Bikita. — Barely two weeks after Zanu-PF's most senior member in Masvingo Province, Josaya Hungwe, told his party supporters that they should not lose sleep over the inroads made by opposition political parties in the province since his party had the capacity to hire soldiers to campaign for the ruling party during the 2018 elections, Major-General Engelbert Rugeje has since caused commotion in Bikita West where he has reportedly camped for some few weeks now.\
Zimabwe national Army (ZNA) Major-General Engelbert Rugeje
Opposition candidates campaigning for the Bikita West by-election slated for January 21 next year said although General Rugeje hails from Bikita, it was not fair for him to openly tell people at Nyika Growth Point that he had "come home" to monitor the campaign and will be leaving after the elections.
In his speech recently, Hungwe singled out General Rugeje saying in the worst case scenario, Zanu-PF would deploy the army boss to deal with the people.
"You remember what Rugeje did in 2008? We can easily ask him to come back and help us to campaign when the time comes," Hungwe told Zanu-PF members who were gathered at Masvingo Polytechnic recently. Candidates vying for the Bikita West seat have since criticised the Zanu-PF move, saying it is a major setback to free and fair elections.
"We know Rugeje comes from Bikita, but he is not the only top army official from that area. Why is it he is now coming home and openly telling people, especially at Nyika Growth Point, that he was home to monitor election campaigns?
"We are not happy with Rugeje but what I want him to know is that this time we can take him head-on. We fear nobody and there is no amount of intimidation that will stop people from voting for me," said independent candidate Heya Shoko.
Zimbabwe People First candidate Kudakwashe Gopo said apart from Rugeje's shenanigans, Zanu-PF was already rounding up village heads and threatening them so that they force people to vote for Beauty Chabaya.
"Zanu-PF is always working towards thwarting electoral laws. Recently, their candidate; Beauty Chabaya, gathered village heads and traditional leaders and openly told them that they were supposed to campaign for Zanu-PF. We are extremely disturbed by the way Zanu-PF is doing here," said Gopo.
Another independent candidate, Innocent Muzvimbiri, said it was unfair for Zanu-PF to use Rugeje as their campaign manager.
"There is no problem in using any campaign manager of your choice but what matters is the nature of campaign, whether it is peaceful or violent. Currently, we are experiencing scenarios where our posters are being removed and such behaviour is just against the law.
"What I am trying to bring across is that, if Major-General Rugeje decides to campaign for Chabaya, then he must come out in the open rather than employing guerrilla tactics in the constituency.
"We even had a meeting with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) last week but it seems when complaints are against Zanu-PF, they are reluctant and when complaints come towards the opposition, stringent measures are taken. It is therefore my wish that such inconsistencies be dealt with before the by-election to ensure a free and fair election," Muzvimbiri said.
However, Rugeje could not be reached for comment but Zanu-PF Masvingo political commissar and Bikita South legislator Jeppy Jaboon said he was shocked by the allegations from opposition political parties.
"Our opponents are just panicking on the realisation that we are luring big numbers.
"We are not using Rugeje here — those are blue lies, there is nothing like that in Bikita. We have never summoned village heads to any meeting. However, we simply held meetings with our cell groups to ensure that our campaign drive is in order.
"Some of the cell group members are village heads of course, but the meeting was never summoned for village heads as our opponents have been made to believe," said Jaboon.
In a statement last Monday, The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said they were worried by patterns of violence in the by-election campaigns.
"The Chimanimani West campaign period was marred by violence, intimidation and vote-buying, a worrying pattern that continues to be observed in by-elections.
"The role of traditional leaders in the constituency during the campaign period has also come under scrutiny. Some of the traditional leaders were openly campaigning for Zanu-PF.
"This is in contravention of Section 281(2) of the Constitution which states that "traditional leaders must not act in a partisan manner nor further the interests of any political party.
"ZESN observed electoral malpractices that amount to vote-buying such as giving out hand-outs in the form of maize and rice to lure voters," reads part of the statement.