Christian students who held a public meeting in Harare to discuss the "Prospects of a Free and Fair Election in Zimbabwe" have resolved that such prospects do not exist in their country, which they say has repressive laws.
"Such legislation as the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act should be removed in order to ensure free and fair elections in March 2008," Lawrence Mashungu, chairperson of the Students Christian Movement of Zimbabwe, told the meeting on 13 September.
Under the public order act, a public meeting of five people or more has to get police clearance, while the privacy act makes it an offence for journalists to practise without a government licence, or to publish what the government perceives to be "falsehoods".
Under the privacy law, four privately owned newspapers have since 2003 been shut down for failing to meet government criteria, which critics of the law say are unnecessarily stringent. Mashungu also said the voter registration exercise for the elections was very slow and flawed.
At the same time, the National Movement of Catholic Students said youth militia from the ruling party of President Robert Mugabe, including graduates of a government-run national youth training centre, have been engaging in violence ahead of the scheduled elections.
"We as youths are being used [by politicians] to perpetrate violence against supporters of other political parties, who include our parents," said Francesca Midzi, coordinator of the Catholic students. "What makes it worse is that President Mugabe has in the past offered a general amnesty to people convicted of election-related violence, whenever the polls are over."
Mugabe has won a number of disputed elections since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980. A court case in which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai is disputing results of the 2002 presidential elections, whose authenticity was questioned by international observers, has not yet been concluded by the courts.
"The fact that Tsvangirai's case is still pending in the courts as we go to yet another general election shows that the judiciary is not impartial," McDonald Lewanika, coordinator of the Students Solidarity Trust told the 13 Septmber meeting, organized by the Youth Forum. The forum was formed in 2004 to promote active participation of youth in policy formulation and development in the democratisation of Zimbabwe.
Lewanika said hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans had fled hunger and political repression at home and would not be able to vote in the March 2008 elections as they had settled in other countries as political and economic refugees.
The secretary general of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, Beloved Chiweshe, said hopes that initiatives put forward by the Southern African Development Community would resolve the Zimbabwe crisis were fading. "Our president has bullied all the SADC leaders to such an extent that they will not look at issues in Zimbabwe critically," said Chiweshe.
With acknowledgements to ENI: http://www.eni.ch