Iron Bars and Scalding Water
These are among the ruling party's weapons against opposition voters. Still, the population clearly didn't cooperate in Friday's vote.
By Rod Nordland | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Jun 28, 2008 | Updated: 1:25 p.m. ET Jun 28, 2008
Some details, such as timing and description of movements, in the following are altered for the safety of NEWSWEEK's reporter.
There's an open question whether Zimbabwe's election Friday would be valid even if it hadn't been marred by violence and intimidation, because it's pretty clear that a fairly small percentage of people actually turned out to vote. Some legal experts say that at least 50 percent of the registered
voters would have needed to cast their ballots. No results have been released as yet officially (for what that's worth), but a sampling of a dozen polling places in Harare and the nearby town of Chitungwiza is pretty compelling.
At the Tamuka polling place for the 24th Ward in Chitungwiza, 1,212 voters chose President Robert Mugabe, 513 chose opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, and 786 deliberately spoiled their ballot in an apparent protest. And that of course doesn't begin to count those who heeded the opposition's boycott and just didn't vote. That ward has 22,000 registered voters, and only 12.7 percent participated meaningfully. In contrast, during the first presidential race on March 29, voter turnouts were very high.
On Saturday a few shops and businesses opened but it was still preternaturally quiet in the capital, Harare, as if people were collectively holding their breath, waiting for the retribution that ZANU-PF enforcers had promised for those who voted against them or stayed away from the polls.
Activists from the government party were searching bread lines outside bakeries this morning, checking people's fingers. Those who didn't have the telltale purple ink showing they had voted, were pulled out of line and told they'd be allowed no bread.
It didn't take long for outright violence to break out, either. Ismail Siyarun, the secretary of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the Chitungwiza district, wisely fled his house Friday night; at 1 a.m. on Saturday, a gang of Green Bombers, Mugabe's youth militia, ransacked the place, breaking all the windows and stealing whatever of his belongings seemed worth taking, mostly clothing and household items. Siyarun was just happy they didn't get his family or him; in the course of the election campaigns of recent years, he's been arrested 32 times.
We dropped by a hospital in Harare to talk to some MDC victims, though all of them had been attacked before the election, some as recently as Thursday. We were immediately told that journalists have been banned from this hospital (probably from all of them by now), but we presented ourselves as friends of victims, and the nurses on reception just shrugged. The victims, whom Siyarun had identified for us, were MDC activists from Chitungwiza and we only had a chance to talk to three of them; many more are there as well. They'd all been targeted separately by large gangs of ZANU-PF activists, and savagely beaten with iron bars and clubs.
Jacob Muvavi, 38, a municipal policeman himself, was singled out for particularly harsh treatment and taken to a ZANU-PF base, where he was beaten for three hours and had scalding water thrown on his wounds. His tormentors wanted him to confess where he was hiding his MDC T-shirt, so they could make him publicly destroy it, but he refused. Eventually one of his fellow policemen heard where he was and rescued him. "I will never give up my T-shirt," Muvavi said.
Winfielder Musarrurwa, 21, a youth leader for the MDC, only survived because her tormentors left her for dead. "I pretended to be dead and they left me," she said. They had found her at 1 a.m. on Thursday, hiding in her sister's house, stripped off her clothing and beat her with sticks and iron bars on her buttocks and privates. She readily dropped her dress to show the evidence, which was horrifying-modesty surrendered in the sake of giving testimony. They also poured scalding water on her wounds and pounded her arms until they were black and blue. It hasn't dampened her spirit any. "I will never stop supporting the MDC and Morgan Tsvangirai, even if it costs me my life," she said.