/ 1 June 2008

‘We don’t want any more bloodshed’

Hundreds of women converged on a stadium on the outskirts of Harare on Saturday to pray for peace ahead of the country’s tense presidential run-off amid mounting political violence.

”As we pray today there are some fellow Zimbabweans who are hiding in mountains afraid to come down, fearing that they may be surrounded and attacked,” Tawona Mtshiya, vice-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, told a crowd drawn from various denominations.

”In our situation in Zimbabwe today, a solution can only come if we pray to God.”

The prayer service was organised by a group called the Zimbabwe Women’s National Prayer Task Force, which is seen as politically neutral.

Zimbabweans go to the polls on June 27 for a second-round presidential election between President Robert Mugabe, who has led the country since independence in 1980, and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai fell just short of an outright majority in a first round of voting on March 29 while his party wrested control of Parliament from Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in a simultaneous legislative poll.

The period since the original polling day has been marked by a steady rise in political violence, which Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says has seen more than 50 of its supporters killed by pro-Mugabe militias.

Mugabe blames the opposition for the violence, which he has denounced as ”barbaric”.

Vicky Mpofu, coordinator of the prayer task force, called on women to hold regular prayer and fasting in their respective churches for an end to the violence.

”Women have a chance to speak out against violence because naturally we are peacemakers and also among us women are secretaries for Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Simba Makoni,” Mpofu said.

”Let us use every opportunity to talk and pray about peace in our beautiful nation. We don’t want any more bloodshed, even the blood of animals. We pray that the spirit of violence is destroyed.”

Scathing attack

Tsvangirai launched a scathing attack on Mugabe’s rule on Friday, saying a nation rich in natural resources had become an embarrassment to the whole of Africa.

In a self-styled state of the nation address to lawmakers from his party, Tsvangirai also vowed there would be no amnesty for perpetrators of political violence if he takes power from Mugabe after the run-off election.

Zimbabwe’s economy has been in meltdown since the start of the decade when Mugabe embarked on a controversial land-reform programme that saw thousands of white-owned farms expropriated by the state.

A spiralling inflation rate, officially put at 165 000% but thought to be many times higher, has frightened off investors, as has a new Bill that requires locals to own a 51% stake in all firms operating in Zimbabwe.

A one-time regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe now experiences regular shortages of even the most basic foodstuffs such as cooking oil, sugar and maize.

Mugabe’s government has in turn blamed the country’s problems on a limited programme of sanctions imposed by the West after he allegedly rigged his 2002 re-election.

”When you have direct and indirect sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe you cannot expect our economy to operate normally,” Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told reporters at the Zimbabwean embassy in Pretoria on Friday.

Meanwhile, two supporters of Zimbabwe’s ruling party have been shot dead in the country’s north-east, state radio reported on Saturday, amid mounting violence ahead of the presidential run-off.

”Two Zanu-PF supporters have been shot dead and two others escaped unhurt in politically motivated violence by suspected MDC elements in Mutoko,” the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation said.

The United Nations chief representative in Zimbabwe has said Mugabe’s supporters are to blame for the bulk of recent violence, but the Zimbabwean president blames the opposition.

Quoting police spokesperson Oliver Mandipaka, Saturday’s state media report said Lessy Chitsitsi, the ruling party’s ward publicity secretary, was shot dead on Thursday.

In the second incident, a gunman shot and killed Zanu-PF activist Taurai Chihuri on Friday, the report said. — AFP