Heavy military deployment in Matabeleland

BULAWAYO – Heavily armed soldiers have been deployed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces, a development which human rights organisations fear will revive memories of the massacres in which 20 000 civilians perished.

Human rights groups say the soldiers have been deployed to intimidate villagers into supporting Zanu PF ahead of elections which Zanu PF insist will be held this year.

Information obtained by the Daily News shows a steady incursion of armed troops into Nkayi, Zvishavane, Plumtree, Gwanda, Rutenga, Mwenezi and Ngungumbane areas. Already, there has been an increase in reports of intimidation by members of the army.

But the minister of defence Emmerson Mnangagwa denied that soldiers had been deployed.

"There is no way soldiers can conduct party business. Zanu PF has structures that are capable of running on their own, so there will never be any need for the military to run its politics. Our policy and charter forbid us from doing so," Mnangagwa said.

In Plumtree, soldiers attached to border patrol units have turned to the villages where they engage in routine assault of people and supposed opposition sympathisers.

Former Bulilima East MP Norman Mpofu told the Daily News that there was renewed terror campaign by soldiers in Plumtree and the nearby communities.

"Until recently, the soldiers were well behaved but of late they have turned violent. Two weeks ago, they assaulted nearly everyone who was at the Plumtree border gate for no apparent reason and we still hear a lot of incidents where they move through villages threatening people. The people are scared," Mpofu said.

Nkayi Senator Robert Makhula said he met soldiers travelling in a convoy of five pick-up trucks near Tohwe, about 30 north of Nkayi on Sunday.

"I spoke to them and they said they are going out to revamp Zanu PF structures and to deal with those people who were in Zanu PF but joined opposition factions. It sounds like a general intimidation pattern which will harass anyone who does not support Zanu PF," Makhula said.

Buletsi Sibanda, a human rights activist at Gwanda Agenda also confirmed the increase in harassment and intimidation by soldiers.

"I have personally handled three cases in which armed soldiers based at Rustlers Gorge in Gwanda South went to Halisupi Business Centre and forced two teachers, Charles Gwate and Malvern Ndlovu, to do press-ups and roll on the ground for allegedly not supporting Zanu PF. A villager Philimon Gwingwizha was assaulted on that day,” said Sibanda.

He added that community based rights monitors have also reported growing patterns of threats, violence and intimidation blamed on soldiers deployed within Zanu PF District Coordinating Committee (DCC) structures in parts of Gwanda North.

Zimbabwe African People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) Veterans Trust spokesman Busta Magwizi said there is a ‘military plot’ to keep Mugabe in power.

"Yes, there is a military plot to keep Mugabe in power. Soldiers continue to be deployed to the rural areas in various pretexts to spearhead the restructuring of Zanu PF and weaken all opposition ranks.

“Last week, we went to the ground in southern Midlands and parts of Masvingo and noted a sudden increase of military personnel in Zvishavane, Rutenga, Mwenezi and Ngungumbane areas where they are restructuring Zanu PF.

"In Mwenezi, I met and spoke to one soldier and perpetrator of violence, Solomon Mabhenda Ndlovu, known to his victims as ‘Comrade Hazvigoni’ who confesses to killing at least two opposition MDC supporters prior to the 2008 elections.

“I also saw one Colonel Xavier Hungwe who is assigned to the Zanu PF restructuring campaign and is now based at Neshuro Growth Point. There is also one Major Tshudini Moyo who is restructuring Zanu PF, Mwenezi DCC structures. They are all involved in acts of violence and intimidation against the people," Magwizi said.