Mugabe militia take a bloody revenge
Mike had reached the safety of a hospital in Harare after being attacked by President Robert Mugabe's youth militia a week ago. The 20-year-old's arms were heavily bandaged from fingertip to elbow, and his face was scorched from bundles of burning grass that been thrust at his eyes and hands.
Struggling for clarity through a heavy dose of painkillers, Mike told a story that has become all too familiar as Mr Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party take revenge for their unexpected setback in the elections last month at the hands of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Zanu-PF lost its parliamentary majority, and the result of the presidential contest has still not been released, almost certainly because Mr Mugabe finished well behind the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
"On Friday I was taking supplies to a shop my family has in Mudzi [in Mutoko district, about 90 miles east of the capital]," Mike said. "About 9pm I was attacked by Zanu-PF youths from the local area. They said it was because I am a member of the MDC, but I couldn't identify any of them because they were shoving burning grass in my face. My hands were burnt when I put them up to protect myself."
Mike's attackers beat him with thick wooden staves, breaking his right arm and dislocating two fingers of his left hand before looting his shop. Police took him to the local hospital, but, crippled by Zimbabwe's economic collapse, it had no drugs to treat him and Zanu-PF's other victims. The MDC had to pay for two trucks to bring them to the capital.
Many patients had similar stories. In one room lay an uncle and nephew, the former with both arms broken, the latter with a broken leg. In another was a man with his left arm broken, a fingertip missing from his right hand and a severe wound in his leg. He said a man wearing an MDC T-shirt knocked on his door and asked where he could find a local party activist. When the ruse failed, they attacked him instead.
Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights said it had treated 173 victims of organised violence and torture between 29 March and 14 April.
In a statement marking Zimbabwe's independence day today, the US ambassador, James McGee, said: "We have disturbing and confirmed reports of threats, beatings, abductions, burning of homes and even murder, from many parts of the country."
Zanu-PF suffered in the election because voters in its heartland – the three provinces of Mashonaland, across the north and north-east of Zimbabwe – dared to turn to the opposition. It is here that the retaliation has been most brutal. The MDC says at least two of its supporters have been killed and scores more badly beaten. One man recognised his local Zanu-PF MP among his attackers.
A senior MDC official, who asked not to be named because of a wave of arrests of party figures, said reports were coming in of villagers' huts and granaries being torched and livestock being killed. Last week, dissident policemen said they had been given orders to seal off areas while the inhabitants were terrorised by "war veterans", party militias and members of the security forces.
According to an affidavit seen by The Independent, people in Murewa West, a rural area of Mashonaland East province where the Zanu-PF MP lost her seat, were forced to attend a meeting last Thursday. Zimbabwe's Minister of Health, Dr David Parirenyatwa, threatened them with death if they voted again for the MDC in a presidential election run-off.
Back in his hospital bed, Mike has just one question for the outside world. "Why is Zimbabwe being overpowered by one person?"