Home Africa News Zimbabwe activists/opposition members go into hiding as security crackdown intensifies

Zimbabwe activists/opposition members go into hiding as security crackdown intensifies

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Opposition MDC members report being harassed, detained and beaten after recent election

A Movement for Democratic Change supporter is taken away in a prison van in Harare. Photograph: Zinyange Auntony
Jason Burke in Harare
Published on Wed 5 June 2019 06.18 CAT

Hundreds more activists have gone into hiding in Zimbabwe as security agencies intensify a crackdown launched since the elections.

According to dozens of testimonies gathered by the by local agencies, security forces have since harassed hundreds of MDC members and activists, arbitrarily detaining and beating scores of people.

At the weekend, soldiers moved through neighbourhoods of Harare and surrounding towns, targeting opposition supporters, smashing property and assaulting dozens of people.

Last week the homes of leaders were surrounded by unidentified masked and armed men during the night, and homes of activists were invaded by gangs shouting pro-government slogans.

In the past 48 hours, dozens of independent media activists and MDC party officials have gone into hiding, along with several NGO workers fearful of detention.

Tapiwa Nyikayaramba, a known member of MDC, is believed to have gone into hiding after “the military” were looking for him and MDC confirmed he was among the known people the government is after. Other officials are believed to have already been detained or in hiding with some missing and likely never to be found.

“The army has a list and I am on it,” Pfunye said. “I rang my mum to tell her she would not hear from me for a while and went underground. It was a hard call to make.

“I don’t know when we’ll speak again. If I’m found, I will disappear and it might be for ever. I am frightened, but it is what politics here in Zimbabwe is all about.”

Some of the worst attacks took place in Kuwadzana, budiriro, mbare, poor neighbourhoods to the west of Harare. Arnold Dzakatira, a driver, described how he had been beaten by soldiers while drinking with friends in a pub.

“They suddenly came in trucks,” Dzakatira said. “They told everyone who was MDC to go to one side. No one moved, they told the women to go and they started beating all the men. They were saying ‘You guys are MDC’. I lost a tooth and needed stitches in my mouth. Some of my friends also were taken and I haven’t heard from them since”

Others sustained more serious injuries, including broken bones. Gifted Mwayadze, a hawker, has been warned he may lose sight in one eye after being hit on the head with a stick by a soldier.

“I am not political,” Mwayadze said. “I am not an activist or anything. I was coming home from work and they attacked me. They kicked me, used sticks. They didn’t say or ask anything.”

Few sought medical attention, humanitarian organisations say, for fear of further harassment in state-run hospitals.

In a series of communications before his arrest, Biti, one of the most well-known MDC leaders, said his family was being harassed while he was in hiding. He described authorities as “fascists and murderers”.

Nqobizitha Mlilo, Biti’s lawyer in Harare, said his client had tried to cross into Zambia at the Chirundu border post to run away. “He did all this because he believes his life is in danger,” Mlilo said.

A statement by the heads of the mission of EU member states in Harare, along with the US, Canada and Switzerland, condemned the “violence, attacks and acts of intimidation targeted at opposition leaders and supporters”, saying they had no place in a democratic society.
Ruling party officials deny the allegations.
Authorities in Zimbabwe need international legitimacy to obtain the multibillion-dollar bailouts required to avoid economic breakdown. The violence is a serious setback and some say the crackdown suggests splits within the ruling elite.

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