Zimbabwe churches open their buildings for victims of violence and torture

In the fourth week since Zimbabwe went to the polls a violent crack down is clearly underway.

As Zanu PF militias target those suspected of voting for the opposition MDC, Tearfund partner, The Churches in Bulawayo (CIB) today released a statement calling for action in response to confirmed reports of widespread torture, beatings and harassment of community members.

CIB confirmed that its member churches would be 'immediately opening its doors so as to shelter the victims of harassment.' They are also calling on the government to release the Presidential results immediately and for increased international efforts to resolve the crisis before the situation degenerates into a 'bloodbath'.

Since the elections, property has been destroyed and seized. Communities have been threatened with further violence if they fail to vote for Robert Mugabe should a run off ballot take place.

While the South African Development Committee (SADC) leaders have called for release of the presidential results, they consistently avoid open criticism of Mugabe. And while President Mbeki has claimed that there is 'no crisis' in Zimbabwe, Tearfund partner organisations are reporting something quite different.

'Talk of a run off is frightening as people are still waiting for the result of the Presidential elections,' says Pastor Promise Manceda of Zimbabwe's Christian Alliance - who explains that a simple tally of polling station votes would quickly yield the results. 'Worse still in the outskirts of Bulawayo, militia are reported to be undergoing intense training. Such a heavy presence and involvement of the military is having a traumatic affect on the population.'

Tearfund's partners have reported violence in rural areas, particularly in those areas scheduled for a recount. 'We have heard that a regional meeting had to be cancelled because staff members are too afraid to leave their families. Fear and confusion are spreading across the country in this vacuum of uncertainty and threat,' says Karyn Beattie, Tearfund's Disaster Response Manager for Zimbabwe. 'We are very concerned for the safety of people, those just simply trying to exist - although there is nothing simple about existing in a country in collapse.'

There is increasing concern for church leaders and staff of civil society groups, who have courageously spoken out, demanding a democratic and peaceful transition. Tearfund calls on SADC, the African Union and UN to intervene and ensure that the results of the elections are not falsified and that the democratic right of the people of Zimbabwe to choose their leaders is respected.

Tearfund is sustaining a feeding programme through local churches to support some 35,000 people - orphans and vulnerable families - although the current situation is hindering logistic movements. Food, water and nearly all basic necessities have become all but unavailable to the vast majority.