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Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Tuesday, 15 July 2008 15:52 UK

Gloomy mood in post-poll Zimbabwe

ZANU-PF youth militia move from one household to another using a cart, while campaigning for President Robert Mugabe near Bulawayo, Saturday, June 21, 2008.

By Brian Hungwe
Harare

Fear still exists in the Zimbabwean countryside, even though the presidential election has been and gone.

Many villagers are still hiding in the bush and mountains, their hopes of a return to peace fading with reports of continuing intimidation.

Over the last few months, many suspected opposition supporters have had their homes torched.

The militia are telling us that during the elections they 'chopped tree branches', now they say 'it's time to uproot them'
Muchadei, electoral officer

Goats, chickens and cows - symbols of wealth in the rural areas - were taken away to feed ruling party militia at their party bases.

Villagers say the youth militia wearing ruly party T-shirts and bandanas showing President Robert Mugabe's face, are still roaming free and attacking with impunity.

Although talks are under way between the ruling Zanu-PF and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in rural areas where there are few radios, that has little consequence.

"The militia are telling us that during the elections they 'chopped tree branches', now they say 'it's time to uproot them'," says Muchadei (not his real name) an electoral officer in Mashonaland Central, an area hit hard by the electoral violence.

'Pockets of resistance'

The MDC says 113 of its supporters have been killed, some 5,000 are missing and more than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes since the first round of voting in March.

Zimbabwean street vendors are on their way to a market in Harare on July 10, 2008 as talks start in South Africa between the government and opposition
As the political impasse continues, inflation keeps rising

"The militia say they want to attack and remove all pockets of resistance," Muchadei says, referring to MDC voters.

The situation has not changed at all in the province since Robert Mugabe was sworn-in again as president, he says.

"People still can't express themselves freely. Others are missing. It's not clear if they are dead or alive," he says.

Church leaders say they "are saddened by reports of continued violence two weeks after presidential run-off".

In parts of Harare's townships, however, the police have been attacking the ruling-party militia and destroying their bases.

This has meant that hundreds of Zanu PF militias have now lost their livelihoods and police have confirmed that some of the militia are now transforming themselves into criminal gangs.

But the crackdown has come as a huge relief to those living in the townships, where many residents had been forced for "re-education" at Zanu-PF bases.

"I need peace of mind, I was leaving work early out of fear of victimisation," says a resident of Kuwadzana township.

She says queuing for bread every morning together with the cost of travelling into neighbouring South Africa and Botswana to buy food are already enough of a burden.

Inflation, which officially stands at 165,000%, is thought to be well into seven figures now.

The long wait

Thousands of people are trying to find alternative ways of making a living because the manufacturing industry has shrunk by around 60%.

As long as Mugabe is in power, nothing changes
Richie, currency dealer

Harare's central Fourth Street and Chinhoyi Street are now packed with dealers trading in foreign currency on the black market.

One of them is Richie who told me he had given up his job at a state-run company to join them.

"Salaries are eroded by inflation every day, there is no point in working, you just have to work for yourself now," he said.

The talks between Zanu-PF and the MDC mean nothing to him.

"As long as Mugabe is in power, nothing changes. It will take time for things to normalise given that the old man has no intention of giving up power," Richie told me.

"He has created a mess, and we will be in this mess for a long long time."

Despite this, he still believes it is not a situation that can last forever.

"One day the situation will stabilise, maybe I will get a job in a bank and have a normal working life again."

Talks between the two parties are going on behind closed doors, and no-one in Harare really knows what is going on.

Rumour that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been co-opted into a government of national unity abound in townships, but few believe that.

Most people simply want life to return to normal and have few kind words for President Mugabe.


A special one-hour programme of BBC Focus on Africa exploring the political, economic and social prospects for Zimbabwe will be broadcast on Tuesday 15 July at 1500 GMT on the BBC World Service.



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