Zimbabwe's opposition resolute, but still looks for help

This week, police arrested 3 journalists, and drought has led to massive food shortages.

It has been nearly eight weeks since Zimbabwe's presidential election. Siyakwazi Moyo had hoped by now to be helping to lead his country toward a more positive future, away from the cycle of violence that has blighted Zimbabwe over the past two years.

Instead, many here say that things are worse than ever.

Mr. Moyo and his fellow Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activists have been beaten and teargassed, and have had their houses burned by war veterans and youth militias sponsored by the ruling ZANU-PF party.

Additionally, Zimbabwe declared a state of disaster this week as a drought affecting much of Southern Africa has exacerbated food shortages throughout the country.

Since President Robert Mugabe claimed victory in the March election, which the opposition says was rigged, the terror campaign against MDC supporters has been stepped up, according to the MDC and human rights groups.

"People out there are in fear," says Moyo, who is MDC youth chairman of a ward in the town of Matabeleland. "But we have just resolved that we are going to stick to our political beliefs. Every time they hit us we hurt, but in our minds we feel stronger."

In an interview with the Monitor, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai agrees. "This is all an act of retribution but, surprisingly, instead of being discouraged, we see a very strong determination and defiance among our supporters," says Mr. Tsvangirai. "It is having the opposite effect to what Mugabe intended."

Mugabe says he is rescuing his country from the "imperialist" intentions of the West. He and the ZANU-PF have shunned opposition calls for a rerun of the poll, and talks between the two sides in April failed to reach any accord on the country's political future.

The MDC is pinning its hopes on the president ultimately being frozen out diplomatically and economically by those he once counted as friends on the international scene – in particular South Africa – thereby convincing him to bow out.

"[South Africa's President Thabo] Mbeki is under pressure from South Africans to be forthright in condemning Mr. Mugabe's actions," says Masiphula Sithole, professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe. "He is influential. If he spoke out, many others would."

Praising international sanctions, but adding that Mr. Mbeki "could do more" to isolate Mugabe politically and economically, Tsvangirai stresses: "The international community can support us [only] so far.... The burden really lies with Zimbabweans to fight for their own freedom. We in the MDC realize that's going to be a long, protracted struggle."

Tsvangirai still faces charges for treason over an alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe, a charge he denies. On Tuesday, a court set a trial date of May 31.

Since the election, thousands of MDC supporters have been singled out for retribution. More than 200 white commercial-farmers have been forced off their land, according to the Commercial Farmers' Union, crippling the commercial farming sector. Nongovernmental organizations estimate that some 20,000 rural folk have been displaced. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum says there have been 54 political murders since the election, a figure police spokesman Tarwireyi Tirivavi disputes.

"They are lying," he says. "They are including in that figure people killed in nonpolitical violence. The number of politically related deaths has gone down a lot since the elections." He declined to give figures.

Earlier this week, a report that the wife of an MDC activist was beheaded by Mugabe supporters was brought into question after police were unable to locate the woman's grave. Two local journalists, as well as an American journalist working for a British newspaper, were arrested after their papers published a story on the alleged murder. An act passed shortly after the March election put a tight rein on independent media working in Zimbabwe.

The MDC has also launched a legal challenge to have the election result declared illegitimate.

With no further talks between the two sides expected until mid-May, Mugabe's tactics appear to be to sit tight.

Observers here, however, say that other Zanu-PF heavyweights are jostling for position within the party, saying that its name is being dragged down under President Mugabe and that it must reform.

And last weekend, in an interview with New African Magazine, Mugabe even hinted that he might not serve out his full six-year term, though he said he has no immediate plans to resign.

Tsvangirai urges reformist elements within Zanu-PF to bring change at the top. "Mugabe is so isolated internally," he says. "They know the consequences of going against him, hence the reluctance of individuals. They speak out, but they never take a step.... It's no good just speaking about Mugabe having destroyed the country. Bold steps must be taken."

Certain elements within Zanu-PF, however, remain firmly by the president's side. They hail him as a hero who has stood firm against neo-colonialism, claiming that the MDC is sponsored by Britain, whose agenda is to restore the country to white rule 22 years after it won independence. The British government says such a claim is nonsense.

Professor Sithole forecasts that time is running short for the president as social, economic, and political factors come together to swell support for the opposition. "Change is coming," he predicts. "The country and the people cannot go on like this."

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