|Major Parties Predict Matebeleland
by Hugh McCullum
Harare, 20 June 2000
Both major political parties in South-western Zimbabwe predicted outright victories in the three Matebeleland provinces and in the country's second largest city. And both the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union -- Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) and the newly-formed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) blamed the other for the violence and intimidation that has disrupted the election campaign.
Political observers in the civil society organizations, some of them Reluctant to be quoted by name, assessed the industrial city's mood as fearful and tense while rural voters were unwilling to talk about politics at all. "We just want this to be over so we can go back to our lives. It is too much what is happening here, a young mother said.
"All Zimbabwe's elections have been violent and there has always been voter intimidation, especially since 1985," said Vincent Ndlovu, regional coordinator of the Church/NGO Civic Education Project. "But this one is different. The war veterans have frightened many people with their land invasions and violence, the MDC is the first opposition party to field 120 candidates -- one for each constituency -- but people are also anxious for change."
He added that a country born of armed struggle only 20 years ago, is bound to have violent elections "because our leaders on all sides think change can only come through intimidation."
Ndlovu said that while voter intimidation would continue right up to the election days, June 24 and 25, people in his organization have worked in all constituencies, both rural and urban and the voters "know what they are going to do." Trying to scare them won't work.
Other civic groups such as the local branch of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Legal Resource Centre and the Zimbabwe Women and Law Society, worried that the violent campaign could create considerable voter apathy.
"People in this part of Zimbabwe still remember the civil war, the Fifth Brigade and the killings and atrocities during the Matabeland insurrection. They, more than most of the rest of country, do not want a return of this violence," a ZWLA lawyer said.
The Matabeleland regional administrator for MDC, Joubert Mangena, accused ZANU-PF of waging a terror campaign "because it is the only tool they have. They are dragging our supporters and volunteers out of their houses in front of their wives and children and taking them away where they are beaten and tortured."
Mangena was reluctant to blame only the war veterans for all MDC's problems. He said many genuine war veterans also belonged to MDC and acknowledged that the veterans of the liberation war had a genuine complaint about land redistribution.
"We agree that land is the issue, it is the way ZANU PF is going about it that we oppose." He also said the people of Bulawayo were suffering from the impact of country's declining economy more than most cities.
"Here we need jobs, we need help from the central government, we need water and people are fed up. Change is what they want."
He accused the leadership of the country of taking the people for granted "but they will get a surprise on election day."
Across town at ZANU PF headquarters, it was a much different story. Political commissar for Matabeleland Sainath Dube admitted election emotions were at a fever pitch but "we are the ones who have a real momentum going."
He admitted there had been an outbreak of violence last weekend when President Robert Mugabe addressed a rally of 70,000 people. (Ndlovu insisted the stadium held only 15,000 and was not full.)
Dube said MDC supporters burned buses, fire-bombed a war veterans office and frightened people away by stone-throwing and the use of iron bars and axes. "Ask the 200 international observers, they saw it.
"It has been quiet here for the last two months until this last big rally, then MDC took after us in desperation."
He acknowledged the tension in the three provinces but felt certain that the 30,000 police to be deployed around the country would maintain law and order. Asked about on-going recollections of the troubles of the 1980s, Dube bristled.
"I am a victim of the Fifth Brigade, I was tortured, imprisoned and have the scars to show for it. But when our leaders of ZANU PF and PF ZAPU signed the unity accords we accepted that peace and unity were the only future for Zimbabwe and we have stayed with that ever since."
Dube said attempts to revive ZAPU were a failure, "going nowhere. "They cannot revive the revolutionary spirit of the old days, that remains with ZANU PF. We are the true revolutionaries and we have one goal and that is equitable redistribution of land and we are still ready to die for that ideal."
The political commissar predicted a total victory for his party in Matabeleland. "We cannot be stopped." he said.
Few others except Mangena would come close to any prediction of the outcome of this fifth parliamentary election but most ordinary people felt Zimbabwe was at a political crossroads.
Unlike previous opposition movements which have usually collapsed after defeat at the polls, MDC seems to have the resources to withstand a defeat and will play, its supporters here say, a constructive role in opposition.
But the possibility of continued intimidation and revenge following the election was high on many peoples' concerns.
"Law and order has broken down, we are developing a soft attitude towards law-breakers and that can only lead to chaos and anarchy," said Norma Mangaba. "This is damaging our respect for police, courts and our relations to each other. This will lead to chaos."
Gloria Chinamatira talked about the tension "we feel in the air. We don't know what is going to happen next. Those young kids fighting each other and causing riots don't remember the 1980s and the war and what happened to our grandparents and parents. We saw them taken away and we learned later they were killed or dumped in mine shafts."
Ndlovu, whose civic education program has reached into all constituencies, says that contrary to media reports there has been little campaigning aside from a few rallies.
"The campaign has taken the form of quiet intimidation. People are hauled out of their houses and beaten, farm workers are having their identity cards stolen and people are given misinformation about the secrecy of their ballot."
He says voter education helps clarify some of these issues but people are afraid.
"We have not had the many land invasions here that there are in Mashonaland because we have less farmland and more rangeland so there is less intimidation of farm workers. It is in Bulawayo's townships where the damage is being done."
This is the territory of the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo, the father of the nation, and the man who signed the unity accords with Robert Mugabe in 1987. His influence is often invoked by both sides and, said one elderly woman, he is watching us and I do not think he likes what he sees." (SARDC)
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