ZIMBABWE: Looking for a knock-out ahead of round two

Thursday, April 17, 2008
At least one Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporter has been killed in political violence in Zimbabwe at the weekend, amid reports by human rights groups that ruling ZANU-PF party militants and the army have been deployed in the countryside to snuff out the opposition.

The man was reportedly beaten to death in Hurungwe district, in Mashonaland West Province: unconfirmed accounts said another MDC supporter was killed in Mudzi distict in Mashonaland East Province. Both northern provinces have in the past overwhelmingly voted for ZANU-PF, but in the 29 March election the MDC picked up seats and local government wards.

A spokesperson for an organisation working with political violence victims told IRIN: "We can confirm that one MDC supporter was beaten to death by ZANU-PF supporters, youths and war veterans over the weekend in Hurungwe. The brother to the victim of violence is currently detained in a hospital with severe injuries. We are still making a follow up to confirm reports that there was another murder in Mudzi."

Acts of political retribution have reportedly increased in rural areas that were formerly seen as ZANU-PF strongholds, where the MDC scored startling successes in last month's poll.

"More than 200 families have had their homes burnt down and chased away. Many are reported to be living in the forests and nearby mountains while trying to make their way to urban areas, especially Harare [the capital]. Those who have been targeted are those who were election or polling agents for the MDC or known supporters," said the human rights defender, who asked not to be named.

Teachers who worked as polling officers are some of those who have been targeted, according to the secretary general of the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), Raymond Majongwe, told IRIN.

"Teachers who worked as polling or presiding officers are being accused of rigging the elections in favour of MDC. Teachers have been abducted and tortured to alter election results," Majongwe alleged.

Bednock Nyahude, the MDC winning candidate in the parliamentary elections for a constituency in Mashonaland Central, another former ZANU-PF stronghold, claimed he had been threatened by ruling party militants.

"ZANU-PF supporters have been threatening me and my supporters with physical assault. They have threatened to kidnap my children on their way from school," he reportedly said.

According to the official vote count, ZANU-PF has lost its majority in parliament for the first time since independence in 1980, but it has called for a recount in 23 constituencies where it claims its candidates were cheated. The presidential results are yet to be released, two weeks after the ballot. If it is determined that incumbent President Robert Mugabe or MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai failed to win over 50 percent of the vote, a  second round run-off will be called.

Military maneovers

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general, Wellington Chibebe, told IRIN that the deployment of the military, war veterans and ZANU-PF militia was in line with statements made by senior military commanders who said they would not recognise any elected government except one led by ZANU-PF and Mugabe.

"What is happening is clear proof that the military meant what it said, but what is undeniable is that ZANU-PF has been beaten in the just ended elections and that it is now an opposition party. Mugabe lost the elections otherwise why is he traumatising innocent Zimbabweans?"

While the police confirmed there were "isolated" cases of violence, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe National War Veterans Association, Jabulani Sibanda, told IRIN that his members were not responsible for the attacks. "No genuine war veteran would go out and commit acts of violence. We are a disciplined force."

Ratidzo Moyo, a teacher in Mudzi, said she had witnessed the political unrest in the district before she fled. "I saw many villagers, especially MDC supporters and teachers, being beaten up by armed men and ZANU-PF supporters. I only carried a few clothes and came to Harare. I am afraid if I continue to stay there, I could be a victim of political violence."

For now she is staying with her sister in the high density suburb of Glen View in Harare. Although heavily armed soldiers and police patrol the township, she feels safer among urban residents.

Source: IRIN http://www.irinnews.org