Support Zanu-PF or else

Mercedes Sayagues, one of two foreign journalists deported from Zimbabwe, describes the brutal methods the government uses.

DEREK MANO SAT dejectedly at his desk when I walked into his office in early January. A senior civil servant at the ministry of information in Harare, every year Mano processed the accreditation of foreign corespondents. Not any more. Mano has received a retrenchment notice and is threatened with the loss of his meagre pension benefits after 20 years of work. It is clear why: he supports the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Only a year earlier, Mano was beaming about the results of the constitutional referendum, which the government lost. Now he has lost his job. "I'm sorry, you will be missed, you were always helpful," I said. He shrugged his shoulders as if saying: "Some good that did me."

Six weeks later, on February 15, I myself was deported from Zimbabwe after nine years in the country. Two days after that BBC correspondent Joseph Winter was expelled. The minister of information, Jonathan Moyo, accused Mano of forging Winter's work permit. Winter says the allegations are "rubbish". The ministry has recently been incorporated into the president's office and Mano' s crime was to use old stationery, because the new set was not yet available, and to cross out the old and substitute the new title by hand.
Mano's is not an isolated case. Ordinary people risk losing their jobs or livelihoods if they are perceived to support the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) or if their loyalty to President Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF is lukewarm. Since then the intimidation and destruction wrought by Mugabe's shock troops, the self-styled "war vets", has escalated throughout the country, but especially in MDC strongholds such as Harare and Matabeleland.

Anyone with an education - a teacher, a social worker, a civil servant - is viewed with particular suspicion. Pro-MDC teachers are summarily transferred, denied promotion or chased from school premises. In one case, reported in the Guardian (London), four teachers suspected of supporting the opposition were targeted by their local chief. In a letter to the education ministry he wrote: "We have face [sic] serious problems with teachers of Nembire school through political activities at our area which is not good for us." Declaring himself to be a Zanu-PF member and asking to be put in touch with Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi, one of the feared war vet leaders, he concludes: "Minister, I don't want to see this teachers. They should leave my school." The director of schools replied, "You are advised that the ministry's position is that teachers who are not wanted within their employment environment, for whatever reason, should be assisted to transfer to other areas." The Human Rights Forum knows of dozens of cases and believes there are many more that are not reported.

War vets are storming municipal offices demanding the sacking of pro-MDC civil servants. " You mukwasha (boys) are out of control," said the elderly Zanu-PF vice-president Joseph Msika. In Matatebeleland North such action has succeeded in closing down municipal offices, rural clinics and schools in no fewer than eight district councils - leaving citizens without services that they have paid for through taxes.

"It's complete chaos," says Welshman Ncube, the local MP and MDC general secretary. "There is a widespread squeeze and intimidation, reminiscent of Nazi tactics. These days it's a crime to be an MDC sympathiser."

"Intimidation works because people are now afraid to campaign," says Douglas Mwonzora, spokesman for the National Constitutional Assembly, "but resentment is growing as much as fear."

The very poor are not exempt from government attention. In Harare townships hundreds of informal traders, the "tuckshop owners" (spaza shops), who sell everything from groceries to secondhand clothes and furniture, had their livelihoods destroyed when the city council, an unelected commission, began dismantling their rickety structures. The council says that they are illegal, but the traders believe the action has a dual motive: to punish Harare's working-class for supporting the MDC and to stop the shops undercutting the local supermarkets owned by Zanu-PF businessmen.
Municipal police swoop down on street vendors like my friend Webster. After being arrested, fined and having his goods impounded several times, he gave up selling sweets near Harare's Monomatapa hotel. He ticked off his prospects: peddle drugs, become a bum or a thief, or join the vets and earn R15 a day intimidating villagers and beating up opposition members.

The city council has also targeted Harare's informal settlements, which are illegal under pre-independence laws. In a night raid at the end of March they bulldozed scores of shacks in Mbare township, leaving up to 150 homeless and scrabbling for their meagre possessions among the ruins. A month later police stood by as war vets invaded a depot holding grain donated by the European Union for the people of Zimbabwe and stole 14 tons of it.

The reach of the vets has been vastly extended since last year. More than 300 have been inducted into the police as sergeants and assistant inspectors. "Some of the 'war veterans' promoted cannot even write their own names properly. They cannot compile reports or prepare dockets without assistance. Many professional officers were overlooked, especially here at Harare central," complained one serving officer. Another said that just before Christmas, all officers had been told to submit their names and indicate whether they were ex-combatants or not. "We are moving fast towards the militarisation of Zimbabwe," says Tony Reeler, director of the Amani Trust, the human rights monitor. Farms that have been invaded are being allocated to police and army officers. "The government is consolidating its power in areas crucial to the presidential elections," says Reeler.

In the past government has discriminated against urban businesses with known or suspected MDC connections by cancelling contracts and import-export permits - for example, the MDC candidate for Chegutu lost all contracts to supply the army and he had to resign as director to save his company. The MDC candidate for Marondera lost his company's long-standing contract to clean Harare hospital. In late March action escalated when war vets began invading scores of businesses, assaulting managers and extorting "commission" from the owners for supposedly resolving problems with their workers.

"The war vets are hired as thugs to intervene in labour disputes, they are uncontrolled, a law unto themselves," says Ncube, describing how the much feared vet leader, Joseph Chinotimba, stormed a factory that had retrenched 30 workers and demanded they be reinstated. On May Day Chinotimba vowed to step up the attacks. His list of targets included both local branches of multinationals, foreign companies (at least 16 with South African connections) and local businesses, such as a match factory, a cooking oil processor and a domestic help agency.
Two Pakistani businessmen are reported to have fled the country after attacks, abandoning investments worth more than Z$200 million and the owner of a private hospital, the Avenue Clinic, was forced to pay out Z$6.3 million, in "settlement" of an illegal strike in 1995 in which 30 workers were dismissed.

It is not only the wealthy who suffer. On the night of May 6 about 50 war vets and Zanu-PF supporters wielding clubs and iron bars attacked youths manning four car parks in Kuwadzana Extension, Harare. Two of the car parks belong to Jet Security, owned by Resias Masunda, an MDC activist, and the others to Loss Control, run by MDC youths in the area. One of their number, Maxwell Matombo, 22, was bitten all over his back, reports the Daily News, which published a front page picture of his injuries.

Such action designed to undermine MDC support in its urban strongholds has not diverted attention from the rural areas. At the end of April war vets forced six families suspected of MDC sympathies off rich alluvial land in a resettlement area in Bikita district, Masvingo, claiming that the resettlement programme was only meant to benefit Zanu-PF members. The ruling party's provincial political commissar, Admore Hwarari, told The Independent (Harare): "They should wait for their leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to come into power so that they will be given new land."

A game rancher in Nyamandlovu, in Matabeleland, part of whose ranch has been invaded, can no longer provide transport for his MDC MP or for rallies because he fears "either I or my workers will be attacked." He took his last hunting client at the end of March.

The government has continued to gazette land for fast-track seizures. These include one of the country's foremost national parks, Gonarezhou, in the south-east. When Masvingo governor Josiah Hungwe was asked when people would move in and how they would co-habit with the animals he said, "There is 11,000 hectares of land available so people can all fit well. It's not that we have taken the whole park area but what we have done is to acquire land which is just adjacent to the park." However this was contradicted by a senior parks official who confirmed that the land being acquired is within the reserve. Cattle are being grazed inside the park and some estimates suggest that more than one thousand cattle are moved into the area every day. The Independent reports that this development could scuttle the transfrontier agreement, signed only two months ago with Mozambique and South Africa, to establish a huge game park in the region.

In the eastern highlands well-known holiday resorts and lodges in the Nyanga district have also been gazetted. Pedia Moyo, president of the Zimbabwe Council of Tourism, pointed out that tourism had created significant employment for locals, who did not have to migrate to Harare to look for work. If the land were taken over they would lose their jobs. "The greatest problem we are facing at the moment is the continued lawlessness," she said. Our members are being harassed by the day. Since last year 66 tourism operators have closed shop, with more than 10,000 people losing their jobs."

The Independent reported that when Moyo tried to raise her concerns with minister of agriculture Joseph Made, he replied "Please stop bothering me on my phone. I don't not want to be disturbed in any way. Just stop bothering me." Then he cut her off.