JOHANNESBURG, 3 April (IRIN) - Political tension is rising in Zimbabwe following an attack on an opposition march at the weekend by government supporters. As a result, analysts warn that escalating tit-for-tat political violence could jeopardise legislative elections due in the next few months.
"If this situation continues, it is almost as if we're creating a war situation," independent MP Margaret Dongo told IRIN on Monday. "All this violence is because of the propaganda (the ruling party) ZANU-PF is building."
War veterans and ZANU-PF supporters on Saturday attacked a peaceful demonstration by the opposition umbrella National Constitutional Assembly (NCA). The march, through the centre of the capital Harare, was called to protest a recent wave of government-backed invasions of white-owned farms in violation of a court order. Some 15 people were reportedly injured in the violence, which the police were accused of being slow to contain. None of their assilants were arrested.
Zimbabwe's legislative polls are scheduled for May. But "already there is a clear indication we are not going to have a free, fair or peaceful election," said Dongo, one of only three opposition members in the current parliament. "We have a situation in which ZANU-PF is in control of the law enforcement agencies ... At the end of the day, people standing up for peace and justice were attacked."
Political science lecturer Masapule Sithole said the violence meted out on the NCA rally by club-wielding government supporters, is a "bad indication of what lies ahead. The NCA are going to be forced to respond, and a ghastly affair is in the making. They are not inclined to turn the other cheek." Analysts told IRIN that a culture of political violence exists in Zimbabwe based on ZANU-PF's political history. The NCA-allied opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) can draw on substantial urban support, and escalating confrontation was likely in the poll run-up.
Presidential spokesman Mundaradzi Hwenijwere denied that the war veterans were acting under orders. "We've said it over and over again, they should never be seen as acting on the instigation of government," he told IRIN. Insisting on the government's commitment to law and order he added: "The people who broke up the war veterans were a state entity, namely the police."
President Robert Mugabe, facing his biggest political challenge since independence in 1980 from the MDC, has repeatedly used the language of violence in rallying his supporters, analysts alleged. His fist-waiving threats at the opposition during a referendum campaign on a new constitution in February - which the government lost - have escalated. Last month he said: "I warn enemies of our unity that death will befall them first." Hwenijwere said the remarks were interpreted incorrectly from the original Shona.
Mugabe has backed the invasion of some 800 commercial farms by the war veterans as a legitimate demonstration over land hunger. Hwenijwere said the High Court "erred" in recently ordering the police to ignore Mugabe and clear the squatters from the farms, because of a problem of "implementability". He added that a government constitutional amendment allowing the state to expropriate farms would be presented to parliament on Tuesday, "rectifying the whole problem".
Dongo last week distributed an official list of 290 farms owned by ministers and senior officials that were allegedly meant for resettlement by landless peasants. She claimed the land issue has been used by the authorities to camouflage the "abuse of office" and policy failure in addressing the issue of land hunger transparently and comprehensively. "They have diverted the focus to create violence out of the land issue," she said. "They have forgotten the people of Zimbabwe in order to protect their power."
Analysts say the war veterans, who before winning a compensation pay award from the government last year - two decades after independence - had been among the most impoverished and marginalised members of society. They have now become the ruling party's political "shock troops".
"They see ZANU as there only salvation, which maybe true, but for how long will the country continue with ZANU?" Sithole asked. "The irony is that they are miserable and have been jobless for 20 years under ZANU."
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