- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005


CHIMANIMANI, Zimbabwe — Enforcers who beat and tortured opponents of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe in past elections said in a series of clandestine interviews that hunger, lack of jobs and broken promises have persuaded them to switch sides.

Thugs hired to intimidate critics of the Mugabe government “never got the money or jobs” they were promised, only beer, one said.

The defections could prove critical if the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) decides to mount protests over recent parliamentary elections, in which the party accused the government of widespread fraud.

One youth, who asked to be identified only as Sikhumbuzo, said his disillusionment with the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) began in 2002 when Mr. Mugabe won a new term as president.

“ZANU used to get us to stay outside polling stations to frighten away the opposition. If the MDC came, we would chase them away,” Sikhumbuzo said. “But we never got the money or jobs that they promised us; all we got was beer.”

He and others quoted in this report were interviewed before the March 31 election in which Mr. Mugabe’s party secured a two-thirds majority in Zimbabwe’s parliament. The government banned election observers from Europe and the United States, and the opposition charged fraud.

Sikhumbuzo said he recently was accused of being an opposition supporter and, as a result, was told he no longer would be able to purchase corn in his village.

That incident severed his last links with the ruling party and prompted him to begin campaigning for the MDC.

One member of the notorious pro-Mugabe youth militia known as the Green Bombers recalled an earlier campaign:

“They used to give us pills before we went to beat people, but never food. We beat up one old man, he must have been in his 60s, for criticizing the lack of development in the area. He kept apologizing, but none of us stopped. If you were not enthusiastic enough, you would be the next victim.”

The Green Bomber, who begged to remain anonymous, was so terrified of retribution that he insisted the interview take place in a moving car before dawn.

He said that many thousands of young Zimbabweans who had been forced into militia training camps have fled the country.

Other Green Bombers, he said, remained outwardly loyal to the government but planned to cast their votes for the MDC.

“They promised us jobs if we went through border [camps], but we never got anything,” the Green Bomber said, hiding his distinctive olive vest under a sweater as he and a reporter passed a police vehicle. “I registered to vote last year, and I am going to vote MDC.”

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