ZIMBABWE: Political violence surges after Mugabe assumes presidency

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The already high levels of politically motivated violence in Zimbabwe's rural areas are escalating, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change told IRIN.

Violence surged in the aftermath of the 29 March elections, in which ZANU-PF lost it majority in parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, and its leader, Robert Mugabe, come off second best to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the presidential ballot. It continued in the lead-up to the second round of presidential voting on 27 June.

The presidential run-off ballot was deemed necessary after neither presidential candidate managed to achieve the 50 percent plus one vote required for an outright win.

In the interregnum between the 29 March and 27 June polls, there were reports of widespread violence, torture and internal displacement, which, according to the MDC, resulted in the deaths of more than 80 of their supporters and led to Tsvangirai's decision to withdraw his candidacy.

Mugabe, who has ruled for 28 years, claimed a landslide victory in the second round.

Rape as a weapon

Pishai Muchauraya, the MDC spokesperson for the country's eastern province of Manicaland and newly elected parliamentarian for Makoni South, told IRIN the violence intensified after Mugabe was sworn in as president two days after the vote, on the eve of the African Union summit in Egypt.

"The torture camps are still in place, and since the beginning of July three supporters of the MDC have been murdered by ZANU-PF militia and war veterans at the torture camps. Several women, including a 70-year-old grandmother and a 15-year-old girl, have been gang-raped, while beatings and displacements continue. People are being forced to donate goats, cattle and women to the bases to avoid being victims."

Rape was being used as a "deplorable" weapon against those perceived as not supporting ZANU-PF, and "In many instances, the victims cannot remember the number of people who raped them but it is usually more than 20, and that increases the chances of infecting the victims with HIV/AIDS," Muchauraya said.

"The perpetrators ... also expose themselves to infection, which could have a significant impact on reversing the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic."

Muchauraya said "the siege" by government supporters was an attempt to change the political culture and thinking in rural areas, and that rather than being dismantled, "more torture camps are being established."

During the independence war against white rule, the rural areas were the bastion of support for Zimbabwe's guerrilla armies, and the rural vote against the ruling ZANU-PF in the recent elections was seen as an insult by the country's ruling elite, according to political analysts.

"The international community has rejected the 27 June circus, in which Robert Mugabe contested against himself and declared himself the winner. ZANU-PF is subjugating everybody, so that if another election is called, and even if it was free and fair, people would vote for ZANU-PF out of fear," Muchauraya said.

Social welfare minister Nicholas Goche told IRIN the upsurge in violence was a consequence of the MDC attacking their own supporters in a bid to create sympathy among the international community.

"The MDC stage-managed these developments in order to coincide with the G8 summit [in Japan] so that Zimbabwe is put on the agenda. The idea is to give the impression that there is increasing political violence and that people are still being beaten, but all that is false."

In reaction to Goche's comment, MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told IRIN: "As the MDC, we are deeply concerned by the upsurge in political violence, especially in the countryside. We are overwhelmed by the number of internally displaced persons who continue to flock to our offices.

"War veterans and ZANU-PF militia are behind these attacks. We have information that the torture chambers have not been dismantled and that new ones are being set up," he said.

Apparatus of violence

A "demobilised" member of ZANU-PF's youth militia, who declined to be identified, told IRIN that only the militia bases in urban areas were being dismantled.

"Some of my colleagues have relocated to rural areas to set up new bases or join existing ones. They have launched Operation Makazviitirei [Operation Why Did You Ever Vote for the MDC]," he said. This operation has been running since ZANU-PF lost the general elections on 29 March.

"Unfortunately, the lines of communication are so vague  that some of my colleagues, who had not been officially told to stop mobilising the people [in urban areas], have been severely beaten up by the police and army for political violence," he said.

The ruling party had ordered that political violence cease in urban areas, as it was difficult to hide such activities and exposed ZANU-PF to international criticism, the youth militia member said.

ZANU-PF has mobilised the three main pillars of the party: the Youth League, which also contains the Youth Brigade; the Women's League; and its Main Wing, comprised mainly of male ZANU-PF members.

The Youth Brigade has been wearing uniforms since the 1980s, but in 2000, after Mugabe launched the fast-track land reform programme to redistribute white commercial farmland to landless blacks, ZANU-PF established a National Youth Service. Its graduates - also known as the Green Bombers because they dress in green fatigues - combined with the Youth Brigade and are collectively called the ZANU-PF youth militia.

The militia recruits youth from the ranks of both the urban and rural unemployed and though they do not receive payment, they use their positions to force people to supply them with food and drink.

These young people fight against opposition activists and were responsible for rounding up and frog-marching people to "re-education and re-orientation bases", known as torture camps by the MDC, the youth militia member told IRIN.

He said youth militia were never accepted into the party hierarchy, as these positions were the preserve of "old men and women".

The militia bases were usually established in schools or clinics and were under the overall command of veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war, or serving members of the army or security services, he said.

The youth militia member said all-night vigils were held, during which those brought to the bases were made to sing liberation songs and chant praises to Mugabe, and to publicly "confess" to being opposition members and then denounce the MDC.

"On the eve of voting [in the presidential runoff on 27 June] we mobilised all the people to spend the night at an all-night vigil, so that they would go straight from the base to the polling station. Our base commander, a serving soldier who is a war veteran, was in charge, and the same appeared to be the case with other bases.

Source: IRIN NEWS http://irinnews.org