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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 16:32 GMT
Zimbabwe votes: Mashonaland
Zanu-PF has set up militia camps or bases at most rural polling stations ahead of this weekend's presidential election, the opposition says.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the election can never be free and fair as these camps are meant to frighten peasants into voting for the ruling party.
Murehwa North constituency is said to have 18 bases, Hwedza 17, and Mutoko North 14.
The Zanu-PF secretary for security in the province who is also the sitting MP for Murehwa North, Victor Chitongo, denied the existence of such bases which his party's youth are accused of using as torture and intimidation centres for opposition party supporters.
"I am not aware of the existence of such bases. There is really no need for them because my party Zanu-PF is very much in control of the rural areas," he said.
In his constituency said Mr Chitongo, most youths were employed by his security company as guards.
Meanwhile, the registrar-general's office has released the number and names of polling stations.
The three Mashonaland provinces have a total of 1,557 static and mobile polling stations. There are 1,244 static and 313 mobile voting stations.
Each constituency will have a counting centre and a command centre to direct the operations during the election.
Urban polling stations have been reduced while rural ones have been increased. The government-appointed chief elections officer, Douglas Nyikayaramba, said the move was intended to shorten walking distances for people living in rural areas
But many see it as a government ploy to discourage voters in urban areas where Zanu-PF has little support.
With only two days to go before the presidential elections, Zanu-PF continues to allow its members in Mashonaland, its stronghold, to register for voting.
Voter registration was closed in October last year but has been extended several times. The last time was last week, when an official announcement in a government gazette said the deadline for people to register was 3 March.
Despite that, today hundreds of Zanu-PF supporters were seen jostling for registration at the Mashonaland West provincial registrar's office in Chinhoyi which is Mugabe's home town.
And in Guruve, students at St Philips secondary school were registered on Monday, shortly before they broke off for the week-long polling holiday.
The Registrar General, Tobaiwa Mudede, said voter registration was a continuous process and people should not be denied their right to vote by the registration process.
But it appears to be only Zanu-PF supporters who are being registered - in Chinhoyi one has to produce a letter of recommendation from the local councillor or member of parliament to register.
If such documentation is not available, then the person is turned away in what is being seen as a blatant attempt by Zanu-PF to boost its numbers.
Asked for comment, the MP for Chinhoyi, Philip Chiyangwa, referred all questions to Mr Mudede as "Zanu-PF does not register voters".
Silas Matamisa, the MDC chairman for Chinhoyi, had his house stoned by suspected Zanu-PF youths today ahead of President Mugabe's rally in the town tomorrow.
Police confirmed the incident and said investigations were under way.
Mr Matamisa said the police were reluctant to arrest the perpetrators - he said he had identified them and given their names to the police.
The South African Observer Mission to this weekend's presidential election, today deployed 14 observers to different parts of the three Mashonaland provinces.
Their leader, Ambassador Samuel Motsuenyane said that most of the 23 observers deployed nationwide had gone to Mashonaland because of its size and reports of violence and intimidation in the pre-election period.
The South Africans now have 50 observers across Zimbabwe and the majority of these are in Mashonaland.
They said they had consulted extensively with all concerned parties and had sent observers to no-go areas for the opposition MDC or where there had been serious confrontation between Zanu-PF and MDC.
"Our work is going on very well and we are satisfied that we will make a meaningful contribution to the process of creating the necessary climate for credible elections to take place that will express the will of the majority of the people of Zimbabwe," said Ambassador Motsuenyane.
Traditional chiefs have been put in the forefront of Zanu-PF's campaign in Mashonaland.
At Murehwa growth point today, the deputy minister of Education, Sport and Culture Aeneas Chigwedere told about 50 chiefs that the government would continue to improve their status and that of their headmen.
It would provide them with modern facilities like electricity, piped water, transport and build them homes and improve their traditional courts once Zanu-PF wins the election - something he said the opposition "MDC will never do for you".
Although the chiefs' meeting is officially discussing the land reform programme, a government source said the chiefs are being drilled on how to have their subordinates line up behind them to vote for Zanu-PF during voting this Saturday and Sunday.
There are a total of 79 Zanu-PF bases and torture camps in the whole of Mashonaland which are used to interrogate and torture members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the MDC says.
As a result of these camps, which are manned by war veterans and Zanu-PF supporters, Mashonaland has become a no-go area for any opposition political party especially the MDC.
The MDC has taken advantage of the presence of foreign election observers who are here to monitor the 9 and 10 March presidential race, to release a list of these bases urging the observers to verify their presence and what they are used for.
Zanu-PF's stronghold of Mashonaland Central tops the list with 40 such camps, Mashonaland West 23 and Mashonaland East 16.
The ruling party refused to comment on the allegations.
An attempt by Zanu-PF youths to abduct the MDC chairman for Karoi 200 km north of Harare backfired early Friday morning when he fought back viciously and identified his attackers, some of whom were arrested by the police.
However, only 12 youths were arrested and released later in the day after the intervention of Zanu-PF officials and two members of parliament.
A neighbour of Biggie Haurovi, who requested anonymity said a mob of about 50 Zanu- PF militia, came to his house in Chikangwe township in Karoi around 0200 Friday and attempted to drag him out possibly to one of their "command bases" where they interrogate, assault and torture their victims.
The neighbour was awakened by the noise that followed when windows were shattered and doors banged.
The burly MDC official together with some colleagues managed to fight the attempted abduction and the youths fled into the darkness but not until he had identified some of them.
Zanu-PF MPs Reuben Marumahoko of and Isaac Mackenzie, reportedly pressured Karoi police to release the youths before any charges could be brought against them.
A Movement for Democratic Change rally in Marondera, scheduled for today, had to be called off at the last minute for security reasons.
There was a heavy presence of both heavily armed Zimbabwe National Army soldiers and riot police around and within the stadium where the political meeting was due to be addressed by MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai.
The sitting Zanu-PF Member of Parliament for Marondera East, Sydney Sekeramayi, is the minister of defence, so the army's presence was not a big surprise.
MDC officials said the intimidatory presence of these armed forces together with Zanu-PF youths who harassed and beat up people intending to attend the rally, led the party to cancel the rally for the safety of its supporters.
Zanu-PF youths also blocked some roads leading to the venue and about 50 others gathered at the Marondera main bus terminus where they burnt tyres and threw them in front of moving vehicles and pedestrians - an intimidatory tactic indicating that whoever went to the rally would be torched by burning tyres.
MDC officials also claimed they had received some intelligence reports that Mr Tsvangirai's convoy from Harare to Marondera would be attacked and had requested police escort which was turned down by Assistant Commissioner Rudo Masango of Marondera police.
"The police said they had deployed enough policemen at all trouble spots so there was no need to escort us," said Gift Chimanikire, MDC vice-secretary general.
Despite the presence of international election observers, violence and threats against MDC supporters continue unabated.
Several MDC activists were brutally tortured at a Zanu-PF base this week in Marondera.
Horrific photographs were taken today of their wounds - the initials "MDC" have been carved into their buttocks and their backs.
They were accused of burning a Zanu-PF vehicle.
President Robert Mugabe has continued his election campaign with rallies across Mashonaland Central.
At every meeting, he has seized the opportunity to unleash virulent attacks on Britain and the United States for their "conspiracy" against Zimbabwe.
"Blair or no Blair, sanctions or no sanctions, we will go on. We have got the resources," he told thousands of his supporters at Mvurwi farming centre today, referring to his programme of land redistribution.
Last week, a water-pump operative died after being beaten by Zanu-PF youths in Rushinga, 200 km north-east of Harare.
The MDC supporter was severely beaten after he cut off water supplies to self-styled war veterans and local residents for unpaid bills.
In Chinhoyi, three South African election observers were injured after their convey was attacked by Zanu-PF youths.
They went on then rampage after a rally addressed by Morgan Tsvangirai on Sunday night, destroying two houses belonging to MDC members.
In Mashonaland East, 10 teachers at Goromonzi High School were last week threatened with unspecified action by "war veterans" for allegedly supporting the MDC.
The three rural Mashonaland provinces are strongholds of President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party.
Here, Mr Mugabe's promise to distribute land to the landless is a vote-winner as black subsistence farmers gaze across at the lush, lucrative farms of their white neighbours.
Mashonaland Central leads the way in both support for Mr Mugabe and violence against opposition activists.
The provincial capital Bindura hosts the notorious Border Gezi National Youth Training Centre where unemployed youths from all over the country undergo three months of training and later terrorise ordinary folk suspected of not supporting Zanu PF.
Zanu PF has been the aggressor in most incidences of violence but of late the MDC has started fighting back.
Members of the public travelling in these provinces have resorted to unwillingly buying Zanu PF membership cards to ensure their personal safety at illegal road blocks mounted by supporters of Mr Mugabe.
They have also barred independent newspapers like The Daily News, The Financial Gazette, and The Independent from rural Mashonaland.
Anyone seen reading these papers is automatically labelled an MDC supporter and can pay dearly.
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