Wednesday, June 11, 2008

the reign of thuggery

from the ny review of books.


But it is one of the hallmarks of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe that periods of relative calm and normality can be suddenly, even viciously upended. For days, the opposition—and the press—had been lulled into a sense of security. Mugabe's secret police were still on the payroll, but it was as if they had received orders not to intervene in the democratic process, but had been ordered, perhaps, simply to observe. Then, as has happened so often in the past, the atmosphere palpably changed. I flew out of Zimbabwe, via the southern city of Bulawayo, on April 3, after it became clear that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, clearly under pressure from the ZANU-PF, was determined to drag out the vote counting for weeks. As I waited at Bulawayo's tiny terminal for a flight to Johannesburg, I was approached by an old friend, David Coltart, an opposition leader and one of two white members of Zimbabwe's Parliament, who whispered a warning that it was premature to drop my guard. "This place is crawling with CIO agents," he said. Coltart, who was on his way to deliver a lecture at Oxford University, added: "You can't feel entirely safe until you're on the plane—in the air."

That same afternoon, Mugabe reasserted control and the crackdown on the opposition began. Police raided Haven House, the MDC's dilapidated headquarters in downtown Harare, as well as MDC suites at the Meikles, seizing documents, and arresting and beating up opposition members. At the same time, dozens of riot police and CIO agents surrounded the York Lodge, which I had checked out of only the day before. Two correspondents, The New York Times's Barry Bearak and the Sunday Telegraph contributor Stephen Bevan, with whom I had shared a car for the past week, were arrested on charges of "committing journalism," interrogated, and imprisoned for four days. Tsvangirai, who had emerged from his safe house on April 2 to all but proclaim an MDC victory, was gone again. And hundreds of so-called War Veterans were mobilized by Mugabe and came out in full force in the streets of several cities.

Since then, the ruling party's tactics have taken an increasingly vicious turn. According to the Movement for Democratic Change, forty-three supporters have been murdered and hundreds injured in the past six weeks. Thousands have been forced to flee their homes in a drive reminiscent of Operation Murambatsvina, Mugabe's 2005 "slum clearance" campaign that destroyed the homes and livelihoods of 700,000 people, almost all of them MDC supporters. A report by the US State Department Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor stated:

Soldiers, police, war veterans and youth militia loyal to the ruling party have been deployed in rural areas throughout Zimbabwe to systematically intimidate voters through killings, beatings, looting of property, burning of homes and public humiliation.
On the evening of May 5, ruling-party thugs descended on three villages in Mashonaland Central province, a former Mugabe stronghold that had turned decisively against the dictator on March 29. Repeating a pattern that has been seen throughout rural Zimbabwe, villagers were summoned to a "reeducation meeting," where they were forced to denounce the MDC and pledge their allegiance to the ZANU-PF. Then names were called, and those singled out were hustled into the darkness. "Next we heard the whips and screams," a witness named Bernard Pungwe said, describing a night-long rampage that left six MDC supporters dead and dozens injured.....

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