A recent study by the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) found that the deployment of Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ) into Zimbabwe’s electoral processes was a key part of Zanu-PF’s electoral manipulation strategy.
The study found that FAZ agents were linked to intimidation and violence against political opponents and that they were also involved in voter suppression and vote rigging.
ZDI’s main finding of its study on the state of the electoral environment in Zimbabwe ahead of the August 23, 2023 election is electoral manipulation activities of Zanu PF and FAZ, a quasi-military organisation including the weaponisation of law (law-fare) to clampdown on the opposition and democracy defenders dominated the period
ZDI used convenience sampling to recruit 200 research participants from Nkayi, Umguza, Tsholotsho, Mwenezi, Magunje, Uzumba, Mt Darwin, Chitungwiza, Harare, and Zvimba, where the majority of citizens (65%) believe FAZ is associated with intimidation and violence against Zanu PF’s political opponents.
The study revealed FAZ’s deployment came to light during the Zanu PF primary elections held in preparation of the 2023 elections, “ as a shadowy and quasi-securocratic body composed of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), War Veterans, Zanu PF Youth Militia and vigilante groups.”
FAZ’s prowess as a Zanu PF electoral manipulation machine was “pilot tested” in the party’s primary elections where it was accused of presiding over massive rigging that saw senior Zanu PF members losing elections, ZDI noted.
ZDI also noted that 34 percent of research participants indicated that FAZ is “actively visible” in the electoral processes.
“In Mwenezi district in Masvingo, the research participants noted that there has been an intensive deployment of FAZ to deter opposition supporters from fully supporting their chosen political parties,” said the study.
According to the study, FAZ is overseen by CIO Deputy Director, Retired Brigadier-General Walter Tapfumaneyi, and has replaced the military-dominated Heritage Trust, which was in charge of administering the 2018 election where President Emmerson Mnangagwa performed below expectations.
“FAZ is seen as a recalibrated version of direct militarisation of the electoral arena, which this time is hidden behind a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) status. This makes its command, accountability and transparency very hard to subject to public and parliamentary oversight,” ZDI stated.
The involvement of FAZ, according to ZDI, is best understood within the theoretical framework of competitive authoritarian regimes, as suggested by scholars Levitsky and Way (2010), and specifically under securocratic regimes, as proposed by Ruhanya and Gumbo (2022).
“The ruling elite, however, ensures that all those captured institutions manipulate the electoral playing field to make opposition victory impossible. Competition is, thus, real but blatantly unfair (Levitsky and Way 2010, 5; Matti, 2010; Mainwaring, 2012),” read the study
ZDI said citizens who participated in the study identified FAZ as a key player in electoral processes.
“65% noted that FAZ is associated with intimidation and violence against Zanu PF’s political opponents. On the contrary, only 18% of the study participants indicated that FAZ is aimed at opening up the electoral environment whilst 17% said they do not know,” read the study.
“For people in Mwenezi, Magunje and Mt Darwin, there is a general consensus that FAZ has been deployed in their communities with the objective of spying on opposition supporters’ political activities ahead of the August 2023 elections. This has created a climate of fear among opposition supporters and members thereby deterring and discouraging them from engaging in political activities.”
ZDI findings corroborate revelations by the Heal Zimbabwe Trust report (2023) which exposed that FAZ is perpetrating politically motivated violence against Zanu PF’s political opponents across Zimbabwe.
Heal Zimbabwe recorded at least 40 cases of intimidation, threats and coercion across the country by the time it compiled its report.
“Opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) supporters have been at the receiving end of these threats and intimidation while Zanu PF structures, shadowy FAZ, traditional leaders and war veterans have been identified as the biggest perpetrators,” ZDI said citing the Heal Zimbabwe report.
ZDI said in Gutu West Ward 7, FAZ officials allegedly held an opposition CCC councillor candidate at gunpoint and made him withdraw his candidature under duress.
“Similarly, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) report (2023) revealed that: In Masvingo province, two people were recently arrested by police officers in Gutu after they allegedly engaged in a verbal altercation.
When asked if they suspected FAZ was involved in voter roll manipulation for the 2023 election, the majority (68%) of citizens replied yes, compared to 23.5% who said no, and 8.5% who stated they did not know about FAZ’s involvement.
“The opposition CCC party has raised concerns pertaining to the alleged connivance of ZEC and FAZ in the administration of the voters’ roll and the electoral processes in general,” said ZDI noting that FAZ’s involvement in the electoral arena has caused citizens to be afraid to vote for the opposition in the 2023 elections.
“A total of 67% of the citizens in the survey revealed they feel intimidated to vote for the opposition. 10% of the study participants said they feel encouraged by the activities of FAZ to vote for the opposition whilst 11% and 12% said that they do not know and feel nothing respectively.”