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The BBC's Ishbel Matheson
"It takes bravery to support the MDC"
 real 28k

Friday, 16 June, 2000, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Challenges for Zimbabwe opposition

Desire for change is stronger among the post-independence generation
Zimbabwe's opposition goes into the country's parliamentary elections in the knowledge that support for President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF ruling party is at an all-time low.

But although a March opinion poll indicated that a 63% majority wants a change of government and only 9% thought the issue of redistributing white-owned land was the top priority, the opposition has no room for confidence or complacency.

Tsvangirai: Trade union roots
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says it is excluded from the airwaves while its members face daily intimidation, with beatings and worse being meted out to its activists.

Opposition victims feature prominently among the at least 29 people killed in violent assaults since the president lost a constitutional referendum in February.

The MDC is standing for election despite expressing fears that the poll will not be adequately monitored.

Mob violence

Although the ruling party denies it, the brother of Matthew Pfebve, a murdered MDC activist, says it was a mob supporting Zanu-PF that killed him.

"They took off his clothing," he said. "Using iron bars, they beat him to death. I'm told they smashed his head, he had broken limbs."

Such attacks - and pro-Mugabe harassment of opposition meetings and rallies - suggest the opposition may struggle to build up popular momentum in the run-up to elections.

New force

The MDC has its roots in the Zimbabwe trades union movement, which itself has been highly critical of Mr Mugabe's policies.

The party, formed in 1999, is led by a former trade union leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

MDC supporter Peter Kariza was among those killed in violence
But Mr Tsvangirai's movement is often seen less as a fully-rounded party with the policies to save Zimbabwe from its worst crisis since independence in 1980 than as a one-dimensional crusade held together by opposition to Zanu-PF.

Certainly the MDC's central theme is that Robert Mugabe is a father of the nation who has outstayed his welcome.

Mr Tsvangirai accuses the president of becoming a liability, presiding over lawlessness and corruption, and exploiting the land issue with an eye on "raising the racial temperature" for his own ends.

Economic policy

There are still question marks over how the MDC would tackle Zimbabwe's 50% unemployment, 60% inflation and chronic fuel and foreign exchange shortages which are paralysing much of the economy.

One move would be its declared aim to end Zimbabwe's involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is estimated to be costing the state about $1m a day.

Hoping to ease racial tension over land
Other MDC promises concern transparency, probity and discipline in government and reducing the size of the state.

Then there is land reform, which it hopes to carry out without the current violence and heightened political atmosphere, thereby making the agricultural sector more productive and profitable again.

Strengths, weaknesses

The party's strength lies among Zimbabwe's youthful urban population who are young enough not to be influenced by Mr Mugabe's role as a liberator and do not accept his increasingly despotic style of leadership.

Its main challenge lies in rural areas, where the majority of the electorate lives and where the intimidation has been most fierce.

And Mr Tsvangirai will have to deflect criticisms that he is a stooge of white interests and big business, which he says come from an attempt by President Mugabe to send political discourse back into the past.

"We are not a stooge," Mr Tsvangirai says. "We are a people-driven movement and it is the people who have defined the agenda for the future."

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See also:

30 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Cook prioritises Zimbabwe crisis
19 Apr 00 | Business
Zimbabwe's economy under threat
06 Mar 00 | Africa
Points of view: Occupying farms
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