Many observers described Zimbabwe’s 2023 harmonized elections to elect the president, the legislators, and local authority representatives as flawed, and the main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) led by Advocate Nelson Chamisa disputed the election outcome. The Southern African Development Community Election Observer Mission (SEOM) concluded in its report that some aspects of the harmonized elections fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2021).[i] One of the critical areas that reveals the flawed nature of the elections is the role of policing during election campaigns. Generally, elections in Zimbabwe are marked by incidents of violence and intimidation of voters and opposition party officials by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) and state security agents. These well-documented acts of violence include killings, torture, and displacement of opposition supporters.[ii] Violence makes election periods unsafe, and this requires effective policing to guarantee free, fair, and credible elections.

The primary state institution responsible for the security and safety of citizens is the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). However, the ZRP’s actions point to its complicity in producing an unsafe electoral context, potentially discrediting the 2023 elections and creating a hostile environment.[iii] The ZRP is part of the formal security sector, which is comprised of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, the Central Intelligence Organisation, the ZRP, and the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services. Since the liberation war (1965–1979), there has been an uneasy duality between professionalism and politicization within the security sector. In 1980, the ruling ZANU PF asserted control of the ZRP by deploying and promoting former guerrillas into the command element.[iv] Knox Chitiyo argues that the post-2000 political crisis saw the formalization of the alliance between the ZANU PF and the security sector, designed to prevent the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) access to state power.[v] The ZRP has continued with its traditional mandate of anti-crime policing, but the militarization of police operations has resulted in its deployment into the paramilitary operations as part of the Joint Operations Committee. The ZRP became part of a security system that criminalized the opposition and encouraged the use of violence. Senior police personnel were rewarded with farms during the land reform program and continue to be rewarded with top-of-the-range vehicles and houses for their loyalty to the ZANU PF.

Partisan Policing and Endangering Citizens’ Security

A hallmark of free and fair elections is providing a level playing field for all political parties and candidates where they can campaign and canvass for votes without any hindrance, intimidation, or fear. On many occasions, members of the ZRP have acted in ways that oppress or exclude the political opposition and favor the ruling party. The police engage in practices that are exclusively focused on regulating the activities of the opposition political parties. The Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (MOPA) is one of a string of laws used to limit opposition parties’ freedom of assembly for purposes of election campaigning. Under MOPA, Chapter 11:23, political parties are required to give police a seven-day notice of their intention to hold political rallies. This requirement is reduced to a three-day notice during electioneering periods. In its report, the SEOM noted that the police applied this law inconsistently, insisting on a seven-day notice period and canceling the opposition CCC’s campaign rallies based on flimsy or unreasonable grounds. The CCC canceled its 2023 election campaign launch in Bindura after the ZRP officer commanding Bindura District disallowed the rally to be held at their preferred venue. The Police released a statement on their X page citing “lack of access roads [and] ablution facilities” at the proposed venue as the reasons for disallowing the rally.[vi] This is contradictory to regular practice, since most rallies in rural areas are held at venues without some of these required facilities. One opposition political party, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union was denied its request on the grounds that it failed to declare the color of the bibs its private security operatives would be wearing. On many occasions, the police declined to authorize rallies on the pretext that the organizers lacked sufficient security personnel. Ironically, the police are always in attendance in their numbers and in full strength to enforce bans on opposition political parties’ election rallies.

The partisan nature of ZRP policing was evident when a group of people wearing ZANU PF-branded shirts attacked a truck transporting CCC supporters to a political rally, killing Tinashe Chitsunge, a CCC supporter, in the process. Unsurprisingly, while addressing international election observers the police Commissioner General echoed a statement by ZANU PF supporters that Chitsunge had been run over by a truck.[vii] In another incident, ZANU PF legislator for Bikita West district Energy Mutodi fired at CCC supporters to disrupt their rally;[viii] he was neither investigated nor mentioned by the police in their regular communique. Furthermore, the police, in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), allowed a shady ZANU PF organization called Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ) to set up “exit survey desks” outside polling stations. These violent actions and intimidatory practices, without consequences for the perpetrators, were aimed at frustrating the opposition. More importantly, these acts rendered the police complicit in the violence and endangered people’s lives.

Arbitrary Arrests and Detention: A Threat to Freedom of Association

The police also subjected opposition party officials and supporters to arbitrary arrests based on suspicions and unproven allegations of violating the Electoral Act. Based on statements on the ZRP’s X page @PoliceZimbabwe, more than 100 CCC members of Parliament, officials, and supporters have been arrested since August 2023. Conversely, not even a single ZANU PF supporter or official was arrested, even though there was evidence of gross violations of election laws and perpetration of violence, putting the safety of citizens at risk. The police often arrested and detained opposition leaders without any real evidence and no chance of securing any conviction. The police also targeted civic society organizations whose activities were considered hostile to the interests of the ruling party or constitute a threat to law and order. On August 23, 2023, the police arrested the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and the Election Resource Centre election monitors on allegations of subversive and criminal activities. These alleged activities were identified as the unlawful tabulation of election voting statistics and results from polling stations throughout the country. The police alleged that these organizations sought to announce the results of the presidential election on August 24, 2023, at the instigation of CCC president Nelson Chamisa. The arrest of election monitors raised international alarm, including concerns by the United Nations. The parallel tabulation of voting results is not a criminal offense, and it is part of ensuring the election was credible and the result was not manipulated.[xi] Political parties, election observers, and monitors tabulate official results posted outside polling stations by the ZEC. At the same time, the police did not act on the activities of the ZANU PF-linked FAZ, which set up “exit poll” desks at all polling stations. The police did not even answer to the legality of these desks, which appeared to have been used to intimidate voters by taking down their names.

Policing through Violence: A Threat to Peace and Security

The police consistently adopted a confrontational and violent approach toward the opposition party, the CCC, and its predecessor, the MDC. The ZRP literally attacked opposition supporters with teargas canisters and water cannons and subjected them to arbitrary beatings and arrests. In Masvingo, the police attacked CCC supporters and officials at a rally, arguing that they had surpassed their allocated time for the day. The police’s use of maximum force even when there is no threat to peace or security compromises the people’s security. Some of these actions deviate from the police charter that calls for responsible and accountable policing.[xiii]

The ZRP has always been confrontational in relation to the political opposition, using excessive force in making political spaces unsafe while ignoring the ZANU PF abuse of electoral laws. The partisanship of state policing augments the ZANU PF’s practices of surveillance of and violence against citizens. On August 15, 2023, the police arrested forty CCC supporters on allegations of deviating from an agreed venue for a political rally, conducting a car rally, and blocking traffic. In cases where the police could have chosen more professional and peaceful ways to handle nonviolent deviation from election laws, they chose violent confrontation and arrests, thereby compromising citizens’ safety and casting doubt on the credibility of the elections.


[i] Southern African Development Community, “SADC Electoral Observation Mission Preliminary Statement to the Harmonised Election to the Republic of Zimbabwe,” August 25, 2023,

[ii] James Muzondidya, “From Buoyancy to Crisis, 1980–1997,” in Becoming Zimbabwe: A History from the Pre-colonial Period to 2008, eds. Brian Raftopoulos and Alois Mlambo (Harare: Weaver Press, 2009), 167–200; Adrienne LeBas, “Polarization as Craft: Party Formation and State Violence in Zimbabwe,” Comparative Politics 38, no. 4 (July 2006), 419–38; Eldred V. Masunungure, “A Militarized Election: The 27 June Presidential Run-Off,” in Defying the Winds of Change: Zimbabwe’s 2008 Elections, ed. Eldred V. Masunungure (Harare: Weaver, 2009), 79–97.

[iii] “Zimbabwe: Repression, Violence Loom over August Election,” Human Rights Watch, August 3, 2023,

[iv] Paul Moorcraft and Knox Chitiyo, Mugabe’s War Machine: Saving or Savaging Zimbabwe? (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2011).

[v] Knox Chitiyo, The Case for Security Sector Reform in Zimbabwe, Occasional Paper (Royal United Services Institute, 2009),

[vi] Police Zimbabwe (@PoliceZimbabwe), “ The ZRP Statement on the alleged CCC rally in Bindura,” X, July, 8, 2023, 14:38pm,

[vii] Lenin Ndebele, “Zimbabwe Police Chief Says There Is ‘Peace [ Ahead of Elections

Accreditation,” News24, August 17, 2023,; .

[viii] Garikai Mafirakureva, “Mutodi Shoots at CCC Members at a Rally,” Masvingo Mirror, July 6, 2023,

[ix] Blessed Mhlanga, “Police Speak on Zesn, ERC Members’ Arrest,” Newsday, August 25, 2023,; Police Zimbabwe (@PoliceZimbabwe), “Arrest of 41 suspects and recovery of equipment intended to be used to illegally announce 2023 Harmonized Election results,” X, August, 24, 2023, 6:00pm,


[xi] NewZWire, “ZEC Urged Them to Do Parallel Vote Tabulation. They Did, Then They Got Arrested,” August 24, 2023,

[xii]Police Zimbabwe (@PoliceZimbabwe), “Police Clarity on the Alleged Tear Smoke at Mamutse Stadium, Masvingo, ” X, August, 14, 2023, 5:55pm,

[xiii] Misheck P. Chingozha and Munyaradzi Mawere, Negotiating Law, Policing and Morality in Africa: A Handbook for Policing in Zimbabwe (Bamenda, Cameroon: Langaa Research and Publishing Group, 2015).

[xiv]Police Zimbabwe (@PoliceZimbabwe), “Arrest of 40 CCC Activists in Machipisa, Harare,” X, August, 15, 2023, 7:41pm,  ; Lenin Ndebele, “Police Brutality, Political Violence and Flawed Voters Roll Ahead of Zimbabwe By-Elections Accreditation,” News24, February 19, 2022,