By Chipo Sithole in Harare (ZCR No. 167, 5-Nov-08)
A wave of violent clashes has rocked a Harare neighbourhood, apparently sparked by the ongoing disagreement between ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, over the allocation of key cabinet posts.
Since October 29, youth militia loyal to ZANU-PF have reportedly been launching night-time attacks in the dirt-poor slum of Epworth, an opposition stronghold on the outskirts of the capital, targeting what they term "enemies".
MDC senator for Epworth Morgan Femai told IWPR that the ZANU-PF youth militia - who are graduates of the former government's youth-training programme - were attacking known opposition supporters, claiming that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was refusing to join a power-sharing government with President Robert Mugabe.
According to Femai, the alleged attacks resulted in at least 20 MDC supporters being hospitalised with their injuries. Five were in critical condition, he said, including one person who had been hacked by a machete.
The whereabouts of one MDC activist was still unknown after he was reportedly abducted by the ZANU-PF youth militia, who are alleged to have set up two torture bases in Epworth, in the ramshackle Rueben Shopping Centre and the poor suburb of Maulani.
Femai said MDC councillor Didmus Bande was in a critical condition after he was dragged to one of the alleged torture bases and attacked with rubber truncheons and baseball bats.
IWPR approached the assistant director of information and publicity for ZANU-PF Gadzira Chirumhanzu about the Epworth allegations, but he was unable to comment.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told IWPR that the violence exposed ZANU-PF's "sincerity deficit" in relation to the power-sharing deal which Mubage and Tsvangirai signed on September 15.
"The behaviour of these ZANU-PF thugs is a violation of the Global Political Agreement [or power-sharing deal] which recognises the basic freedoms of people such as association, assembly, speech and movement," said Chamisa.
Following the signing of the deal, the political rivals were supposed to set up a unity government, the establishment of which is seen as critical to reversing the economic meltdown in the southern African country. According to official estimates, Zimbabwe has an inflation rate of 213 million per cent and almost three quarters of the population is living below the poverty line.
However, talks held to form a unity government - which have been taking place between Zimbabwe's rival politician in the five-star Rainbow Towers hotel in Harare - have now stalled after the two parties failed to agree over who should control each ministry, particularly that of home affairs.
The most recent round of talks, held two days before the Epworth incidents broke out, was facilitated by a Southern African Development Community, SADC, delegation, comprising Angola, Swaziland and Mozambique.
But the meeting failed to resolve the deadlock, with both parties referring the matter to a full SADC summit expected to convene soon.
Human rights advocates have expressed concern that as the political disagreement rumbles on, the suffering of Zimbabweans is not being addressed.
"We are disappointed that the parties have continued bickering over who controls what ministries and not looked at finding a long-lasting solution to the human rights crisis in Zimbabwe," said Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty International's Zimbabwe spokesman.
"Human rights were never at the centre of those talks."
Mawanza spoke at the same time as anti-riot police cracked down on a demonstration by women and youth activists marching to the venue of the SADC meeting. They intended to present a petition to the SADC delegation, asking it to "come up with a logical and balanced power-sharing agreement that will bring an end to the political and socio-economic crisis crippling Zimbabwe".
"The petition was also highlighting the need for SADC and the African Union to exert pressure on Mugabe to agree to share power equitably with the MDC leader," Clever Bere, president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, told IWPR.
According to reports, police responded to the demonstrations with excessive force, and dozens of the demonstrators were arrested at the scene, while many others were injured.
The violence echoed the crackdown on MDC supporters prior to the controversial presidential run-off election in June, when more than 100 opposition supporters were killed and over 200,000 internally displaced by marauding ZANU-PF supporters, forcing the MDC to pull out of the poll.
ZANU-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamasa has denied sole responsibility for the election-time violence, claiming, "The MDC has admitted in a joint statement we have issued to also participating in acts of banditry, so it's both sides responsible for the violence."
In a statement issued on August 6, ZANU-PF and the MDC both condemned political violence and urged their supporters not to perpetrate it.
"The parties, acknowledging that violence that is attributable to us and which has been injurious to national and human security, has, indeed, occurred in the country after the March 29, 2008, harmonised elections, hereby call upon all our supporters and members and any organs and structures under the direction and control of our respective parties to stop and desist from the perpetration of violence in any form," read their statement.
However, Professor Eldred Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe, told IWPR that it was business as usual for ZANU-PF.
He said the alleged violence in Epworth flew in the face of the spirit of the September accord, which he suggested has had little impact.
"The problem is that the power-sharing deal is not legally binding," said Masunungure.
"There is nothing that says police should respect human rights or face the law in the deal. It is a statement of intent from a legal standpoint; otherwise, nothing has changed."
Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.