Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 8, 2008
JOHANNESBURG, May 7 -- Gangs of youths loyal to Zimbabwe's ruling party beat to death 11 opposition activists in a remote town this week in an escalation of post-election violence, opposition party officials and witnesses said Wednesday.
Two large truckloads of youths, led by two senior members of President Robert Mugabe's party, marauded through Chiweshe, a rural area about 90 miles north of the capital, Harare, and beat prominent opposition members with branches, gun butts, bicycle chains and whips, party officials said. Four of the victims were teachers, and at least two were elderly.
Several calls to police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena were not answered, though telephone service in Zimbabwe is often poor, one of many elements of the country's infrastructure that has deteriorated in recent years.
Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said the deaths brought to at least 32 the number of opposition activists killed in the past two weeks. Thousands of others have been beaten, tortured, arrested, kidnapped or chased from their homes since the March 29 election, opposition officials say.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the election but failed to reach the majority necessary for a first-round victory, according to official results. A second vote has not yet been scheduled, but violence has been most prevalent in areas that supported the opposition.
The attacks have been especially vicious in areas, such as Chiweshe, that once were strongholds of Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, but supported Tsvangirai in the election.
The youths "converged and they attacked," said Shepherd Mushonga, a lawyer and newly elected opposition member of parliament who visited Chiweshe on Wednesday. He spoke extensively with witnesses, including several relatives of the victims, and provided a list of the 11 people who were killed. Two of the victims were his relatives, Mushonga said.
Mushonga said the violence was intended to weaken opposition resolve ahead of a possible runoff presidential election.
In the neighborhood where the 11 people were killed Monday, Mushonga said, Tsvangirai got 70 votes, compared with 15 for Mugabe.
"They want to instill as much fear as possible so either you run away and don't vote, or you succumb and vote for the ruling party," Mushonga said.
A close relative of one of the victims, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared he could be assaulted, said he received a text message on his cellphone Monday night saying that the relative had been "murdered by ZANU-PF youth."
When he arrived in Chiweshe on Tuesday, he found his relative's body severely battered and bloodied. Funerals are scheduled to begin Thursday.
"When people do that to people, it's not even human," the man said. "I don't know what will happen tomorrow."