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Inside Mugabe's Violent Crackdown

Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, Zimbabwe's military chief, right, congratulates President Robert Mugabe at the swearing-in Sunday. It was Chiwenga's reelection plan, with a military-style campaign against the opposition, that Mugabe rode to victory.
Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, Zimbabwe's military chief, right, congratulates President Robert Mugabe at the swearing-in Sunday. It was Chiwenga's reelection plan, with a military-style campaign against the opposition, that Mugabe rode to victory. (By Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi -- Associated Press)
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That changed May 5 in the remote farming village of Chaona, located 65 miles north of the capital, Harare. The village of dirt streets had voted for Tsvangirai in the election's first round after decades of supporting Mugabe.

On the evening of May 5 -- three days after Mugabe's government finally released the official results of the March 29 election -- 200 Mugabe supporters rampaged through its streets. By the time the militia finished, seven people were dead and the injured bore the hallmarks of a new kind of political violence.

Women were stripped and beaten so viciously that whole sections of flesh fell away from their buttocks. Many had to lie facedown in hospital beds during weeks of recovery. Men's genitals became targets. The official postmortem report on Chaona opposition activist Aleck Chiriseri listed crushed genitals among the causes of death. Other men died the same way.

At the funerals for Chiriseri and the others, opposition activists noted the gruesome condition of the corpses. Some in the crowds believed soldiers trained in torture were behind the killings, not the more improvisational ruling-party youth or liberation war veterans who traditionally served as Mugabe's enforcers.

"This is what alerted me that now we are dealing with professional killers," said Shepherd Mushonga, a top opposition leader for Mashonaland Central province, which includes Chaona.

Mushonga, a lawyer whose unlined face makes him look much younger than his 48 years, won a seat in parliament in the March vote on the strength of a village-by-village organization that Tsvangirai's party had worked hard to assemble in rural Mashonaland.

After Chaona, Mushonga turned that organization into a defense force for his own village, Kodzwa. Three dozen opposition activists, mostly men in their 20s and 30s, took shifts patrolling the village at night. The men armed themselves with sticks, shovels and axes small enough to slip into their pants pockets, Mushonga said.

The same militias that attacked Chaona worked their way gradually south through the rural district of Chiweshe, hitting Jingamvura, Bobo and, in the predawn hours of May 28, Kodzwa, where about 200 families live between two rivers.

When about 25 ruling-party militia members attempted to enter the village along its two dirt roads, Mushonga said, his patrols blew whistles, a prearranged signal for women, children and the elderly to flee south across one of the rivers to the relative safety of a neighboring village.

Over the next few hours, the two rival groups moved through Kodzwa's dark streets. Shortly after dawn, Mushonga's 46-year-old brother, Leonard, and about 10 other opposition activists cornered five of the ruling-party militia members. One of the militia members was armed with a bayonet, another a traditional club known as a knobkerrie.

In the scuffle, Leonard Mushonga and his group prevailed, beating the five intruders severely. But he said that this small, rare victory revealed evidence that elements of the army had been deployed against them.

One of the ruling-party men, Leonard Mushonga said, carried a military identification badge. In a police report on the incident, which led to the arrest of 26 opposition activists, the soldier was identified as Zacks Kanhukamwe, 47, a member of the Zimbabwe National Army. A second man, Petros Nyguwa, 45, was listed as a sergeant in the army.


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