ZIMBABWE: Call for international action as violence worsens

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Zimbabweans will commemorate independence day on Friday as a deeply divided and uncertain nation, shaken by a rising tide of political violence in the aftermath of last month’s election in which the opposition for the first time won a parliamentary majority.

Human rights organisations say hundreds of people have fled rural areas where the army, police and war veterans have spearheaded terror campaigns against civilians for daring to vote against ZANU-PF, the party of President Robert Mugabe, in the 29 March poll.

“This government has declared war on its citizens and we don’t know what it will take to get the world to pay attention,” said a doctor working with the displaced, who asked to remain anonymous.

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Thursday called for an international criminal court to try the perpetrators of the crackdown. “We cannot watch Zimbabweans being brutalised by their own government. Brutalised, raped, their homes burned because they just decided to vote otherwise,” he told the news network CNN.

According to partial election results, ZANU-PF won 99 parliamentary seats, Tsvangirai’s MDC took 97, a rival MDC faction 10, with one seat going to an independent. Three seats in known opposition strongholds were not contested.

But the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is yet to release the tally of the presidential poll, despite international condemnation of the delay. ZEC has insisted it was still “meticulously verifying” the result, and ordered a recount in 23 constituencies. Tsvangirai has nonetheless declared himself the winner, based on his party’s count of election returns, and has challenged the results in 60 constituencies won by ZANU-PF.

Mashonaland mayhem

The political violence has been at its worst in the three northern Mashonaland provinces, home of Mugabe’s Zezuru people, one of the five main clans of Zimbabwe’s majority Shona ethnic group. After 28 years in power, ZANU-PF has been shocked by the political rebellion in its heartland, where MDC scored significant wins.

IRIN on Thursday witnessed hundreds of MDC supporters at the party’s headquarters in the capital, Harare, most with serious injuries, some in improvised slings and bandages. Zvondai Gwasira, from Mutoko district in Mashonaland East, said he had been assaulted by armed soldiers, which left him with a broken rib and head wounds.

“I am a known MDC supporter and the village head alerted soldiers who are based in the area that I was responsible for ‘misleading’ people into voting for the opposition. The soldiers assaulted me with sticks until I fainted. When I came to, I was lying in a pool of blood. I immediately fled to the capital and approached the party offices to assist me with sanctuary,” he told IRIN.

A 70-year-old grandmother from Murehwa district in Mashonaland East said she had run after ZANU-PF supporters and traditional leaders threatened her. “My grandchildren are MDC supporters. In the run up to the elections, they were campaigning for the opposition and would wear party regalia. I am now being accused of encouraging my grandchildren to campaign for the MDC.”

A civil servant, also displaced by the violence in Mashonaland East, accused the world of standing by. “What is happening in the countryside requires the intervention of the international community. There are serious human rights violations taking place. Soldiers and armed war veterans are on the rampage. We have not been able to confirm anything, but people are being beaten so much that it would be a miracle if scores have not died by now.

“In some communities, MDC and ZANU-PF supporters have fought using spears and axes resulting in near fatalities. ZANU-PF supporters always turn to soldiers or police for back up,” he told IRIN.

The civil servant, who was assaulted after being accused of campaigning for the opposition, alleged ZANU-PF’s plan was to banish known MDC supporters before a possible presidential run-off - a constitutional necessity if ZEC determines that no candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote.

“All opposition supporters are being beaten up to ensure they flee to other areas. This will have a bearing on a run-off as it would mean they will not be able to vote. Because the elections are ward based, armed soldiers, police and militia have been threatening civilians and telling them that if they vote for the opposition in the future, they will shoot them.”