|9. May 2008
Hunger is giving a brutal edge to the alleged work of militias implementing Operation Mavhoterapapi (Who did you vote for?), a campaign launched by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government in the wake of the ruling party's loss of its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1980.
The post-election crackdown, allegedly orchestrated by police, soldiers and veterans of the liberation war, has led to widespread reports of torture, the razing of houses and killing of livestock, perpetrated mainly against people in rural areas suspected of voting for the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change.
Sergeant Mungofa (not his real name), 44, was previously stationed at the army headquarters in the capital, Harare, but within days of the 29 March poll was sent to rural Matabeleland South Province, where he leads a team of militias.
Mungofa's eight-member team is alleged to have set alight the homes and food stocks of perceived MDC supporters, leaving a trail of destruction that has forced entire families to seek refuge in the bush or to flee to larger towns and cities.
"From the orders and briefings that I received from my superior in the province, a lieutenant-colonel, the war is just beginning. MDC supporters have to be flushed out before the run-off presidential election," he told IRIN.
The official tally in the presidential election, only published last week after a delay of more than a month, put MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who garnered 47.9 percent of the vote, ahead of incumbent Robert Mugabe, who took 43.2 percent. A minimum of 50 percent plus one vote was needed to avoid a second round of voting for the presidency.
The youth were particularly easy to seduce, especially in times of want, according to David Chimhini, president of the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust. It was easy to woo the young militias by promising them material things and giving them "a sense of usefulness".
"ZANU PF is dangling short-term gains to the youths, who fall prey because of the current poverty. Systematic propaganda is being employed, and when they are given guns and military uniforms, that gives them a new image, albeit a bad one," Chimhini told IRIN.
Sergeant Mungofa alleged that his team and others like it had not been supplied with sufficient food rations or money, and this had driven them to looting.
"Maiming people or killing them for supporting the MDC are two evils that we are fully aware of, but because of the hunger that we are suffering, the torment against those villagers is going even further. We are being forced to raid the people for food and other material belongings that we can lay our hands on in order to keep going," he claimed.
Maiming people or killing them for supporting the MDC are two evils that we are fully aware of, but because of the hunger we are suffering, the torment against those villagers is going even further. We are being forced to raid the people for food Instead of just burning down granaries or torching livestock, he alleged that the militias were now resorting to slaughtering cattle to feed themselves and selling the remains for cash. Any reserves of grain stored by subsistence farmers after the meagre harvest were also taken, he alleged. "People would be better advised to remove their belongings to secure places because, the way I see it, even wardrobes, blankets and pots will be seized in the coming few weeks," Mungofa said.
The military has denied any involvement in the violence. "The Zimbabwe National Army wishes to raise concerns over articles being published in the print and the electronic media on allegations relating to the alleged political violence, assaults, harassment and robberies perpetrated by men in army uniforms. The army categorically distances itself and any of its members from such activities," army spokesman Alphios Makotore said.
According to an army captain based in the Dema district of Mashonaland East Province, about 70km south of Harare, who chose to remain anonymous, there was division among the ranks, with the lower ranks opposing the violence.
He alleged that support for the campaign came from higher up, mainly from veterans of Zimbabwe's independence war, "because they have been given big farms, have the latest cars, enjoy fat salaries and allowances, and know that political change will take all those things away", the captain claimed.
"This is bad. People should not be killed for supporting a political party that is recognised by the law. The unfortunate thing is that, being in a military establishment, you just have to follow orders." He also claimed that in a number of cases, victims were simply labelled as MDC supporters if they owned something a soldier wanted.
According to Thokozani Khupe, deputy president of the opposition, "20 MDC supporters have been killed by ZANU-PF militias, while over 5,000 families have been displaced, with over 1,000 homes burnt or destroyed" and more than 2,000 opposition activists hospitalised across the country.