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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Analysis: Brutal battle for political power
MDC funeral
Several opposition supporters have been murdered
By Greg Barrow in Harare

The campaign for land reform in Zimbabwe is slowly breaking down into a crude struggle for political supremacy, using brutal tactics of intimidation.

The farm invasions served a purpose for the governing Zanu-PF party: they terrified white farmers and their families, and forced them to reconsider their support for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Once that mission had been accomplished, the so-called war veterans, who are barely disguised Zanu-PF activists, have turned their attention to the black farm labourers.

The root of the violence in Zimbabwe's countryside can be traced to the government's referendum defeat in February this year.

This sent a severe jolt through the spine of a party which had enjoyed almost absolute supremacy for the two decades since independence.

White activism

One of the factors which swung the referendum towards the "No" vote, was the active campaigning and participation of white farmers and their work forces in the countryside.

burn victim
Zanu-PF: Unwilling to lose rural support without a fight

Rural areas have traditionally been one of the strongest support bases of President Robert Mugabe's party, but after 20 years of non-participation and sometimes tacit support for the government, white farmers embraced the opposition, and took many of their workers with them.

The result was the government's defeat in the referendum, a wake-up call to all Zimbabweans that Zanu-PF was not invincible.

In the aftermath of the referendum result, the government found itself facing a potential mauling in the upcoming parliamentary elections for which no date has yet been announced.

Opposition supporters believe a calculation has been made that although much of the urban vote for the government has been lost, Zanu-PF is unwilling to quietly surrender its rural support base.

Rural vote

White farmers became the first targets of intimidation because their properties, encompassing large local work forces could become informal bases for the opposition in rural areas.

There are an estimated 350,000 farm labourers working on white farms.

If their families are included, this accounts for about one million potential voters, a significant force in the countryside which, if it voted for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change en masse, would seriously swing the rural vote away from the government.

The strategy employed by Zanu-PF has been to utilise the same squatters and war veterans who invaded white-owned land, to intimidate the black farm workers.

Chenjerai 'Hitler' Hunzvi:
Veterans leader Chenjerai 'Hitler' Hunzvi: Leading the campaign of intimidation

Victims of violence say the veterans often arrive at night, round up the farm workers and take them to nearby camps where they forced to undergo a form of "re-education".

They are often severely beaten and abused.

Torture methods such as the beating of the soles of the victims feet are not uncommon.

The message from the war veterans is that anybody who is thinking about voting for the opposition in the forthcoming elections will be killed.

The result has been a wave of terror in the countryside, and a belief among many that the violence could increase if the government feels it is under serious threat in the elections.

Opposition leaders are hoping that this further alienation of an electorate that has grown tired of the autocratic and corrupt practices of the Zanu-PF government may still respond with its feet, and vote against the government when, or if, the elections take place.

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See also:

21 Apr 00 | Africa
Thousands join Zimbabwe march
20 Apr 00 | Africa
Violence flares in Zimbabwe
19 Apr 00 | Business
Zimbabwe's economy under threat
23 Apr 00 | Africa
Harare bomb raises tension
19 Apr 00 | Media reports
SA media urges action on Zimbabwe
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