Opposition cannot overcome politics of fear

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The Independent Online

The road divided those who were afraid and those who were not. By the time the opposition messiah, Morgan Tsvangirai, pulled up on one side in his white Mazda, the crowd there had swelled to 1,500, and hundreds more joined it after he arrived.

But the interest was not in those who sang and danced openly before Mr Tsvangirai, open palms - the opposition salute - held high. For anyone trying to measure the effect of President Robert Mugabe's terror tactics on support for Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in the run-up to Zimbabwe's elections, the other side of the road was the place to be.

Hundreds more stood on the frightened side of the street, crammed together, on the long raised verge. They did not raise their hands or shout but stood still and oddly silent. "Come and join us," pleaded the MDC stewards patrolling the road, clasping little piles of membership cards. No-one took a card and anyone who did cross over did so further down the road, when they thought no-one was looking.

However, the verge-side watchers were also resistant to the orders from a policeman to move back into their township. When he moved away, they simply returned and resumed their passive vigil. Many discreet inquiries revealed that the verge-side was also filled with MDC supporters. Fortunate Madhau, 18, whispered, in an impossibly soft voice, for them all. "Ah, Mugabe is a thief," she hissed, as if the old dictator had personally been to her house and stolen the cooker.

Innocent Mudarikwa, 20, who runs one of a cluster of little stalls selling bruised and diseased vegetables, behind the silent lines, explained. "In the past three days, about 100 Zanu people have been toi-toiing around town and if you do not join them right away they beat you with sticks."

But they cannot, it seems, pound away disillusionment with Mr Mugabe. Mr Mudarikwa has five O-Levels but cannot get a job. Hence his little stall. "These tomatoes are rejects," he said, explaining that although the economy has collapsed, until a few weeks ago some of his customers could still afford good vegetables. "But things are so bad now that only rejects sell," he said. His fellow seller, Enoch Mutedzi, 20, said there are no proper jobs so anyone who can sets up a stall. Competition is tough, even in the spoiled vegtable business.

The young men say locals are terrified to be identified as MDC. "Then they [Zanu] can follow you home and burn your house or beat you. Just look at what they can do even to Tsvangirai's driver [killed in a petrol bomb attack]. So we join in with Zanu's slogans and stand on this side of the road, but everyone is voting MDC." The need for secrecy is obvious. Zanu's patronage seeps everywhere. It even owns the site for Mr Mudarikwa's stall. He has been warned he will lose it if he votes the wrong way.

The political tactics employed on the verge were endorsed by Mr Tsvangirai. Though he was talking of retaliation for the deaths of at least 10 supporters, Mr Tsvangirai seemed to be trying to cool the political temperature. Perhaps he realises that widespread violence will scare off voters who would otherwise opt for change, or that it will give Mr Mugabe an excuse to declare a state of emergency.

So Mr Tsvangirai, a round faced, middle-aged man, sporting his familiar leather jacket, advised the crowd to be two-faced. "If a [MDC] T-shirt means your house may be burned down, remove it," he said. "What is left is for us to be brave and wait for the day of voting. That is when he [Mr Mugabe] will see our strength."