Plaxedess Mutariswa was a picture of shock and agony. She was remembering the day last month when six men stormed into her home while she was preparing her two children for school, produced a pistol and demanded to know where her husband was. “They thrust a gun on my head,” she said. “I led them to the main bedroom where he was sleeping and they barged in and seized him. That was the last we saw of him alive.”
Tonderai Ndira – Plaxedess’s husband – was an activist with Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Following his abduction by suspected state agents, he was found dead at a farm east of Harare on 22 May. Reuben Ticharewa went to identify Ndira’s body. “His face had been crushed. His tongue was missing,” he said. “It was horrifying.”
Ndira was buried on 25 May at Warren Hills cemetery in Harare. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told mourners at Ndira’s burial that his killing was “a clear testimony of the brutality of this regime”.Tsvangirai promised the assembled crowd that he would defeat Robert Mugabe in the 27 June presidential election run-off. His prospects of winning, however, are rapidly evaporating in a climate of fear and brutality.
Ndira became the face of the unfolding tragedy that Zimbabwe’s run-off has degenerated into, his murder a microcosm of the state-sponsored political violence sweeping across the country. Almost daily, the MDC is reporting and providing evidence of attacks on its supporters. Last week, MDC members and a six-year-old boy were burnt to death in two gruesome attacks in Harare and Mhondoro. This followed similar attacks in Jerera in Masvingo province in which two people were burnt to death. The images of one of the victims, published in a local paper, resembled the pictures of the fatalities of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Mugabe’s regime denies accusations of violence and instead blames the MDC for unleashing a reign of terror on its own members. This is the same line Mugabe’s government used between 1982 and 1987 when faced with similar allegations of killing civilians for political ends.
The current wave of repression has been mainly targeted at opposition leaders and supporters, human rights and civil society activists, journalists and diplomats. Andrew Makoni and Harrison Nkomo, vibrant human rights lawyers, last week fled to South Africa, fearing for their lives. “There is now an entrenched pattern of state-driven violence ahead of the run-off ,” Makoni said. Nkomo commented: “I fled after receiving credible information that as a human rights lawyer I was targeted for liquidation.”
Zanu-PF’s strategy is simple. According to the party’s politburo minutes for 4 April, Mugabe is using a “warlike/military-style strategy” to win the run-off. The whole military machinery has been deployed to campaign for him. “The army is all over the rural areas beating up people and threatening to shoot us if we don’t vote for Mugabe,” said Tichaona Mberi, a Chiweshe villager who last month witnessed the killing of four neighbours. At least 50 others were injured. The Chiweshe bloodbath shocked the country and set alarm bells ringing.
It is a covert but brutal campaign. At least 200 army officers are out campaigning for Mugabe, and the army has sealed off rural areas to block Tsvangirai’s campaign. Last week, the MDC leader had a dramatic, yet barren, few days. He was arrested twice in two days and had his rallies banned. As a result, Tsvangirai’s campaign has lost momentum and become disjointed and incoherent, raising fears of a political collapse.
Dumisani Muleya is news editor of the Zimbabwe Independent