Mugabe Support, Violence Returns

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Alexander Joe / AFP / Getty

President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabwe's "war veterans" are on the march again. The militant government supporters who claim to have fought in the country's liberation struggle (although many of them are clearly too young to have done so) achieved notoriety for their land invasions that launched President Robert Mugabe's move to nationalize white-owned farms in 2000 — and, also, as violent enforcers for the ruling party, particularly at election time. So, as Zimbabwe waits to hear the results of a presidential election held 10 days ago in which the ruling party clearly suffered major setbacks, groups identifying themselves as "war veterans" went on the rampage near Zimbabwe's third largest city, Mutare, on Monday, attacking opposition sympathizers and activists. And the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which claims to have won the election, alleged that its supporters have faced similar violence nationwide.

Around 60 families were forced to leave their homes as pro-government activists began threatening and intimidating opponents of Mugabe in the constituency known as Mutasa South, north of Mutare. White commercial farmers were also targeted by the mobs, with landowners given 10 hours to leave their property or face retribution. The pro-government activists handed out letters, signed by the "war veterans" in Manicaland province, warning that anyone celebrating the victory claimed by the opposition in the election — even as the government delays the release of the results — would face violent retribution. One letter read: "If you are celebrating the outcome of the harmonized elections partial results in unison with your brethren before the outcome of the final polls, be advised you risk vacating that location unceremoniously forthwith within 10 hours from this moment."

Last Friday, around 400 "war veterans" marched through central Harare with a police escort, after which their leader Jabulani Sibanda ominously warned, in response to the prospect of the election unseating Mugabe, that they would be "forced to defend our sovereignty."

"People are being beaten for supporting the MDC," said MP Misheck Kagurabadza, the newly elected member of parliament for South Mutasa. He has made an urgent appeal for food, medicine and blankets for the evicted families.

Kagurabadza had reported the crimes to Penhalonga Police Station, north of Mutare. He named the government supporters who he claimed had instigated the violence in the area. One local reporter, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "People are worried here and don't know when the next attack is going to happen. These people want to teach the MDC a lesson, and people are very frightened."

According to Zimbabwe Electoral Commission figures, Kagurabadza romped to victory in the local vote on March 29, winning 8,207 votes compared to the Zanu-PF candidate's 3,409 and 412 for an independent. But, he claims, even in the run-up to the election, several of his campaign workers were attacked by Zanu-PF supporters and forced to flee their homes.

The Commercial Farmers Union Monday said 60 farmers had been forced off their land in a countrywide campaign of intimidation since the election. In an emotional interview with the government-controlled Herald newspaper published on Monday, beleaguered President Robert Mugabe said: "Land must remain in our hands. The land is ours, it must not be allowed to slip back into the hands of whites."