- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2000

ZISWA FARM, Zimbabwe Chased by a mob of stone-throwing ruling-party supporters, Priscillah Masunda dove into the path of a moving car and broke her leg.

Her thatched hut, in a tiny cluster of dwellings about 120 miles east of Harare, was burned to the ground last week along with four tons of freshly harvested corn.

Her attackers stole two of six cows along with 53 breeding chickens.

The culprits, she said, are from President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front Party, which has turned this stretch of impoverished rural Zimbabwe into a virtual war zone for Mrs. Masunda and other supporters of the upstart Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Her husband was abducted and beaten for three days last month. Their lives have been financially ruined, but still the two of them campaign ahead of this weekend's elections, said Mrs. Masunda, wincing each time her swollen leg touches ground.

"We are afraid, but we will vote. We want to change things because we are suffering," she said.

At least 29 persons, mostly opposition Movement for Democratic Change supporters, have died in violence linked to the election or the occupation of hundreds of white-owned farms by pro-government militants since February.

Deep in the nation's rural heartland is a small army of unpaid, ill-equipped, mostly unemployed volunteers who risk their lives and meager belongings to oppose the ruling party.

Their precise reasons vary, but their conviction and personal courage are unmistakable.

Prelica Mhlanga is the MDC chairman for Makoni North, a parliamentary district about 30 miles west of the Mozambique border that is about 70 percent communal farmland and land previously bought from white farmers and resettled with black peasants.

Mrs. Masunda campaigns for Valentine Ziswa, a small-scale tobacco farmer and former director of various church-affiliated development programs.

His 1,100-acre farm has become a small sanctuary for some 35 persons who have been beaten or burned out of their homes. They sleep among his 140 workers at night, but many hide in the bush during the day when he leaves the farm to campaign.

With public rallies and speeches all but impossible, campaigning in most of Zimbabwe has become a form of guerilla warfare. For the worst areas, the MDC has resorted to dropping pamphlets from airplanes. In other areas, candidates speed by car through danger zones flinging fliers out the windows in a desperate hope that someone will read them before the ruling party methodically cleans the area.

Despite the presence of some 300 foreign election observers and thousands of local observers, the violent suppression of opposition campaigning continued this week.

Every night, Kudakwashe Ndavandega, a 23-year-old father of five, drives with a handful of volunteers into villages to put up posters, spray-paint slogans on road signs and leave election fliers on the ground.

Last week, as he and 30 others began posting signs advertising a speech by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, they were accosted by a mob of several hundred ruling-party supporters who threatened violence if Mr. Tsvangirai appeared.

Mr. Ndavandega, who earns the equivalent of $20 a month at the local Chibuku Beer plant, said: "I cannot stand ZANU-PF. There are no jobs. I am poorly paid, so it is better to die for a party that is promising something."

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