THE WASHINGTON TIMES
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.”
The lack of violence in the campaign leading up to the recent election surprised those who remember the widespread use of torture, rape, killings and other forms of intimidation during the 2000 and 2002 elections.
Brian Kagoro, head of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, said the relative peace may have been due to the MDC’s late decision to enter the race.
“Until six weeks ago, there was no opposition contesting the election so there was no one for ZANU-PF to beat up. They were occupied with internal struggles instead,” Mr. Kagoro said.
The biggest split in ZANU-PF since independence in 1980 preceded the election. Information Minister Jonathon Moyo was dismissed and six of the party’s 10 provincial chairmen were suspended after conducting an unsuccessful campaign to stop appointment of a new vice president, Joyce Mujuru.
Lazarus Shave, a former secret policeman, admitted that in past elections he committed arson, tortured grandmothers and led invasions of white-owned properties by landless blacks.
In the latest election, he said, ZANU-PF tried to reassert control over its own ranks by using tactics reserved for the opposition in past contests — beatings, rigged primaries and denial of food.
Mr. Shave said he was beaten by five men last month because he supported one candidate for parliament in a ZANU-PF primary that the government did not want to win.
“Now I want to work for the MDC, and I will not beat anyone anymore,” he said.
The Washington Times is withholding the identity of this correspondent to protect the reporter from government retaliation.