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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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It was the first time since the March vote, one party official recalled, that Mugabe laughed in public.

'Nothing to Go Back To'

The opposition's resistance in Chiweshe gradually withered under intensifying attacks by ruling-party militias. After the stalemate in Kodzwa, the militias continued moving south in June, finally reaching Manomano in the region's southwestern corner.

The opposition leader in Manomano was Gibbs Chironga, 44, who had won a seat in the local council as part of Tsvangirai's first-round landslide in the area. The Chirongas were shopkeepers with a busy store in Manomano. To defend that store, they kept a pair of shotguns on hand.

On June 20, a week before the runoff election, Mugabe's militias arrived in Manomano with an arsenal that had grown increasingly advanced as the vote approached.

Some carried AK-47 assault rifles, which are standard issue for Zimbabwe's army. For the attack on Manomano, witnesses counted six of the weapons.

About 150 militia members, some carrying the rifles, circled the Chironga family home. Gibbs Chironga fired warning shots from his shotgun, relatives and other witnesses recalled. Yet the militiamen kept coming. They broke open the ceiling with a barrage of rocks, then used hammers to batter down the walls.

When Gibbs Chironga emerged, a militia member shot him with an AK-47, said Hilton Chironga, his 41-year-old brother, who was wounded by gunfire. Gibbs died soon after.

His brother, sister and mother were beaten, then handcuffed and forced to drink a herbicide that burned their mouths and faces, relatives said.

Both Hilton Chironga and his 76-year-old mother, Nelia Chironga, were taken to the hospital in Harare, barely able to eat or speak. The whereabouts of Gibbs Chironga's sister remain unknown. The family home was burned to the ground.

"There's nothing to go back to at home," Hilton Chironga said softly, a bandage covering the wounds on his face and a pair of feeding tubes snaking into his nostrils.

"Even if I go back, they'll finish me off. That is what they want," he said.

Two days later, as Mugabe's militias intensified their attacks, Tsvangirai dropped out of the race.

Groups of ruling-party youths took over a field on the western edge of downtown Harare where he was attempting to have a rally, and soon after, he announced that the government's campaign of violence had made it impossible for him to continue. Privately, opposition officials said the party organization had been so damaged that they had no hope of winning the runoff vote.

On election day, Mugabe's militias drove voters to the polls and tracked through ballot serial numbers those who refused to vote or who cast ballots for Tsvangirai despite his boycott.

The 84-year-old leader took the oath of office two days later, for a sixth time. He waved a Bible in the air and exchanged congratulatory handshakes with Chiwenga, whose reelection plan he had adopted more than two months before, and the rest of his military leaders.

About the same time, a 29-year-old survivor of the first assault in Chaona, Patrick Mapondera, emerged from the hospital. His wife, who had also been badly beaten, was recovering from skin grafts to her buttocks. She could sit again.

Mapondera had been the opposition chairman for Chaona and several surrounding villages. If and when the couple returns home, he said, he does not expect to take up his job again.

"They've destroyed everything," he said.


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