Friday, November 24, 2006

Anger mounts in Matabeleland

Mpofu said it is the young people, more militant and vocal than their elders, who seem certain to resist another election won by Mugabe - who has been in power for more than 26 years - and his party.

Tired of their region being neglected and lagging behind in development, several organisations representing the interests of the minority Ndebele people, who have never felt they fully belong to independent Zimbabwe, have mushroomed. The Ndebele, offshoots of the Zulu people of South Africa, constitute about 16 per cent of the 11.5 million population of Zimbabwe: the Shona, concentrated in the north and east, account for about 70 per cent of the population.

Some of the organisations are calling for regime change and will back any party that has a strategy to remove Mugabe from power. Others want Matabeleland to be an independent state. Apart from what they see as the Mugabe's government's deliberate negligence of the region, they accuse the head of state of having attempted to exterminate its people during widespread massacres in the 1980s by his personal military hit squad, the notorious North Korean-trained 5th Brigade.

The 3500-strong 5th Brigade, made up entirely of men from Mugabe's own Shona ethnic group, massacred some 20,000 villagers and tortured and assaulted countless others in a ruthless crackdown on the Ndebeles beginning in January 1983. Mugabe said Operation Gukurahundi (a Shona word meaning, "The early strong rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rains.") had been necessary to weed out Ndebele dissidents who wanted to topple him.

Political scientist Dr John Makumbe, a Shona and a representative in Zimbabwe of the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, said, "They (the Ndebele) are now more militant and vocal than ever before because of the hardships they have been experiencing. The whole country is in trouble, but they feel that they are worse off. They want to kick out the government and Mugabe."

Makumbe, based in Harare, added, "People in Matabeleland are more united and can mobilise each other more effectively than in any other parts of the country. There is a strong sense of coordination and mobilisation in Bulawayo."

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