Arthur Mutambara, the Zimbabwe opposition leader who returned from South Africa to run for political office, took his campaign to his home district this week. The political rally was the first in Mutambara's birthplace since the Movement for Democratic Change split a year ago, and the first attended by some traditional and spiritual leaders.

Arthur Mutambara received a royal welcome from relatives who turned out in force. Out of the crowd of close to 1,500 people, he estimates at least half were related to him.

Mutambara, a former NASA scientist, told the crowd that a new generation of leaders had to fight for democracy and peacefully overcome the ZANU-PF government of President Robert Mugabe.

The Mutambara village, named after his family in the eastern Manicaland province, became one of the first liberated zones during the anti-colonial war of the 1970's.

"I am coming back home to talk to people where I grew up and inform them of the decision I made," said Mutambara. "Zimbabwe needs a new generation of freedom fighters, and these are the freedom fighters, and I am coming back to my village to inspire them and encourage them to be active in their own emancipation."

Chiefs and other traditional leaders, who are usually viewed as being aligned to the ruling ZANU-PF party, attended the rally. Mutambara embraced their presence saying that they have been mistreated by the ruling party and cautioned them to stay out of politics.

"The chiefs should be a custodian of all the people," he said. "So we are not interested in having chiefs supporting our party, the chief must accommodate all the political parties in the country. We have always said, Zanu has abused chiefs in this country, so the opposition, the democratic forces should be asking chiefs to stay out of politics. As a chief you must make sure you allow democratic practice among the people so they can join whatever party they want."

Mutambara faction leaders from western Zimbabwe also attended the rally. The leaders, members of the Ndebele tribe, said they wanted to show people they were glad that Mutambara, from the majority Shona tribe, was their leader.

Legislator Moses Mzila said he and colleagues from the Matabeleland province went to Manicaland for the first time since the party was formed six years ago.

"It is actually coming deep down from my heart," he said. "I feel I am not even forcing myself even though petrol is a problem in this country but we managed to dig deep down in our pockets and I feel I have done the greatest thing in my life."

Mutambara also reassured voters in his district that an MDC government woulld not reverse the chaotic land reform program initiated by ZANU-PF. He said, "We will not take away land from people but we will conduct a productive assessment to see who is using the land productively and who is not."