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Zimbabwe Civil Society Also Under Pressure From State Crackdown

  • Sithandekile Mhlanga

Zimbabwean civil society organizations say that with the political opposition they too are feeling pressure from government ongoing crackdown on dissent.

Members of civic organizations are routinely questioned by police as to their supposed allegiance to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and their involvement in the March 11 prayer meeting in the Highfield district of the capital which police prevented from taking place, sparking protests and one shooting death.

The ill-fated prayer meeting was called by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, an umbrella for political and civic opposition groups.

Sources among civic activists said project coordinator Vumani Ndlovu of the Bulawayo Agenda branch in Lupane, Matabeleland North, remains in police custody following his arrest Monday evening with six other Bulawayo Agenda members. Ndlovu had called a meeting so local residents could discuss the turmoil in the country.

Meetings held by the Bulawayo Agenda in Nkayi and Victoria Falls have also been broken up by police, who allegedly roughed up a number of those attending.

Sources said members of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise activist group have been detained for interrogation in Harare and Gweru, some blindfolded and beaten while being questioned about the organization's protest activities.

WOZA Acting Coordinator Nolwandle Simunyu told reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the group has referred the matter to its lawyers.

Despite increasing violence aimed at opposition members, some civil society groups say they believe the public will remain resilient in its quest for democratic reform.

The weekend beating of parliamentarian Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai, the detention this week of rival faction leader Arthur Mutambara, freed Monday after his arrest at the Harare Airport on Saturday, leads some observers to conclude that the ruling party is nearing collapse.

Some say the rising violence suggests President Robert Mugabe is losing control of the ruling ZANU-PF party and is vulnerable to those who want to remove him.

Reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe asked two experts how civic groups can continue in the face of repression: Tawanda Chimhini, Harare-Chitungwiza regional manager for the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust, and Regis Mtutu, international campaign coordinator for the Treatment Action Campaign.

Mtutu, a former chairman of the Zimbabwe Social Forum, said the state violence has merely strengthened the resolve of civic activists to bring about change.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 For Zimbabwe...