Page last updated at 09:29 GMT, Thursday, 19 June 2008 10:29 UK

Zimbabwe: Your questions answered

Victims of political violence in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is going through one of the worst political and economic crises in its history.

The BBC is banned from reporting inside Zimbabwe but our correspondent Ian Pannell has just returned from an undercover trip to the country, ahead of next week's presidential run-off election.

During his time in the country, Ian obtained documents suggesting that Zimbabwe's military is actively involved in running President Mugabe's re-election campaign. He also saw how opponents of the ruling Zanu-PF party were facing intimidation and violence.

President Mugabe has threatened to arrest opposition leaders for allegedly inciting political violence.

The opposition has in turn accused him of being responsible for the unrest, which is reported to be spreading from the countryside to urban areas, including the capital, Harare.

Ian Pannell answers questions from BBC website readers about his experiences inside Zimbabwe.

Q: How would you judge the chances of a civil war in Zimbabwe, if Mugabe continues the suppression of the population and manages to steal the election? Andreas, Trondheim, Norway

Ian Pannell: Zimbabweans consistently tell you that there is no appetite for a civil war even if those who oppose the government had the weapons or the skills to take up arms (which they don't). However there are some people who now talk about “guerrilla war tactics” to try and defend themselves and there is anecdotal evidence that villagers in some areas have been forming defensive groupings and tactics. The other thing people tell you is that Zimbabweans are not violent people. That may be the case for the majority but clearly what is taking place in the country and Zimbabwe's history would indicate otherwise.

Q: It wasn't too long ago that [BBC correspondent] John Simpson spoke of being recognised by many people in Zimbabwe, but fortunately no-one turned him in. Were you recognised by anyone there? How have people in Zimbabwe treated you generally? Mani Thangadurai, Chennai, India

Ian Pannell reports from inside Zimbabwe
The BBC's Ian Pannell went undercover to report from Zimbabwe
IP: Thankfully I was not recognized in Zimbabwe by the authorities or anyone passing information to them (despite a very close encounter). I think the greatest danger is that you are identified for what you are rather than who you are. We were well treated by almost everyone we met. People feel very isolated from the outside world and we were often thanked by people for coming into the country and reporting what was happening.

Q: How easy is it for journalists to operate in Zimbabwe in order to document the accounts of the victims of violence? Can journalists working for Zimbabwean and other African media operate any more easily than journalists working for western news agencies? Are victims of violence willing to be photographed or are they afraid? Elaine Baker, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

IP: Zimbabwe is perhaps the most challenging working environment I have encountered in my career. It is slow, difficult and dangerous work. Often there are parts of the country you cannot reach because they are physically sealed off by war-veterans and militias. It is sometimes easier for local journalists to move into some of these places but the repercussions for being caught can often be greater than for foreigners. Some victims do not want their faces to be shown, others demand that the world sees them.

Q: I am a Zimbabwean who has been working outside Zimbabwe for the last three years. After the March elections, there was a palpable optimism in the air knowing that finally change was within reach. Then it was dashed. Having gone to areas where people have been at the receiving end of the worst of the ruling party's violence, do you think that people will still go to vote on the 27th June or have they been cowed into submission? Farayi, Maseru, Lesotho

IP: You are absolutely right about the immediate post-election atmosphere. I was also in the country at the time and most people believed Zimbabwe was on the brink of historic change. Today things are very different and many people are very scared. However, in three and a half weeks travelling around the country I did not meet one person who said they had been beaten into submission, in fact the opposite was the case, with a wide-spread sense of defiance and determination to go and vote. The question we cannot answer just yet is whether they will be allowed to.

Q: I am curious to know how people manage to live with inflation at such a high and ever increasing rate. For example, do people still use local currency on a day to day basis? Do shops take local currency and are wages and salaries still paid in Zimbabwean dollars? Ian Bertram, Hong Kong

IP: I was a lousy student of economics but the same question occurred to me travelling through the country. Increasingly people ask to be paid in dollars or rand and daily life is often taken up with a series of queues and tricks to survive. Most people are still paid in the local currency and salaries cannot keep pace with inflation. Bartering happens in some areas and I met one man who had even given up salaried employment to go fishing because that at least kept pace with inflation. As astonishing as it seems, some economists say that as long as the central bank can continue adding zeros to the currency then things can continue like this for some time.

Q: Is it right for the BBC to send an undercover reporter to Zimbabwe, or any country, after they have been banned from reporting there? Henry M. Sumo jr, Monrovia, Republic of Liberia

Ian Pannell reporting from Zimbabwe
"We saw people who had been beaten, harassed, intimidated, scared and tortured." - Ian Pannell, BBC correspondent

IP: That is a very good question and one that the BBC thinks very carefully about. My view in this situation is that what is happening in Zimbabwe is a story with national and international implications and it is a journalist’s duty to try to get to the truth and to try and report it to our listeners, viewers and readers in a fair and balanced manner and to overcome the barriers that are sometimes put in our way.

Q: Where did you go in Zimbabwe? Did you go to rural areas and if you did, did you see how people are being harassed, tortured and murdered?Vincent Mapiye, Harare, Zimbabwe

IP: For safety reasons I can’t reveal the exact locations other than to say we visited cities and the countryside and yes, we saw people who had been beaten, harassed, intimidated, scared and tortured. Most of this is being done in the name of the ruling party although some violence is being conducted by supporters of the MDC too.

Q: In the international media, we hear so much about the economic hardships and political violence caused by Mugabe. In spite of this, why is it that more than 40% of people voted for him in the election? Are people not fully aware of what is happening? Vinay Shenoy, Mumbai, India

IP: Another very good question. I think some people would dispute the accuracy of the reported figures. Some western diplomats I spoke to felt they were exaggerated. However it is also true to say that many Zimbabweans view Mugabe as a hero of the liberation struggle, a man who gave them ownership of their own land. Some people in the country also benefit directly from the current political system too.

Q: Will it be possible to actually go ahead with the presidential run-off? From your findings how 'independent' is the Electoral Commission as well as the judicial system in Zimbabwe? Ronald Ditshidi, Gaborone, Botswana

IP: I think the run-off will happen, the question is whether it will be free or fair and there are no independent observers who believe that is the case. We did not specifically look at the two bodies you mention but many Zimbabweans feel neither are independent.

Q: It is clear Mugabe will not give up, no matter what the outcome of the run-off. Do you think that the deteriorating economy will finally be his downfall? Graham, Stroud, UK

IP: I think you are right that the economy is absolutely the key to this. As for the President, some people think Robert Mugabe would be willing to stand down if there was a deal and an amnesty on the table, but that those around him with a vested interest in the status-quo are not.

A glimpse of Mugabe terror
14 Jun 08 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Military 'runs Mugabe campaign'
12 Jun 08 |  Africa
Q&A: Zimbabwe elections
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