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Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Eyewitness: Zimbabwe in turmoil
Victim of political violence
This man had MDC carved onto his back

We travelled into Zimbabwe posing as tourists.

It isn't how the BBC would wish to operate but the restrictions imposed by the government make normal journalistic operations impossible.

The BBC team travelled for hundreds of miles inside the country and we found evidence of the terror and repression imposed by the ruling party and its supporters.


When I failed to come quickly enough they began to beat me

Farm worker
Since the presidential election, Zimbabwe has dropped far down the world agenda, overtaken by events in the Middle East and financial scandals in the United States.

But the situation in the southern African nation has deteriorated steadily since Mr Mugabe's disputed victory.

Human rights workers we met in Harare described escalating oppression and a situation where the rule of law is disappearing.

At a safe location in the city we met three recent victims of torture: two were student activists and the other a farm labourer.

Teeth smashed

The labourer had been asleep at home some weeks ago when youth militia from the governing Zanu-PF party knocked on the door.

He was told to get dressed and attend a night rally in support of the ruling party.

Cows in a white-owned farmed
White farmers are being forced to sell up and move out

"When I failed to come quickly enough they began to beat me," he said.

"They smashed my teeth and then they dragged me outside. I was beaten on the ground and I thought my life was ending."

The man suffered serious stomach and facial injuries.

The gang leader also attempted to rape his wife.

All of this happened in front of the couple's young children.

Young mother

It is a story being repeated across the country.

At a camp for displaced persons in the bush we met survivors of a militia attack in which hundreds of Zanu-PF supporters had arrived on a farm and driven the workers out.

Robert Mugabe
Mugabe blames drought, not policies, for food shortages

With nowhere to go, they are now depending on the handouts of local aid agencies.

One young mother told me that during the attack she had become separated from her husband and child.

She was seized by the gang and was repeatedly raped by seven militia members.

"I fainted and when I woke up I didn't know where my child was," she said.

Removal vans

Driving across the country, we found fields in which crops withered or which lay untilled because of Mr Mugabe's onslaught against white farms.

Farmers are selling off their herds of cattle believing that they risk losing them to Mr Mugabe's supporters.

Morgan Tsvangirai
Tsvangirai is wary of calling for mass protests

All of this in a country where 6 million people are facing the threat of starvation.

The white farming community has been given one month to get off the land and as we drove, we became familiar with the sight of removal vans moving along the roads to South Africa.

Near the town of Karoi we met farmer Chris Shepard who is resisting attempts to drive him off the land.

Mr Shepard is a fourth generation Zimbabwean who is married with four young children.

"I have nowhere else to go," he said.

"I worked hard for everything I have and now somebody is going to take it away from me for no good reason."

Freedom

The man many Zimbabweans look to for leadership in this crisis is Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

However there is a growing sense among many activists that the MDC has failed to rally effectively after the party's defeat in the disputed presidential elections last March.

Queue for food aid
Up to six million could go hungry

We met Mr Tsvangirai at his heavily guarded Harare home, evading the security police who maintain round-the-clock surveillance.

The opposition leader seemed hesitant about leading mass protests and said he worried that public anger would erupt spontaneously.

"Some of us are now being regarded as conservative for urging restraint," he said.

Mr Tsvangirai added that he believed real freedom would come to Zimbabwe but he did not say when.

For those suffering hunger and terror, it cannot come soon enough.


Fergal Keane answered your questions about Zimbabwe and his experiences in a LIVE Forum on Wednesday, 10 July.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fergal Keane reports from Zimbabwe
"A place where fear has replaced the rule of law"

Talking PointFORUM
Zimbabwe
Put questions to the BBC's Fergal Keane 1440 BST

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See also:

25 Jun 02 | Africa
24 Jun 02 | Africa
09 May 02 | Africa
03 May 02 | Africa
02 May 02 | Africa
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