statements were “criminal” and “irresponsible” and have provided a reason for perpetrators of political violence to continue abusing other people’s rights.

“Heal Zimbabwe expected Rugeje in his capacity as Zanu PF national commissar to preach a message of unity and peace in order to actualize the President’s call,” read its statement.

“Following Rugeje’s sentiments, the organization has recorded numerous cases of intimidation from Gutu West wards 29, 33, 24 and 08 of community members by Zanu PF activists who are misinforming people that they have the backing of the army and will not hesitate to perpetrate violence on people who will vote for opposition parties.”

According to Heal Zimbabwe, the NPRC must urgently set up an early warning and response system for political violence.

“This will ensure that the 2018 elections are conducted in a peaceful and violent-free environment,” said Heal Zimbabwe.

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