War on the Opposition

As the United States and its allies intensify their crackdown on terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks, Zimbabwe is waging its own war on terrorism. The Nov. 5 killing of Cain Nkala, the war veterans leader in Bulawayo in southwestern Zimbabwe, ignited a political powder keg. Nkala had been strangled and his body dumped in a shallow grave near Bulawayo.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has been blamed for the murder and has had several of its members locked up on murder and terrorism charges. “The ongoing foreign-sponsored political thuggery that has raised its ugly head should not be allowed to go on unchecked. We would like to urge the government to use the state security machinery to deal with these acts of terrorism before they get out of hand,” the government-owned Chronicle (Nov. 28) commented.

But is there any worse terrorism than political emasculation, the opposition press asked, noting government efforts to use the Nkala killing to silence opponents, boost its land reform program, and energize its flagging support base ahead of next year’s presidential elections? “The government is uncertain of its prospects of winning next year’s presidential race,” said the opposition Daily News (Nov. 20). “In the long term, the threatened crackdown will not work, although in the immediate, it will buy the ruling party and its government relief by removing competition from the contest.”

In November, the government passed the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill, which will bar foreign journalists from working in Zimbabwe, license local journalists, and hand down stiff penalties to those whose writing is viewed as disruptive. “The Zimbabwe government must obviously have a lot it wishes to hide—corrupt activities, for instance—otherwise it would not have crafted the obnoxious...bill,” remarked the Daily News (Dec. 4).

“Government will use the law to bring to book MDC terrorists and their media supporters without fear or favor. No terrorist or terrorist sponsor will find comfort in Zimbabwe. The use of the media, whether local or international, will not suffice as a cover for terrorism,” declared government spin-doctor Jonathan Moyo in the official Sunday Mail (Nov. 25).

As Zimbabweans start a new year, the presidential polls are on the minds of the fortunate few who may eventually speak through the ballot. A letter to the editor published in the Zimbabwe Independent (Nov. 23) asked if Zimbabwe was a nation of masochists. The answer will be in that box with a small slit for a ballot paper.