(Harare) Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, accused of stepping up the crackdown on dissenting voices ahead of the presidential election this year, pledged a “free and fair” election on Tuesday.

A candidate for his own re-election in the ballot which is due to take place in August but whose date has not yet been confirmed, the 80-year-old head of state called, in a speech on the occasion of the celebrations of the 43rd anniversary of the independence of the former British colony, to “say no to violence, before, during and after” the vote.

“My government has taken steps to ensure free, fair and credible elections,” he said in the small town of Mount Darwin about 155km northeast of the capital Harare.

The political history of this southern African country is marked by violence and intimidation during elections.

Coming to power in 2017 in a coup against the country’s strongman, Robert Mugabe, Mr. Mnangagwa narrowly won the presidential election the following year with 50.8% of the vote.

The party of his main rival, Nelson Chamisa, 45, accuses him of repressing political opponents. In recent weeks, opposition meetings have been obstructed and officials including MPs have been arrested.

Unable despite promises to lift an economy that has been in agony for twenty years, Emmerson Mnangagwa is facing growing discontent.

In his speech on Tuesday, he warned against “voices, foreign or local, including dishonest NGOs” that sow “the seeds of division and discord”.

Parliament passed a controversial law in early February drastically restricting the freedoms of NGOs, placing them under government control and subject to possible sanctions.