Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's government is launching another wave of attacks against the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), a spokesman for the opposition party told IRIN, after a much vaunted power-sharing deal appeared to be on the verge of collapse.
The 15 September deal, brokered by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, never really made it out of the starting blocks, as Mugabe maintained his stance that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was "a stooge of the West" and refused to concede any of Zimbabwe's security ministries to opposition control.
The wrangling over the implementation of the power-sharing deal - specifically over the home affairs ministry, which controls the police - continued against an upsurge in political violence.
Zimbabwe's Lawyers for Human Rights reported recently that in September, the month the deal was signed, there were 1,300 cases of political violence against opposition groupings, a 39 percent rise from August. The acts of political violence included the destruction of property, rape and killings.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told IRIN that ZANU-PF militias, in collaboration with state security operatives, were re-establishing torture camps and using them as a base for their attacks on MDC supporters. "ZANU-PF is behaving like a party that has declared war on the people," he said.
Torture camps were allegedly set up in the wake of Mugabe's defeat in the general election on 29 March, when Tsvangirai won 47.9 percent of the vote, but fell short of the 50 percent plus one ballot required for a first-round win of the presidency. Mugabe got 43.2 percent of the vote, which also saw ZANU-PF lose control of parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980.
High levels of political violence made Tsvangirai decide to withdraw from the presidential run-off, which Mugabe subsequently won as the sole candidate, but the poll was condemned both internationally and regionally as unfair and unfree.
Torture camps return
Chamisa said, "On October 27, more than 30 MDC supporters were brutally attacked at a settlement called Epworth, east of [the capital] Harare, and several were hospitalised after sustaining serious injuries. Several torture camps have been set up throughout the country, where known or suspected MDC supporters are tortured by ZANU-PF militia," he said.
"On 30 October, state security agents in Mashonaland West Province raided the homes of the MDC leadership in Banket [about 100km northwest of Harare] and arrested nine MDC officials. The officials have not been brought before the courts," Chamisa said, adding that ZANU-PF militia were preventing MDC councillors from carrying out their duties throughout the country.
An officer in the Zimbabwe National Army, who declined to be identified, told IRIN that since the March elections senior army officials had been deployed to rural districts, where they had virtually taken charge of all operations previously handled by local government officials.
"Many rural districts are under the control of colonels or lieutenant-colonels, who are running the local governments and are responsible for food and seed distribution, and there is no way soldiers can work together with MDC officials," he said.
In October the commander of Zimbabwe's defence forces, General Constantine Chiwenga, assisted by senior military officials, was given the responsibility of identifying the beneficiaries of agricultural inputs, such as maize seed and fertiliser. There have been allegations that the distribution of agricultural inputs is dependent on loyalty to ZANU-PF.
At an extraordinary summit by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the regional body, in Johannesburg on 9 November, SADC decided the MDC and ZANU-PF should share the home affairs ministry, and therefore control of the police force, although ZANU-PF has maintained sole control of the army and intelligence services. The MDC rejected the SADC proposal.
State media demonise Tsvangirai
"There is a very slim chance the AU [African Union] can overturn the SADC decision. SADC, as far as it is concerned, has finalised the matter. Unfortunately, Tsvangirai has no option but to play along because if he refuses to join the government, he risks being seen as another Jonas Savimbi in the making and life will be very hard for him."
In recent weeks Zimbabwe's state-controlled media have cast Tsvangirai in the same mould as former Angolan rebel leader Savimbi, whose alliance with apartheid South Africa made him one of the most abhorred figures of his generation in Africa, and has also made comparisons of Tsvangirai as Zimbabwe's Laurent Nkunda, a rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Botswana, the region's fiercest Mugabe critic, is being accused of providing training camps for MDC militias to destabilise Zimbabwe, which already has an annual inflation rate in the hundreds of millions of percent, and where nearly half the population will have to rely on food assistance in the first quarter of 2009.
The Botswana government denies the allegation.
In a recent article in the opinion pages of the state-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, assistant editor Caesar Zvayi alleged: "The militias are supposed to embark on acts of banditry to force the state to respond militarily, after which the lionesses in Washington and London would rush to defend their cubs, claiming Zimbabwe threatens regional peace and security.
"From there, he [Tsvangirai] will claim the AU has failed and should refer the matter to the UN, where he hopes his handlers [Britain and the US] would call the shots to effect the illegal regime change they failed to achieve over the last eight years."
Zvayi, who was deported from Botswana earlier this year after being placed on European Union's "smart sanctions" list, warned in the article that "Tsvangirai would do well to learn from the fate that befell Jonas Savimbi after he withdrew from the presidential run-off that pitted him against the incumbent president, José Eduardo dos Santos, in 1992."
Savimbi was killed in 2002 during a skirmish with Angolan soldiers. "History, they say, repeats itself," Zvayi said. "Morgan [Tsvangirai] should be wary of the curse of history."