Freedom could not come soon enough

HARARE - Since the widely-condemned one-man presidential run off vote on June 27, Zimbabwe has dropped far down the world agenda, overtaken by events in the Middle East and the presidential election race in the United States of America.

But the situation in the southern African nation has deteriorated steadily since Mugabe’s disputed “landslide” victory.  Human rights workers in Harare described escalating oppression and a situation where the rule of law is disappearing. At a safe location in the city we met three recent victims of torture: two were student activists and the other a farm worker.  

The farm worker said he had been asleep at home some weeks ago when youth militia from the Zanu (PF) party knocked on the door. He was told to get dressed and attend a night rally in support of the ruling party.  

“When I failed to come quickly enough they began to beat me,” he said. “They smashed my teeth and then they dragged me outside. I was beaten on the ground and I thought my life was ending.”  

The man suffered serious stomach and facial injuries. The gang leader also attempted to rape his wife. All of this happened in front of the couple’s young children.  

It is a story being repeated across the country.  

The MDC says 113 of its supporters have been killed, some 5,000 are missing and more than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes since the first round of voting in March.  

At a camp for displaced persons in the bush there were survivors of a militia attack in which hundreds of Zanu (PF) supporters had arrived on a farm and driven the workers out. With nowhere to go, they are now depending on the handouts of local church.  One young mother said during the attack by a militia resplendent in Zanu (PF)’s “100 percent empowerment” T-shirts, she had become separated from her husband and child. She was seized by the gang and was repeatedly raped by seven militia members.  

“I fainted and when I woke up I didn’t know where my child was,” she said.  

Driving across the country, there were fields in which crops withered or which lay untilled because of Mugabe’s onslaught against the few remaining white farms.  

Farmers are selling off their herds of cattle believing that they risk losing them to Mugabe’s supporters. Chickens and goats are being seized and taken to feed youth militia still maintaining bases in the rural areas.  All of this in a country where four million people are facing the threat of starvation.  

The 280 remaining white farmers have been told to leave. They are resisting the orders and are challenging their eviction in the SADC tribunal. Farmer Ben Freethe was carted into court in a wheelchair last week, with a bandage on his head.

He is resisting attempts to drive him off the land.  

Freethe is a fourth generation Zimbabwean married with young children.  

“I have nowhere else to go,” he said. “I worked hard for everything I have and now somebody is going to take it away from me for no good reason.”  

The other few white farmers have given up the fight and are leaving. As we drove from Norton to Chegutu, we became familiar with the sight of removal vans moving along the roads.  

The man many Zimbabweans look to for leadership in this crisis is Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of MDC who won the first poll held on March 29, but fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed to form his own government. His party holds a parliamentary majority from the March 29 poll. However, withering State-backed violence forced him to withdraw from the run off vote on June 27.

However there is a growing sense among many activists that the MDC has failed to rally effectively after its withdrawal from the sham June 27 poll.  

At a press briefing at Tsvangirai’s heavily guarded Harare home in the middle-class suburb of Strathaven, evading the security police who maintain round-the-clock surveillance, Tsvangirai seemed hesitant about leading mass protests and said he worried that public anger would erupt spontaneously.  

“Some of us are now being regarded as conservative for urging restraint,” he said. The MDC leader says he believes in peaceful change. Tsvangirai added that he believed real freedom would come to Zimbabwe but he did not say when. For those suffering hunger and terror, it cannot come soon enough.

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