Let the Games Begin

Over the past month Zanu PF has launched its 2008 Presidential and Parliamentary campaign. For a democracy, this campaign has a number of unique features. At its core is an operation to essentially destroy its main rival - the MDC. To this end a campaign of terror and intimidation has been put into effect. Carefully planned and targeted, they are picking up known MDC activists and leadership across the country. They are not giving any heed to the legal niceties - those abducted are being taken to centers where they are beaten and interrogated and then dumped out in the bush, sometimes over 100 kilometers from the places where they were held. The great majority are not charged or brought to Court.

In this campaign, the use of lethal force - a euphemism for the use of live ammunition on unarmed civilians engaged in normal, peaceful, political activity has become commonplace.

At the same time the campaign to control the media has intensified. A number of journalists have been arrested, some deported and others beaten and threatened. A photojournalist who was responsible for many of the images that shocked the world was picked up - beaten so severely that his heart was ruptured, ribs broken and he died from his injuries. His body was dumped in an open field nearly 100 kilometers north of the capital where his injuries were inflicted.

The electronic jamming of foreign radio broadcasts has intensified and the media campaign against the MDC by the State controlled media has been racked up to new, absurd, heights. The propaganda is crude and blatant with little regard to niceties. The Security agencies are also now engaged in a new campaign to discredit the MDC and to justify State claims that we are a terrorist organisation. Fake attacks on Police Stations and on a train were staged and then blamed on MDC activists - in one case the subsequent charges made were laid against individuals who were already in Police custody when the alleged incidents took place. Photographs of 'injured policemen' were so clearly forged that they were laughable. We are not laughing. Zanu PF is fighting for its very life and at stake are the future of the country and the stability of the region at large.

They know full well that their backs are against the wall, that the SADC initiative cannot be ignored and that, horror of horrors, they are going to find themselves in the ring with the MDC in 11 months time and having to fight an election in front of an audience that is not totally subservient to Caesar! So while they have the MDC prisoner in the cells below the Arena they are deliberately starving and beating him so that when he staggers out onto the field against a carefully prepared and nurtured Zanu PF opponent, the latter will have a clear advantage!

The ringmaster in this bit of subterfuge is no less than the President of South Africa and his silence on this issue is shameful. He may have taken on the role of ringmaster on behalf of the region but we are not deceived and we hope the rest of the world is not deceived as well - he is not in any sense neutral. In this game he supports Zanu PF but has reluctantly accepted that the MDC should be given a chance to win power and freedom in an open contest before a watching world.

Yesterday I gave a lift to a young lady, about 17 years old, who had been picked up in Bulawayo on the previous Tuesday. She and another local activist were taken in a Police Truck to Harare - 400 kilometers away. There they were held for 4 days and nights, denied food until Thursday evening, interrogated and beaten. After signing an affidavit setting out what she knew about 'petrol bombings and training young people in South Africa' she was released on Friday afternoon without charge. She was never brought to a Court for remand.

She was taken to hospital for a check up and then accommodated by the MDC in a nearby lodge until I was able to pick her up and take her home. When she got back to Bulawayo she would not go straight back home because she had been warned that the Police were still looking for her. Her mother is a widow - supported by a son in the UK and she herself is a student doing A levels at a local college - mathematics, biology and science. She is typical of the sort of people who are being targeted. She is a member of our local Youth wing.

I remember the two young people who were burned to death in the 2002 campaign, their killers known and identified. No action. The chairman of the Zishavane Town Council. They came to his home at 2 am. Barricaded the front and back doors then threw a military explosive charge into the dining room, destroying the room and setting the house on fire. He was able to break down the back door and get his family out before the house was totally destroyed. No investigations, no subsequent arrests.

Blessing Chibundu, standing against a Zanu PF candidate in Kwe Kwe town, held down by several people in the street, doused with petrol and his hands tied behind his back with wire. When the matches would not ignite, they fled leaving him on the street. His home burnt to the ground with the loss of all his personal goods. He was unable to hold a single meeting in his constituency for the whole campaign - beat his opponent by a margin of three to one. No investigations, no prosecutions, no compensation. Democracy and justice - Zanu PF style.

President Tsvangirai went to the Prison in Harare where 27 of our leadership are being held. He saw them and reported that they were in good spirits and were encouraged by his visit. We are deeply concerned about reports of continued beatings and savage interrogations - some at the hands of individuals who only speak Portuguese! Just who these people are and where they are from is anyone's guess. The one person who had seen them said they were sure they were Angolans.

At Saturday's prayer meeting in Bulawayo, faced with the presence of South African clerics and a very determined Pius Ncube, the Police backed down and it went off peacefully. This should convince the world that 100 per cent of the violence here - in all its forms - is Zanu PF sponsored and is being carried out on the orders of Mr. Mugabe. If they leave us alone, our meetings and marches are not only peaceful; they are characterized by plenty of humor and laughter. Perhaps that is what they fear most.

So now we wait for the South African response to our submissions on what we need for a free and fair contest in this modern arena. If South Africa was genuine in its efforts to see that a fair contest was possible it would step into the ring right now and demand that the MDC be left alone and that we be allowed to prepare and train for the contest in the normal way. They will have to do a lot more than just that to create a level playing field and if they do that, they better be ready to deal with a subsequent MDC victory and all its consequences.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 16th April 2007