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Zimbabwe's Opposition Claims Harassment Ahead of Election - 2002-10-21

Opposition leaders in Zimbabwe say their supporters are being harassed by backers of the ruling party ahead of a local election in Matabeleland province in the southwestern part of the country.

Opposition spokesman Paul Nyathi said 11 members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were arrested on Sunday in the Insiza district of Matabeleland and are now in police custody. He said another 14 opposition supporters were arrested and later released on bail last week.

Under the conditions of their bail, nine of them who are registered in the Insiza district are not allowed to return to vote at the weekend.

Mr. Nyathi said the opposition was going to court to try and get their bail conditions changed.

The opposition spokesman also said that Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, was stopped by police at roadblocks eight times in the area of Insiza on Sunday. The spokesman said Mr. Tsvangirai was there to address his supporters.

The by-election is for a seat won by the opposition in the last general election in June 2000. The MDC member of parliament subsequently died, and the ruling ZANU-PF party says it is determined to win back the seat.

Two cabinet ministers are leading the campaign in Insiza for the ruling party. They told people on Sunday that the opposition was sponsored by Britain and wished to control Zimbabwe's resources.

Insiza is located in one of the areas that has been most affected by the shortage of food in Zimbabwe.

On Friday, the United Nations closed its feeding program in this area, citing theft of food and intimidation of its staff by ruling party supporters.

Now the only source of food in the Insiza district is from the State Controlled Grain Marketing Board, which opposition supporters say refuses to sell them food.

Many of the 40,000 registered voters in this huge electoral district were once employed in recently closed mines and commercial farms.