Page 2 of 2   <      

Though Widespread Brutality Has Ebbed in Zimbabwe, Political Violence Simmers and Threatens to Reignite

In Zaka, where the MDC won several parliamentary seats held by the ruling party, tensions remain high. Harrison Mudzuri, who barely captured one of the posts, said intimidation of his supporters is "rife."

But the supporters, he said, are simmering with anger at the neighbors who they say carried out the attacks and should be punished. The power-sharing deal does mention prosecution of perpetrators.

"Truly speaking, the issue of amnesty is not in our vocabulary," Mudzuri said.

Tsumele, his uncle said, was campaigning for what MDC supporters thought might finally become a reality: a victory that would deliver democracy to Zimbabwe and international aid to help Zaka, a drought-stricken area in southern Zimbabwe, where most people are subsistence farmers and survive on donated food.

Instead, a gang of gun-wielding ZANU-PF supporters came to the opposition office in the tiny town of Jerera at 3 a.m. They shot one young man, forced the others onto the ground, sprinkled them with fuel and lit a match, Mudzuri and witnesses said. Tsumele, his clothes in flames, ran more than two miles to a hospital, then spent five months recovering at a hospital in Harare. Three people were killed.

Though months have passed, the incident remains fresh in Zaka. Lawrence Tsumele said he cannot count the number of times his ZANU-PF neighbors have told him they are "not done" with his family. Alice Chigudu, Tsumele's mother, said an old woman recently sneered at her MDC T-shirt and said, "That's why you were burned."

"We are very bitter," Chigudu, 45, said quietly, speaking inside her thatched-roof hut. "If I see someone with a ZANU-PF T-shirt, I get very angry and agitated. At times, tears run down my cheeks."

But she smiled as she explained that her side is not simply taking the harassment. Many are demanding the return of chickens and grain they say were stolen by opponents before the elections, she said. And at an August party in honor of a deceased ancestor, she said, she watched as about 20 MDC loyalists beat a ZANU-PF supporter so badly that he was "taken away in a wheelbarrow."

"It was revenge," she said. "It was one of the perpetrators of violence before the elections. So the MDC supporters were avenging for his evil deeds."

From his bed, where he listens to a radio and pages through a 1986 issue of National Geographic magazine, Tsumele said he would like to do the same to Mugabe.

"Tsvangirai should be in power!" said Tsumele, his face wrapped in bandages, his burned skin wrinkled and scarred. "It is very unfair."

Edison Gwenhure, 28, who also survived the fuel attack, speaks with less confidence. To get from one place to another, he zigzags through the dusty countryside, avoiding the homes of ruling party backers he fears might abduct him. Gwenhure sleeps at relatives' homes at night, "so that if anything happens, it will happen in the eyes of others," he said, his gaze cemented to the ground as he fiddled with his shoelaces.

A few weeks ago, Gwenhure said, he was sitting in a shop in Jerera with a friend when two older men passed by. He recognized them as Mugabe supporters. They laughed at his burns.

"One said: 'That is not enough. We should have done something worse,' " Gwenhure said.

Before June, he had a bicycle-repair business. But he had to abandon it because his hands were deformed by fire, and his left foot, shot at by one of the attackers, is missing four toes. Last year, he harvested corn. This year, as is the case across Zimbabwe, there is no seed. He gets by on the charity of relatives.

Gwenhure said he does not regret campaigning for the MDC, and he thinks a political solution still could come. But he is worried.

"Our hope has been dashed off. We were hoping that things would normalize and get better. Now we are desperate," he said. "And the situation can get worse. Violence could return."


<       2

© 2008 The Washington Post Company