Zimbabwe thugs target opposition teachers

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The Independent Online

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe met with white farmers and black war veterans yesterday to discuss the land crisis as pre-electoral violence centred on a new target - school teachers.

Widely respected in rural Zimbabwe, teachers this week became the latest casualties in the increasingly violent, methodical campaign by Zimbabwe's ruling party to intimidate anyone opposing the 20-year reign of Zanu-PF and its autocratic leader, Mr Mugabe.

On Wednesday 15 teachers were abducted and beaten by war veterans in Mudzi, about 100 miles north-east of Harare. One, who escaped with nine colleagues from the secluded area where they were taken, said that five others accused of being opposition supporters were still being held.

On Tuesday at Mapfeni Primary School, about 20 miles east of the capital, a truck arrived full of young men armed with sticks and axes and dressed in T-shirts bearing the Zanu-PF logo. Their mission: find and beat teachers supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Without need of explanation, the pupils began screaming and running. The teachers, who were in a meeting, saw the panicking pupils andfled. "We heard they had a list of teachers supporting MDC. I cannot go back there," one of the teachers said.

The director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, Munyaradzi Bidi, said: "The violence is twisting. They are now targeting each and every person and institution who has a conscience against Zanu-PF." The association has deployed hundreds of human rights activists across the country, including many teachers.

The crisis in Zimbabwe started in February when war veterans began occupying white-owned farms, ostensibly to fulfil a long-standing hunger for land. But those veterans, along with legions of paid Zanu-PF supporters, have become an army of political shock troops who are spending their time not preparing the land, but beating opponents, hunting for MDC organisers and conducting violent "re-education" sessions in which suspected opponents are beaten, made to chant party slogans and beat other suspected MDC supporters.

According to Mr Bidi, the campaign of violence has moved beyond farm workers to other key groups supporting MDC as well as human rights monitors. Dozens of schools have been closed after teachers, some of whom have been active MDC organisers, were attacked in recent weeks.

North-east of Harare, United Methodist Church congregations have been attacked because they are believed to be supporting the United Party, led by Bishop Abel Muzarewa. "They are even targeting the clergy. This has nothing to do with the land issue. The land issue is not an issue but a political gimmick," Mr Bidi said.

Mr Mugabe's meeting yesterday with the farmers and the war veterans was his second since squatters moved on to the commercial farms.

The white farmers are increasingly put under pressure to bring their workers and themselves to Zanu-PF rallies at which they are paraded and made to chant slogans for the ruling party and denounce MDC. State television and newspapers cover the denunciations as news of growing support for Zanu-PF.

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