Johannesburg — The Zimbabwe government's dispatching of troops to Bulawayo -- the capital city in the home region of opposition leader Joshua Nkomo -- is seen by observers here as yet another sign that political violence may seriously mar that country's first election since independence. Several thousand police and army units moved into Bulawayo Saturday, sealing off a number of townships and conducting house-to-house searches. Mr. Nkomo lives in Bulawayo and the city is political base of his Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) political party.
At this writing, the security forces were remaining in Bulawayo. The Zimbabwe government said the crackdown was temporary although it gave no indication when the operation would end. Reports from Zimbabwe said Mr. Nkomo was in the capital of Harare.
The government said its operation was precipitated by politically motivated violence in the area. But political opponents of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe charged that the government's security forces were themselves guilty of violence. Bishop Abel Muzorewa said local residents had been beaten by the troops.
The security crackdown capped a week in which 14 people were reported killed in incidents apparently associated with Zimbabwe's upcoming national election, now scheduled for sometime in June.
A week ago, the townships of Bulawayo were rocked by political clashes between supporters of ZAPU and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), reportedly leaving two dead. At the same time, supporters of Bishop Muzorewa's United African National Council (UANC) were attacked on a train near Hwange (formerly Wankie) and five were killed. The ruling ZANU-PF party said seven of its officials and supporters were killed during the same period.
There was meant to be a burial service over the weekend in Bulawayo for the five UANC supporters. But Muzorewa said the government had banned the service.
Zimbabwe became independent in April l980 and was scheduled to go to the polls for its first post-independence vote this month. Delays in registering voters and delimiting constituencies have forced the government to postpone the election.
The Zimbabwe government has been plagued by dissident activity since l982 in the Matabeleland, the province of which Bulawayo is the capital. Two years ago opposition leader Nkomo fled Zimbabwe when government troops moved into Bulawayo. After a stay in London, Nkomo returned.
Analysts say the political climate in Zimbabwe slowly began to improve last year until Sen. Moven Ndlovu, a member of the ZANU Central Committee, was assassinated. The incident sparked off anti-ZAPU rioting in Beitbridge, in the south of the country. Prime Minister Mugabe reacted by dismissing the two remaining ZAPU members of his cabinet. (Nkomo was sacked from Mr. Mugabe's cabinet in l982 for alleged involvement in a plot to overthwrow the government.)
Since last November political tension and violence again seem to be on the rise.
Mugabe has made clear that he wants Zimbabwe to become a one-party state. Analysts say Mugabe would like his ruling ZANU-PF party to gain seats in the upcoming election at the expense of ZAPU to demonstrate growing voter support for his one party aim.