Police confirmed today the murder of two officials of a minor political party, the latest in a series of assassinations as Zimbabwe moves toward its first national elections since independence.
The confirmation of the murders followed a government report yesterday that armed dissidents seeking to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe have killed seven people during the past month, all but one of them members of Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). It said state security forces killed seven "bandits" and captured 35 others during the month.
The statistics did not include reports of the killing of at least eight opponents of Mugabe, including the two confirmed dead today and six members of opposition leader Joshua Nkomo's political party. Four allegedly were killed last month by followers of Mugabe in retaliation for the death of a ZANU official in the central Gweru area, while two others died during disturbances in the southern town of Beitbridge following the murder of yet another ZANU official earlier this month.
Mugabe has blamed Nkomo for the deaths, charging last week in Parliament that the opposition leader was encouraging "lawlessness, destruction and destabilization" in an attempt to intimidate Mugabe's followers and gain seats in the election planned for early next year.
Minister of State Security Emmerson Munangagwa told Parliament yesterday the government has evidence that guns used in the slaying two weeks ago of Moven Ndlovu, a senator and member of the ZANU Central Committee, had come from Nkomo's house in the southern city of Bulawayo.
"When the facts come out about who killed comrade Ndlvou, then some of the colleagues here will regret it, in particular Joshua Nkomo himself will regret," said Munangagwa.
Nkomo was not at yesterday's session and has not been available for comment. But in the past he has denied any involvement with the rebels and has accused the government of instigating violence as a pretext for cracking down on political dissent. A spokesman for his Zimbabwe African People's Union, Stephen Nkomo, who is no relation, said yesterday that eight party officials had been murdered since independence in 1980.
In today's announcement, police said Shangwa Mangwengwe and James Magura had been killed. The two were national officials of a splinter group that bears the same name as Mugabe's ZANU party but is under the control of the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole. He is a former ally of Mugabe who broke away when both were officials of one of the liberation movements fighting white rule in what was then Rhodesia.
The bodies of Mangwengwe and Magura were discovered Nov. 15 in Masvingo (formerly Fort Victoria), the scene of rioting and fistfights between supporters of Mugabe and Sithole following Ndlovu's murder on Nov. 9. Police detained 24 of Sithole's supporters following the disturbances. They reportedly still are being held.
Noel Mukono, secretary general of Sithole's party, told reporters that Mangwenge and Magura went to Masvingo on Nov. 14 to visit the detainees and were last seen being escorted into a Land Rover belonging to the provincial branch of ZANU by two men in police uniforms. Their bodies were discovered the next day about 30 miles from town.
A police spokesman said the bodies had broken arms and multiple injuries but he said Mukono's account suggesting the men had been led away by police officers was false.
The report of the deaths follows an incident Sunday in which a top official of Nkomo's party was gunned down on his farm in southwestern Matabeleland. The official, Jini Ntuta, who was also a member of Parliament, was killed by three unidentified "bandits," according to a government spokesman.
Zimbabwe's honorary president, the Rev. Canaan Banana, denounced Ntuta's death in a message of condolence to his family. "One wonders what the perpetrators of such cold-blooded murders hope to achieve," he said. "I want to condemn in the strongest terms this trend toward escalating violence."
Western diplomats and other observers here suggest outbreaks of violence may intensify as the election draws near.
Mugabe won 57 seats to Nkomo's 20 in the 1980 parliamentary election preceding independence. Sithole did not win any seats in that election. He has been in self-imposed exile in London for more than a year, charging that the government planned to detain him. Officials here have denied the charge.