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Emboldened, Mugabe opponents don party T-shirts, then must flee

September 16, 2008|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — A few months ago, Florence Mutiro sorrowfully hid her opposition T-shirts and wrap skirts.

Mutiro, 36, stuffed the red-and-white garments into pillows and under the mattress in case her house was attacked and searched by thugs from the ruling ZANU-PF party.

But on Sunday night, she took them out and laid them on the bed. Suddenly she felt free.

She put them on at dawn Monday and hurried to support Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change at the signing of Zimbabwe's political power-sharing deal. Thousands of other MDC supporters made the same decision.

"I was thinking today was the day they were going to inaugurate my leader on the big throne. I had no fear," she said.

Maybe so. But a few hours later, Mutiro was in the middle of a stone-throwing fracas between MDC and ZANU-PF supporters who went at one another after the signing ceremony was over.

Recalling months of violence against opposition supporters, Maxwell Maurukira, 38, hesitated before pulling on his T-shirt bearing Tsvangirai's round, beaming face and the slogan "A New Zimbabwe."

He had been beaten four times; the last time was in June, when ZANU-PF thugs dragged him from his house at 3 a.m. and beat him until morning. He had to sleep in his car because thugs raided his home every night. Two close friends, Better Chinorurama and "Soldier" Kauzani, were killed.

"What made me put it on is courage," he said. "I said, 'This is my freedom day because I was under bondage.' I saw the beatings. I saw the killings. I was even a victim myself. Two of my best friends were killed."

Maurukira's wife, shocked to see him wearing the shirt, begged him to be careful.

Venus Mashiki, 26, of Chinhoyi, about 75 miles northwest of Harare, the capital, also was beaten during the election campaign. She said wearing an MDC T-shirt should not be something that could get you killed.

"I think we are now free. I did not imagine this could really happen. I feel very happy, like everything will change from today," she said.

She was in the throbbing red-and-white crowd outside the Rainbow Towers hotel, people dancing and waving their hands in the MDC's symbol of an open palm.

"ZANU yaora baba!" they sung over and over -- ZANU is rotten.

They booed raucously when President Robert Mugabe's convoy arrived to sign the deal. Standing across the road was a small crowd of subdued ZANU-PF supporters, only a few of whom answered by raising fists, their party's symbol.

It wasn't clear who started it, but soon the MDC supporters were clashing with a large crowd of ZANU-PF reinforcements.

"I was among them," Mutiro said proudly. "We would run in throwing stones and then run out. I was feeling very strong. I was angry. They'd been beating us up [during the election period] and we had no revenge. And today we had our chance to hit back."

But ZANU-PF youths had the upper hand once again, and hundreds of MDC supporters ended up fleeing, most of them hurriedly pulling off their party shirts and caps and melting into the crowd. Baton-wielding riot police chased the crowds away.

But Mashiki left her T-shirt on. "I left it on because I want other people to know that the MDC still exists," she said. "And I want other people to be brave too."--

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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