"Every time Mugabe is cornered, he resorts to violence," said Oskar Wermter, a Catholic priest in the crowded Mbare neighborhood on the outskirts of Harare. "It's a warlike atmosphere. [Mugabe] and his colleagues live in the past in the glory days of the liberation war in the 1970s. They're still in the trenches. They see themselves as in the same confrontation with the British and the whites.
"There's a possibility that now that they have manipulated the elections they will go further and crush the opposition and keep hitting them and annihilate them once and for all."
He said in Mbare, youth militias were beating people who had not voted. Human Rights Watch also reported punitive beatings of people for not going to the polls.
Dumiso Dabengwa, a senior liberation war veteran who defected from the ruling party this year, said Mugabe had always been violent and ruthless, even in his early days when he rose to be leader of the liberation movement ZANU, which later became ZANU-PF.
"It's always been there," Dabengwa said Sunday. He said those who opposed Mugabe as leader of ZANU were punished or jailed. Mugabe's first election campaign at independence in 1980 was not free or fair, he said, but the West overlooked the problems.
"Twenty thousand people died and nobody raised a fist in the whole of the Western world," Dabengwa said.
According to Heidi Holland, author of the book "Dinner With Mugabe," which was based in part on a lengthy and rare interview with him last year, the violence of the election "has got Mugabe written all over it. If you go to war, you go to war with your generals."
She saw him as a quiet, closed figure who believes a person must hide emotions so that no one can determine what he or she is thinking.
"He's not had a friend, all his life, and he admitted that to me. He said he used to like being by himself. He liked living in his head. He's a very clever man and completely cut off from his feelings so he can operate in a way that no one else can."
Holland described Mugabe as "extremely vengeful" and predicted that he would try in the coming months to eliminate the opposition.
"When he's rejected or humiliated -- and he knows that he was rejected and that the people voted against him -- he chalks it up and there will be a payback. I am absolutely certain that the violence will continue in the rural areas."
"He lives in a reality bubble," Holland said. "Nothing impinges on the way he chooses to see things. He cannot be wrong, he can only be right.
"You can ask him any question, because he knows the answer," she said. "It's only when you are skeptical about his answer that he gets sparks in his eyes."
Times staff writer Barbara Demick in Beijing contributed to this report.