Zimbabwe's political opposition is intensively campaigning in rural areas for the first time and claims it is making headway in ruling ZANU-PF strongholds. The Movement for Democratic Change is concentrating its efforts in rural districts rather than urban areas where it is already the majority party.
Hwedza, an enormous rural voting district that begins about 150 kilometers southeast of Harare has long been a safe parliament seat for the ZANU-PF.
When the Movement for Democratic Change was formed five years ago, it found it impossible to campaign in most rural areas, but Tuesday the party held a rally in the sparsely populated Hwedza district. The festive rally, held under a huge tree, attracted more than 1,200 people.
People said they had walked up to 20 kilometers to attend. Most of them are thin and said they were tired and hungry, but had walked for half a day to see MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai for the first time.
The district had been a successful commercial farming area, but all but two of the region's 150 white commercial farmers were forced off their land in the past five years.
The district was strangely empty of people, buses, and farm vehicles Tuesday. Local people said tens of thousands of farm workers have left the district and there are few crops and almost no cattle left on the land.
People at the rally say there is less violence than in the general election of 2000 or the presidential poll two years later.
Zimbabwe police attended the rally, but were unobtrusive. No one was threatened and people sang songs, many of them lamenting Zimbabwe's economic crisis and isolation. None of the posters near the rally site appeared to have been defaced or torn down as in previous election campaigns.
ZANU-PF and MDC rallies are taking place with almost no media attention and without any local or foreign observers.
Hwedza was Morgan Tsvangirai's 19th rally in rural areas since February 26, his aides said. He travels in a small convoy of pick-up trucks, addressing two to four rallies a day.
In Hwedza, 24-year-old MDC. supporter Batsirai Muzondo, said many people are still fearful of being seen at opposition rallies.
He said ZANU-PF supporters in his area still threaten people and do not want to see anyone participating in the MDC. He said nowadays he and his friends are educating their parents not to be threatened or frightened.
In the one Hwedza village street, lined by small trading stores, ZANU-PF officials were obvious by their party T-shirts. They were relaxed and friendly. ZANU-PF chairman for the district Columbus Zvinyoro said the party had not yet had any rallies in Hwedza, but would do so shortly. He said he would welcome any journalist who wanted to attend a ZANU-PF rally in Hwedza.