Mugabe militias seal town for 'recruiting drive'

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Hundreds of President Robert Mugabe's youth militias sealed off three towns in Zimbabwe yesterday as political violence grew ahead of the presidential election in March.

The situation in Bindura town, 50 miles north-east of Harare, was tense early yesterday afternoon. Residents said the youths, who recently graduated from a government national youth service training programme, descended on Sunday night and mounted roadblocks sealing off the town.

In the Matepatepa farming zone near Bindura, about 40 white farmers were reportedly prevented from leaving the area by militias enforcing illegal roadblocks.

Residents in Bindura said that the youths had moved from door to door in the town ordering people to produce new membership cards of the ruling Zanu-PF party, worth one pound each. If they failed to do so, they were beaten.

According to the Daily News, Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, hundreds of Bindura residents have since fled to Harare. The newspaper interviewed some of the townspeople, who vowed not to return because they feared for their lives.

One of them, Shadreck Mabaudi, showed wounds sustained when he was stopped at an illegal roadblock and assaulted for failing to produce a Zanu-PF membership card.

Tapera Macheka, the chairman of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Mashonaland Central province, pointed out three badly damaged houses belonging to the opposition party's officials in Bindura. Six opposition supporters have died in the past two weeks in election-related violence.

Some youths could be seen riding around Bindura town in government number-plated trucks, wearing green military uniforms marked "Third Chimurenga", a term used by the ruling party to describe its crusade of seizing white land for redistribution to blacks.

Reports said the situation was even worse in the other two towns, Chinhoyi and Karoi in Mashonaland West province, where residents were also prevented from leaving.

The opposition spokesman Learnmore Jongwe said youths had sealed those towns and demanded that residents either produce or buy Zanu-PF cards immediately. Residents were only allowed topass through roadblocks mounted around the towns if they had a ruling party card.

In Harare's Mbare suburb, six Zanu-PF and MDC supporters were arrested yesterday after violent political clashes. A police spokesman, Wayne Bvudzijena, accused MDC supporters of starting the violence after attacking ruling party supporters.

Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri, who has openly stated that he supports the ruling party, said he had ordered his officers to have zero tolerance of any activities that would lead to political violence.

"Political activism by some parties has been criminal in nature resulting in loss of life, injury and damage to property ... this type of activism should cease forthwith," hesaid.

Elliot Manyika, the Zanu-PF commissariat secretary and Youth Affairs Minister, denied suggestions yesterday that the beneficiaries of the youth programme were receiving military training. Speaking at the handover of certificates to 974 graduates of the training programme, Mr Manyika said the youths were being taught in self-help projects.

However, the youths have been seen openly harassing residents in towns. Some of the youths have confirmed receiving military training in media interviews. They say they were promised integration into the police force and the army once President Mugabe is re-elected in the March ballot.

Mr Mugabe has pulled out all the stops to ensure his re-election by barring foreign electoral monitors, naming government sympathisers as judges, cracking down on the independent media and intimidating the opposition.