ZIMBABWE: Humanitarian operations curtailed by violence

Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Zimbabwe's post-election violence is hampering the activities of humanitarian organisations and making the country's already dire food situation even more precarious. One-third of the population, or about four million people, are receiving food aid.

An official of the National Association of Non-governmental Organisations (NANGO), an umbrella body for humanitarian and civil organisations, who declined to be identified, told IRIN they were "concerned that post-election violence is brazenly denying people access to already scarce food ... It is becoming very difficult for humanitarian workers to get out there and extend food to needy communities."

Zimbabwe is expecting another poor harvest after incessant early rains were followed by a prolonged dry spell this season, coupled with a shortage of agricultural inputs and the under-utilisation of farming land by resettled farmers, all being compounded by an upswing in political violence.

The areas hardest hit by political violence, the NANGO official said, were rural communities in the districts of Mutoko, Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe and Dande, in Mashonaland Central Province in northern Zimbabwe. These were once political strongholds of the ruling ZANU-PF, but had backed candidates of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the elections on 29 March.

The official said there were "many other disturbing cases", and cited incidents of political violence in Mashonaland East Province, in the northeast of the country, as well as in the Mutasa and Rusape districts in Manicaland Province, in eastern Zimbabwe.

"Some of our members have told us it is now risky to continue with operations in violence-prone areas. Any contact with communities can be perceived as political, and that becomes dangerous when the government has banned rallies," she said.

"For instance, a child rights organisation reported that their meeting with village heads in Rusape became tense because there were people who thought that the use of the term 'rights' meant that the NGO [non-governmental organisation] was out to campaign for the opposition."

"Operation Mavhoterapapi" (Who did you vote?)

Veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war, the youth militia of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, and soldiers have reportedly established bases in the country's rural areas, where they are assaulting alleged opposition supporters as part of "Operation Mavhoterapapi" (Who did you vote?).

According to victims of the operation, it is a strategy to flush out those who campaigned for the MDC ahead of an expected second round of voting in the presidential elections, although the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has yet to publish the results of the first round.

The MDC claims its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the first round of voting by the required 50 percent plus one vote, and that a second round of voting is unnecessary, but Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF, claims there was no outright winner.

The ZEC, whose functionaries are appointed by Mugabe, has also begun a recount in 23 constituencies in response to a request by ZANU-PF after it lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1980.

The ZEC parliamentary results gave Tsvangirai's MDC 99 seats, while Mugabe's ZANU-PF secured 97. A breakaway faction of the MDC garnered 10 seats and ZANU-PF's former minister of information, Jonathan Moyo, who ran as an independent, won his seat.

The African Union (AU) said it was concerned about the delay in announcing the presidential results, as this "creates an atmosphere of tension"; the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said Zimbabwe was in a "rather dangerous situation".

Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the MDC party led by Tsvangirai, said at a press briefing on 20 April in Johannesburg, South Africa, that 10 MDC members had been killed since the 29 March poll, 3,000 had been displaced and 500 hospitalised in political violence.

"There is a war in Zimbabwe being waged by Mugabe's regime against the people; the regime has unleashed violence on the people. The police have been turning a blind eye," Biti said.

Johnson Chibuya, 43, of Donzve village in Mashonaland East province's Mutoko district, about 190km northeast of the capital, Harare, is among hundreds of villagers seeking refuge from ZANU-PF's retribution at the MDC headquarters in the capital, awaiting "whatever form of help" he can get, he told IRIN, supporting himself on a pair of crutches.

Torture camps

A week ago, Chibuya, his wife and three school-going children were force-marched to a bush camp near the village by militias led by a soldier known only as "Crunch", where they joined other suspected MDC supporters who had been rounded up in the area.

"We were about thirty-five people there, and were made to sit in front of a bonfire that Crunch and the militia had set up. Three of our assailants were busy digging what they said was the grave, in which they would bury us, just like sell-outs were treated during the [liberation] war," he said.

"We were made to chant anti-British slogans before ... beating [us] with logs, steel rods and stones. I passed out, and when I came to, my colleagues were all down, with the militias pacing up and down," Chibuya told IRIN.

At dawn other villagers were ordered to bring an ox-drawn cart that transported the seriously injured to the Harare-Mutoko highway, where they were dumped. Chibuya was taken to the nearest clinic by a passer-by and was referred to a Harare medical centre, where his injuries were treated.

"I have learnt from a fellow villager who is here that they went on to burn my house and granary, just like they have done to numerous others. That means I don't have a home, I don't have food and I don't know when I will be reunited with my family, that is, if they are still alive," Chibuya said.

The villager told Chibuya that his family, in spite of their injuries, were hiding out in the nearby hills and the militias had warned people not to give them food. Schools are scheduled to reopen next week, but it is uncertain whether Chibuya's children will be able to enrol, or whether the schools will open.

Michael Zireva, 50, another victim seeking refuge at the MDC headquarters, told IRIN that the militia had raided his home in Murewa, about 100km northeast of Harare, tied him up and brought him to his cattle and goat pens where they doused the livestock with petrol before setting them on fire.

"It took me two whole generations to build a herd of ten cattle and fifteen goats. I can't understand the kind of cruelty that I saw and I escaped. What am I going to feed my family on when this madness is gone? Where will I get money for school fees?" Zireva said.

The militia also stole 150kg of maize, stored from his last harvest, and then razed his home. He does not know where his family is, or whether they are alive.

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