Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change accused President Robert Mugabe’s government of setting up a sham investigation into electoral violence to deflect international criticism. The MDC says 43 of its members have been killed and scores forced from their homes by militias loyal to Mugabe since disputed March elections. It says the violence is intended to throw a June 27 run-off vote pitting Mugabe against the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa proposed joint committees to probe the violence last week, but MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the aggression against opposition followers has continued unabated. Chamisa said his party is prepared to participate in the joint committees set up by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, but also dismissed the move as a damage-control exercise.
“ZANU-PF made those overtures to us because they are now under very serious pressure from the international community to stop the violence they are waging against our structures, but I don’t think they have any intention to stop,” he told Reuters. “The violence has not stopped and MDC supporters are still being brutalized and being forced out of their constituencies as part of the grand plan to rig the elections.” (Reuters, May 20)
These claims are backed up by Amnesty International, which says in a May 16 press release:
Zimbabwean “war veterans” are forcibly recruiting local youths to attack perceived supporters of the opposition as violence in the country reaches crisis levels, Amnesty International has warned.
“Those who refuse to commit violence are assaulted and accused of being MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) supporters by the ‘war veterans’,” said Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty International’s Zimbabwe researcher.
Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that large numbers of ZANU-PF supporters and “war veterans” are assaulting perceived MDC supporters in Mberengwa district in Midlands province and Mazowe district in Mashonaland Central.
In Mberengwa, a large gang of ZANU-PF supporters — most of them youths forcibly recruited by “war veterans” — are going around attacking homes of people suspected of voting for the MDC in the 29 March 2008 elections. A similar gang was reported by an eyewitness in the Chiweshe area in Mazowe district.
Police appear to be unwilling to stop the violence, only acting to arrest MDC supporters suspected of carrying out attacks on perceived ZANU-PF supporters.
“We are particularly worried about people living in more remote rural areas, where violence is taking place away from the spotlight,” said Mawanza. “The situation for these victims of violence is dire. Humanitarian organisations and local non-governmental organisations are being targeted for helping victims, who are being blocked from receiving medical assistance.”
Victims of attacks in rural areas are walking long distances to escape the violence and increasingly seeking refuge in towns and cities. Some schools in rural areas have been forced to close as teachers perceived to be supporters of the MDC flee from the state-sponsored violence.
Amnesty International fears for the safety of Tonderai Ndira, a supporter of the MDC who was reportedly abducted from his home in Mabvuku, a low income suburb of Harare, on 14 May in the early hours of the morning. Reports indicate that nine armed men in plain clothes assaulted him before driving him away while he was still naked in a white Toyota truck. He has not been seen since.
Tonderai Ndira is one of the 32 MDC members who were tortured by state agents while in detention in 2007. He was detained for more than two months in Harare Central Remand Prison before the charges against him were dropped.
Amnesty International has also received a report of the alleged abduction of Sinoia Pfebve (79) and his wife Serena Pfebve (76) on 13 May by people believed to be “war veterans” in the Mukumbura area in Mt. Darwin district, Mashonaland Central province. They are believed to have been taken to Nyakatondo Primary School, where the abductors are camped. The Pfebve family have political connections to the MDC: the couple’s son was an MDC candidate in the parliamentary election in 2000 and a by-election in 2001.
At least 22 people have been killed, and over 900 have been treated for injuries sustained from the violence, since the elections took place. Several hundreds have been hospitalised. Hundreds of families have been forced to flee their homes after they have been burnt by gangs of “war veterans” and ZANU-PF youths.
Amnesty International has called on the Zimbabwean government to publicly denounce all acts of violence by ZANU-PF supporters, “war veterans” and soldiers, as well as by any other party, and work with other political parties to end political violence immediately.
Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai condemned Tuesday “the callous and brutal” attacks on foreigners in South Africa, saying it underlined the need to end the crisis in his homeland.
In a statement issued in Johannesburg where more than 20 people have been killed in xenophobic violence, Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party expressed fears that “Zimbabweans are bearing the brunt of the violence”.
“We must all remember that in southern Africa we are united by a shared history and we have much more in common than we have differences,” Tsvangirai said.
“The MDC believes in African solidarity and regional integration and condemns those self-serving elements behind these attacks on foreign nationals.”
As well as the deaths, the United Nations says 13,000 people have lost their homes since mobs began going on the rampage in impoverished township areas last week.
Their anger has been directed at foreigners whom they claim have been taking jobs from locals and are responsible for sky-high crime rates.
Up to three million Zimbabweans are believed to be in South Africa, having fled the economic meltdown in their homeland where inflation stands at over 165,000 percent and unemployment at 80 percent.
“The violence suffered by Zimbabweans is even more appalling when we remember that these refugees are not here out of choice, but instead are already victims of violence and economic hardship inflicted upon them by the Mugabe regime,” said Tsvangirai.
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