Families are turning on each other in Zimbabwe's rural areas, where a higher premium is being placed on political allegiance to either President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party or Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), than ties of blood.
Ebba Katiyo, a middle-aged MDC supporter Uzumba, a village in Mashonaland East Province, told IRIN while convalescing after a beating ordered by her uncle because of her MDC membership that relatives were turning on each other over party loyalties.
"My uncle, who is the village head and a ZANU-PF official, summoned me [on 12 July 2009] to a public meeting where he berated me for continuing to be an MDC supporter," she said.
"After he publicly humiliated me, he ordered some youth militia [established by ZANU-PF and often accused of political intimidation and thuggery] to beat me up - they used sticks, their feet and clenched fists to beat me all over my body."
A few days later the same youth militia accosted her and again assaulted her, leaving her for dead. She was discovered by friends and brought to the capital, Harare, for medical treatment.
Mugabe declared three "peace days" from 24 to 26 July "to observe the prevailing peace, [and] promote the ideals of national healing and reconciliation", but in the rural provinces of Mashonaland West, East and Central, Masvingo and Manicaland - once ZANU-PF strongholds - supporting the MDC still carries the risk of a beating.
Morgan Komichi, a senior MDC official involved in rural organization, told IRIN that ZANU-PF violence was increasing as the party went about shoring up its support ahead of the elections expected to take place once a new constitution has been agreed.
reports of violence that we are receiving at our offices are extremely
shocking and barbaric. MDC supporters are being axed, while in some
instances members of the military are viciously assaulting our members
Machinery of violence
"What is happening is that ZANU-PF is rolling out its machinery of violence in order to intimidate the population ahead of the constitution making-process; it is a constitutional battle," Komichi said.
"Mugabe has said he wants the new constitution to be based on a draft ... crafted during the inter-party negotiations [which led to the formation of the unity government], while the MDC is for a people-driven process," he commented.
"The reports of violence that we are receiving at our offices are extremely shocking and barbaric. MDC supporters are being axed, while in some instances members of the military are viciously assaulting our members. ZANU-PF is now actively pushing the agenda of national healing so that perpetrators of violence find an escape, so that they don't [have to] account for their actions."
Komichi said the violence would end if Mugabe explicitly told his supporters to refrain from it. Mugabe acknowledged the existence of political violence at a ceremony to observe the peace days in Harare, but placed no blame on his own supporters.
"There are still reported cases of political violence, and this must stop. Let us move among the people, promoting the values and practices of tolerance, respect, non-violence and dialogue as a sustainable means of resolving political differences."
Tsvangirai said there was a need for justice before national healing and cohesion could occur. "We must look back resolutely to the pre-independence era, the post-independence Matabeleland massacres, and the more recent political violence that has torn at the fabric of our society."
Zimbabweans fought a protracted war of independence against the white minority government in the then Rhodesia, which brought independence in 1980. Two years later, President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government launched Operation Gukurahundi - in the Shona language, "the early rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rains" - in which more than 20,000 people were killed in the provinces of Matabeleland North and South.
are apprehensive about the appointment of former soldiers in
high-ranking posts at the ministry of education - the government's
motivation in this regard is very much unclear
Rural teachers fear ZANU-PF militia
Political violence has become a feature of ZANU-PF's power struggle against the MDC since 2000, especially during election periods.
Raymond Majongwe, secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), told IRIN that since the emergence of militia groups, teachers in rural areas feared for their security.
"Teachers are apprehensive about the appointment of former soldiers in high-ranking posts at the ministry of education - the government's motivation in this regard is very much unclear. There are youth militias who are intimidating teachers, pupils and parents in the countryside," he said.
ZANU-PF youth militia had become part and parcel of everyday school activities. "The presence of youth militias in schools has been done through several strategies, with one of them being to demand offices from schools around the country, which are manned by what are called 'youth coordinators' without permission from the ministry of education," he said.
"Some youths are instructing schools to appoint some school children as councillors. These councillors are supposed to inform the youth militia about any problems that develop at schools."
Majongwe said he was disturbed by reports that some centres were running history clubs for children. "Who would be worried if they were running mathematics or science clubs? Why history? Whose history?"