|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
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- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
From The Sunday Telegraph (UK), 20 January
My brush with Zanu mob rule on the election trail of terror
Robert Mugabe’s strategy is simple: to intimidate his people into re-electing him. On a lonely country road, Philip Sherwell ran into one of the teenage gangs that are now spreading fear throughout Zimbabwe.
A gang of teenage boys, young men and a few slightly older women emerged suddenly from the shoulder-high grass as we drove along the bumpy road. Clubs and sticks held threateningly aloft, they surrounded the car, pounded the bonnet and screamed at us to produce our Zanu PF membership cards and deliver the party salute. It was an intimidating introduction to electioneering in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. Supporters of his ruling Zanu PF party last week turned swathes of rural Zimbabwe into no-go zones at the start of a brutal campaign to return the ageing autocrat to power in the presidential poll in March. Zanu youth brigades and so-called war veterans sealed off country towns, beat up activists from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and, in a new wave of land invasions, hounded out white farmers who support the MDC. In a further act of intimidation, thousands of farmers have this weekend been ordered by police to hand in their legally registered firearms. The strategy is to restrict the MDC to its urban strongholds and terrorise rural areas into backing Mr Mugabe. Even by Zimbabwe's recent violent standards, it has plunged the country into new depths of political brutality.
We followed the trail of terror that party youths have wreaked across Zanu's heartlands north of Harare in recent days. The attacks were conducted as Mr Mugabe promised his fellow southern African leaders at a summit in Malawi that he would end the violence and guarantee free and fair elections. The ringleaders in most incidents, we were told, were products of the notorious Border Gezi youth training camp on which this newspaper reported last week. It now emerges that smaller camps have also been set up in schools and public halls across the north. The government says the camps provide "civic training" for young men. The opposition insists that they teach political terror tactics. Roadblocks are a key weapon. This is how we ran into trouble.
As a mob of about 25 swarmed around our vehicle, I nervously wound down my window a few inches. Amid the chaos, a swaggering man, aged about 20 and wearing a baggy red T-shirt and torn trousers, leant against my door and told me he was in charge. "We are Zanu PF youth," he announced. "Where is your Zanu PF membership card?" My efforts to explain that I was a visitor from Britain were drowned out by his cohorts. Eventually, after showing my passport and convincing them that I did not live in Zimbabwe, the youth responded curtly: "In our country, everyone has to carry a Zanu PF card, even if they are only a visitor. It's the rule." Only when I asked how, if that was the case, I could buy one did he ease off. We would have to return the next day, he explained. Just as we thought we had extricated ourselves, the shouting and chanting started again. "Give the Zanu PF salute," barked another gang member with staring eyes. He clenched his fist and punched the air. We followed suit with a lack of enthusiasm that clearly did not please him. Before he could order us to repeat our performance, however, a pick-up truck carrying a burly white farmer pulled up behind us and the mob turned their attention to a new target. As we drove away, we could see him being made to toyi-toyi (dance and shout Zanu slogans) by the crowd.
Nerve-racking as our experience was on a quiet country road, it was nothing compared with the terror that the youth brigades and "war veterans" have unleashed on MDC supporters in rural towns. In Chinhoyi, 80 miles north-west of Harare, victims of last week's rampages have sought refuge at the party's cramped offices. Ray Mutematsaka, a teacher from the small farming town of Trelawney, had walked for five hours through the night. A gang of youths led by two "war veterans" had burst into his house the previous day, tied him up and beaten him across his back and buttocks. He managed to escape by slipping out through a window after asking to visit the lavatory. "They knew that I am an MDC district secretary, but they still asked me for my Zanu PF card," he said. "The war veterans said I was a traitor and ordered the youths to discipline me. I recognised many of them as my former students. They beat me and said that I should be killed as an example to the others." Similar stories were told at MDC offices in the smaller farming communities of Mutorashanga and Raffingora, which were also attacked and ransacked. Henry Muwungani, 23, had his arm in a sling following the Mutorashanga attack and also said that he feared for his life if he returned. MDC leaders acknowledge that the latest terror offensive will make it impossible for them to campaign in rural areas. They remain positive, however, insisting that the Zanu tactics will backfire. "They are doing our campaigning for us," said Roy Bennett, a senior MDC MP. "We could hardly have been more effective ourselves. They are driving even more voters to us."
Zimbabwe Warned on Land Pact, Risks EU Sanctions
By Stella Mapenzauswa
HARARE (Reuters) - Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo warned on Monday that a deal he brokered last year to stop often violent land grabs in Zimbabwe risked collapse as the worsening crisis heightened concerns among Harare's neighbors.
Obasanjo's warning came as European Union diplomats signaled that Zimbabwe's general willingness to invite foreign observers to the country's presidential election on March 9-10 was insufficient to ward off sanctions.
Obasanjo, on a brief visit to Zimbabwe, made the comments as Zimbabwean police patrolled the streets of the southern city of Bulawayo a day after at least 20 people were injured in clashes involving opponents of President Robert Mugabe.
The violence in Zimbabwe's second city on Sunday was the first major clash this year between Mugabe's supporters and the opposition ahead of the poll in which Mugabe faces the toughest challenge of his 22-year rule.
The growing crisis in Zimbabwe has raised concerns among its neighbors, including South Africa where President Thabo Mbeki said on Monday "the instability has gone on for far too long."
Obasanjo met with Mugabe and opposition politicians to discuss a deal reached in Abuja, Nigeria, in September aimed at ending a crisis spawned by the invasions of white-owned farms over the past two years by pro-government militants.
"Parties to the Abuja Agreement should work toward ensuring that the agreement does not become a dead letter and make it work," state-run radio said in commentary on Obasanjo's remarks.
Nigerian officials said talks with Mugabe also included Zimbabwe's controversial media bill -- expected to be debated in parliament on Tuesday -- which bans foreigners from working as journalists in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe accuses foreign news organizations and the private media in Zimbabwe of backing a campaign by his opponents locally and abroad to topple him in retaliation for the land seizures.
Mugabe promised regional leaders a week ago to hold free and fair presidential elections and allow foreign media and independent poll observers to cover the vote.
Western and some African governments are placing Mugabe and his lieutenants under increasing pressure over the way they are governing Zimbabwe, its human rights record and its introduction of laws seen impeding opposition to its rule.
Diplomatic sources said EU diplomats in Brussels would continue to press until next Monday for detailed, practical commitments from the Zimbabwean government to allow full EU monitoring and free media coverage of the poll.
EU officials were also preparing the ground for a possible assets freeze and visa ban against Mugabe and senior officials, diplomats said.
Mbeki told reporters in Pretoria on Monday: "The levels of poverty and conflict are increasing, and if you add to that a fraudulent election, it has to be avoided."
"The critical challenge is to do whatever needs to be done to make sure you have free and fair elections. We, this region, must do everything to assist the people of Zimbabwe," he said.
Ghana openly criticized its long-standing ally with Foreign Minister Hackman Owusu-Agyyeman accusing the Harare government of passing "oppressive laws."
Zimbabwe's economy is in its fourth straight year of recession, with inflation and unemployment at all-time highs.
The Central Statistics Office said on Monday the consumer price index rose by a record 112.1 percent in the year to December, due to higher prices for food, rent and rates.
State media reported that the government's grain board had impounded more than 36,000 tons of maize from commercial farmers, accusing them of hoarding and that the country was set to receive its first maize imports from South Africa.
LAND DEAL IN JEOPARDY
Farmers and critics say Mugabe has largely ignored the Abuja Agreement to end the land chaos which has left nine white farmers dead, scores of black farm workers assaulted and thousands of others displaced since February 2000.
Under the pact, Harare agreed to end the invasions in return for financial help from former colonial power Britain for a fair and orderly land reform program.
Mugabe, who insists his government is respecting the accord, says some 4,500 white farmers occupy 70 percent of Zimbabwe's best farmland. He wants to seize at least 8.3 million hectares of the 12 million in white hands.
Obasanjo said a report by a United Nations team which visited Zimbabwe in December may help move land reform forward and speed the release of British funds, state radio said.
Obasanjo also met opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who poses a serious challenge to Mugabe in the March polls. An MDC official said Obasanjo told Tsvangirai that Mugabe had promised him he would end the political violence which has heightened ahead of the polls.
Obasanjo's arrival on Sunday was preceded by violence in which thousands of people were teargassed when police and ruling ZANU-PF party militants broke up an MDC rally in Bulawayo.