Voters are terrified by army's brutality

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The Independent Online

In rural areas torn by political violence the people have never seen anything like this. The levels of brutality are shocking.

A 76-year-old woman told me just a few days ago that her son had been beaten to death on suspicion of being a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

She lived in Chiweshe, central Mashonaland, a former stronghold of Zanu-PF where the "war vets" have been active because of opposition gains.

I saw one woman whose hands and buttocks were raw. I saw a man with severe injuries on his hand and leg. The people are warned not to seek medical help on pain of death. That means that the hospitals are receiving people with week-old wounds, their flesh rotting.

Travelling around Mashonaland I am struck by the number of military vehicles intimidating people. You see soldiers everywhere.

The army's tactics are quite clear: they call in the village headmen with a list of voters to make them personally responsible for the votes of their people. One way or another, they must deliver the vote for Mugabe. Some headmen have already been beaten or even killed.

I went to one meeting run by army officers in a church mission where people's ID cards were taken and the details noted. The 400 people who showed up were told that when they vote on 27 June, they should say they are illiterate and need help with the ballot.

The soldiers had their guns and ammunition on display so that everyone is stricken by fear. Many people have left their homes because of the violence, or threat of violence. They are so scared they sleep in the hills.

Some I spoke to were resolute they would return to vote. But others would not. The old lady said to me: "What's the point, when they are bent on war?"

The writer is a Zimbabwean lawyer whose name has been changed to protect his identity