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21 Jun 2008 06:00
Torture and mutilation in Zimbabwe’s presidential run-off election campaign are reaching the levels of Liberia’s horrific civil war, Mail & Guardian publisher Trevor Ncube said this week after returning from a visit to his home country.
“Limbs are being cut off and victims are given a choice: ‘long-sleeved’ or ‘short-sleeved’, meaning you can choose whether to lose your hand or your forearm.
“I think the numbers of people who are killed is understated.
Ncube said the tactics used by “war veterans” and youth militia recalled those used by Zanu-PF during the country’s liberation war. The ability to move freely around the country, even the capital city, has become a thing of the past.
“Rural Zimbabwe is inaccessible for anyone not from those areas. If you want to visit anyone there you have to report to the chief or headman,” he said.
“My mother wanted to visit her sister in Bikita whose husband had fallen seriously ill. She was advised not to bother. ‘You will be killed if you come here,’ they told her.”
Ncube said that in the rural areas mock elections are held in which people are told to line up behind the headman. As the ZanuPF militia oversees the voting, people are told where to place their cross. They are threatened that those who vote wrongly on June 27 will be dealt with severely.
Ncube said that although Zanu-PF started the violence to intimidate the opposition, the party is now struggling to keep it under control.
“It has got out of hand—the party doesn’t know which button to push any more. But they aren’t complaining because all the violence works in their favour.”
In Epworth, an informal settlement near Harare, houses were burned and people are sleeping away from home because they fear being woken in the middle of the night and taken to “re-education” camps where they would be instructed to chant slogans all night long and told who to vote for.
“One of my employees told us his parents were abducted and taken to a torture base. At another torture base [a Movement for Democratic Change] woman activist had her hands tied and was told to hold a bunch of grass with both hands. The grass was then set alight from both ends.”
Even in Harare’s upmarket suburbs, youths and war veterans go from door to door demanding to know why people do not attend meetings.
Ncube said youths had taken over Mbare, Harare’s oldest township, at night and forcibly assembled residents for meetings.
Ncube said Zanu-PF has “incentivised” killing by paying youths.
“In a country where the economy is so bad that 80% of people are unemployed, it is very easy to buy people. They appear half drunk and crazy. They don’t understand ideology. But they are desperate.”
Hampering the freedom of movement in Harare is the fact that taxis no longer run from “high-density areas” such as Epworth to the city centre because taxi drivers are forced to charge a fixed government fare of Z$500million.
In certain areas you cannot buy foodstuffs or basic essentials without a note from a headman or so-called war veterans authorising the purchase, Ncube said.
“There’s no logic to it—as with during the farm invasions, Zanu-PF has lost control. They’ve really lost it now.
“And I don’t think the violence will die down. It will get worse, even after the elections. Those people suspected of still voting MDC will be hit even harder.”
Read more from Mandy Rossouw
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