Zimbabwean clergy describe 'atmosphere of terror'

 The Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, with other church leaders has said that the Zimbabwean government is creating an 'atmosphere of terror' with its repressive new laws and state-sponsored violence to crack down on all opposition. Speaking at a press conference in Johannesburg last Wednesday, the Archbishop said the new repressive laws show "Mugabe's regime has made sure they can beat anyone into submission". Archbishop Ncube, Rev Kumbukani Phiri of the Zimbabwe Pastors Conference, Jonah Gokova of the Ecumenical Support Services and Jacob Mafume of Lawyers for Human Rights urged the international community to pressure Zimbabwe to restore the rule of law. They called on government opponents, including the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to step up pressure on the regime. They also accused South African President Thabo Mbeki of making repression worse in Zimbabwe by backing Mugabe "hook, line and sinker." South Africa should publicly recognise the injustice in Zimbabwe, the violations of human rights and insist on lawful conduct by the Zimbabwean government, Ncube said. He said the African Union, which is holding a heads of state summit in Ethiopia, is doing nothing to end the repression in Zimbabwe. "All they do is back each other up and drink tea," he said. The four predict the violence in repression in Zimbabwe will escalate as the country moves closer to general elections next March. "We are dealing here with very deceitful people and there is no way we are going to have free and fair elections," said Ncube. The four pointed out that the government refused to release voters rolls to the public or opposition parties ahead of the 2002 presidential election. However, they said they managed to obtain the rolls for four constituencies, representing 3% of total voters. They said an analysis of those rolls showed 35% of the names represented voters who didn't exist. They said there were 840 000 dead people listed on the four roles, 600 000 duplicate names, more than 700 000 were voters 'not known' at the given addresses and that the official results inflated the number of people registered by three percent. Mafume said it would be fruitless for the opposition to contest the next elections. He said the new laws prevent them from campaigning and deny them access to money and state media. "The result is a foregone conclusion," he said. Ncube said the government was moving to close down aid agencies that have been distributing food in Zimbabwe, indicating they will use food as a political weapon in the next election. "They want to starve the people so the people will have to vote for them ," he said. "They want to starve people as a political tool, the whole thing is vicious." The government, they said, armed with its new public security laws, has become bolder about using police and militias to intimidate people and crush dissent throughout the country. New security laws make it illegal for two or more people to meet to discuss politics or to organise any protest or demonstration without prior police approval. Police have used the laws to arrest critics and even to prevent prayer meetings. At the same time, pro-government groups and militias carry out acts of intimidation against the opposition with impunity. "Youth militias go to villages and say: "If you don't vote for us," we will come back and burn your homes," said Ncube. He also said opponents of the government now estimated that one out every 50 Zimbabweans is now a government informant. He said they have infiltrated all kinds of organisations, including churches, to help the government crush dissent. Source: ZW News/AT

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