Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

MDC Supporters Take Revenge

Wave of attacks against ZANU-PF officials puts strain on power-sharing government.
By Chipo Sithole
Opposition supporters have staged a series of retaliatory attacks against ruling party officials linked to the outbreak of brutal election violence last year.



The latest turmoil follows the establishment on February 13 of an inclusive government between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, MDC.



MDC supporters’ tit-for-tat attacks on ZANU-PF members threaten the new power-sharing arrangement, and put the long-suffering population at renewed risk.



For the first time since the state-sanctioned violence that followed Mugabe's devastating loss in presidential elections last year, when over 200 MDC supporters were killed and 200,000 others internally displaced, MDC supporters are exacting vengeance on their assailants.



They appear confident they will have protection from the power-sharing government that now includes their leader.



MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa, the new information communication technology minister in the joint administration, told IWPR that it was understandable that people were angry, injured and scarred by last year’s turmoil.



However, he said there was “a need for Zimbabweans to be collected, calm and wait for the justice system to start unfolding to respond to this overwhelming desire for fairness".



"We feel that there has to be a national healing process, and that process must not be retributive, but restorative and rehabilitative. We risk ending up having more victims where we are trying to deal with the injury, agony and pain of the past," he said.



Chamisa said it was difficult to tell a person who is exploding with anger to be patient, "but this is the plea that the leadership of the MDC is making".



The scope of the new incidents bears no comparison to the widespread state-sponsored violence by ZANU-PF and its allies in the blood-soaked run-up to last year’s presidential run-off vote.



In parts of Mashonaland East and Manicaland provinces last week, MDC supporters burned homes of known ZANU-PF supporters and officials, accusing them of murdering their relatives.



In Mashonaland East, over 15 people were admitted to Mutoko District Hospital on February 18 after they were singled out by MDC supporters who accused them of directing last year’s terror campaign in the area.



In Mbare, a dirt-poor suburb in Harare which witnesssed the worst election violence in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, retaliatory attacks erupted barely 72 hours after Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister on February 11.



MDC supporters attacked occupants of Nenyere, Shawasha, Matapi and Tagarika Flats in Mbare, swiftly moving into the apartment block which they claimed they were repossessing after being driven away by ZANU-PF supporters at the height of the election violence last year.



Eleven MDC supporters are currently being held on charges of malicious injury to property and assault with intention to cause grievous bodily harm during the Mbare incident.



MDC Mbare Ward 4 councillor Friday Muleya, among those evicted from the flats, said the group had police clearance to reclaim the property.



"When we got there, there was commotion and people were injured," he said. "The police intervened and arrested our members, saying we had taken the law into our own hands – yet they were the ones who gave us their blessings."



In Mutoko North and East constituencies, MDC supporters ran riot, attacking supporters of Mugabe's party in what they termed "payback time".



Trouble reportedly started after an MDC rally held on February 8 at the Mushimbo business center some 10 kilometres from the centre of Mutoko.



ZANU-PF victims, shown on state television with swollen faces, claimed that the MDC had compiled their names on the eve of the swearing-in of Tsvangirai as prime minister.



ZANU-PF provincial youth league leader Marere Kuguyo and ZANU-PF provincial political commissar Chenjerayi Mukondiwa, accused of having directed and executed the terror campaign against the MDC last year, were beaten by the MDC mob, sustaining serious injuries.



They are both in an intensive care unit. Police have launched a manhunt for their assailants.



The MDC supporters also grabbed livestock such as chickens, pigs, goats and even cattle as compensation for the animals they allege were seized at the height of the election campaign by ZANU-PF district leaders and feasted on at ZANU-PF camps.



ZANU-PF member of parliament for Mutoko East Ordo Nyakudanga appealed for calm and said "let bygones be bygones".



"I want to urge our people to emulate their leaders who have embraced reconciliation and peace for the sake of development in Zimbabwe," he said.



In Mashonaland Central province, hotbed of support for Mugabe and one of the areas that suffered the worst election-related violence, axe-wielding MDC supporters went on the rampage, kidnapping alleged members of ZANU-PF vigilante squads, taking them into the bush and thoroughly beating them.



The outbreak of violence in Bindura, in Mashonaland Central, was seemingly triggered by Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri unilaterally pardoning the people allegedly responsible for last year's murders of opposition supporters.



The majority of those murdered were in Bindura.



"Please be advised that all murder cases committed during the run-up to the presidential election and have not been finalised be dropped immediately," Chihuri said in an apparent memo to all police provincial commanders leaked to IWPR. "The decision has been made in the spirit of promoting national healing in view of the inclusive government."



The pardon includes perpetrators of murder and rape and frees from prosecution thousands of supporters of ZANU-PF. Many were awaiting trial for manslaughter, assault and damage to property.



Chihuri has since dispatched Deputy Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga to all provinces to appraise the ProPols (officers commanding provinces) on the details of the amnesty and to quell simmering unrest in the countryside over the move.



In rural Masvingo, isolated incidents were reported of aggrieved MDC supporters going after alleged members of the ZANU-PF vigilante squads, wielding axes and whips.



Victims of last year’s ZANU-PF-orchestrated violence, miffed by the conspicuous silence from the inclusive government on issues to do with transitional justice, say the police commissioner-general’s pardon is a slap in the face of the MDC and are now taking the law into their own hands.



In his appeal for calm and patience, the MDC’s Chamisa said the inclusive government had clear mechanisms to deal with issues of transitional justice and three ministers – John Nkomo of ZANU-PF, Sekai Holland of the mainstream MDC and Gibson Sibanda of the breakaway MDC faction – had been appointed for that purpose.



Churches and civil society groups have heightened calls for the establishment of a truth, justice and reconciliation commission to deal with transitional justice issues.



Civil society groups have also strongly denounced the blanket amnesty for perpetrators of violence, saying it may reduce Zimbabwe's chances of receiving foreign aid.



"Returning to the rule of law should be an essential pre-requisite for a return to normal relations with the donor community," said one activist.



Tsvangirai has said Zimbabwe will need five billion US dollars to reconstruct the shattered economy but key financiers such as the European Union and other international donors, including Britain and the US, which have frozen all but humanitarian aid, said they would reconsider helping only if those guilty of election violence faced the due process of law, and all political prisoners on trumped up charges of attempting to overthrow the president are released from jail.



Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

More IWPR's Global Voices