Zimbabwe: 'A Brother-Kill-Brother Situation'

Horrifying tales of mass beatings, torched homes and systematic murder are trickling out of Zimbabwe in the days before the presidential election runoff, scheduled for June 27, despite the government's continuing crackdown on journalists and civil society.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that four activists from Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were killed in a firebombing near Harare. The MDC's allegations were not confirmed by the Zimbabwean police.

This is only the latest in a long string of allegations levelled by the opposition against President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.

Silas Gweshe, an MDC parliamentary candidate in one of Zimbabwe's rural areas, told ABC News that even after he lost the election, he and his family were targeted by Zanu-PF.

"They came in the night, put petrol to my house, and they destroyed everything," he said. "It wasn't only my house which was burnt down, but my councilor's as well."

Gweshe also said he witnessed a 78-year-old man being beaten to death.

He added that he knew of an educator who was kidnapped, accused of being subversive to the state for his support of MDC, and was later found dead.

Tales like Gweshe's are beginning to become more and more common throughout Zimbabwe.

One researcher who works with the National Constitutional Assembly, a civil society group, has been documenting the reports of incidents of violence in the country.

During an interview, a rural opposition supporter said he doesn't sleep in his home anymore for fear of being attacked. Both the researcher and the supporter asked to remain anonymous out of fear of the Mugabe regime.

"At 6 or 7 [p.m.] I go to a different district for the night and then come back in the day," the supporter said.

"One time they caught me as I was about to leave for the night," he said. "They said, 'Here comes the white servant.' They attacked me and I tried to retaliate with a screwdriver. I carry a screwdriver as a weapon. There were five of them. They had sticks. I didn't recognize them. They were brought in from another district. They are always brought in from the outside."

At a press conference in Nairobi, civil society groups alleged that Mugabe has set up "structures of violence" all around the country in preparation for mass violence should he not win the runoff.

Maureen Kademaunga, an advocacy officer for the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, was just released from prison after being jailed for two weeks for her work. She said the Mugabe regime is arming Zanu-PF supporters and placing them in villages known to be opposition strongholds.

"Militias are being set up using young people to turn against even their families," Kademaunga said.

In a country where unemployment is said to be nearly 80 percent and inflation is estimated at more than 1 million percent, bribing youths and low-level soldiers to commit violent acts on behalf of the government is not difficult, human rights advocates say.

Gordon Moyo, the executive director of the Zimbabwean NGO Bulawayo Agenda, told ABC News, "They get food, money. They are promised they will become part of the team, and will be rewarded as such."

Local journalists who are deemed unfriendly to the government are being targeted as well.

Frank Chikowore, who reports primarily for Zimbabwe's Independent newspaper, spent 17 days in prison after being arrested for attempting to interview MDC officials after the March election. MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangirai won the most votes in that election, though he did not receive enough to avoid a runoff with Mugabe, who finished second.

"I was deprived [of] food for the first seven days of my captivity and put in isolation for the remaining days," he told ABC News.

He's now facing a charge of public violence. If convicted, he says he could serve five to six years in prison.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since the country received independence from Britain in 1980, has denied reports of any violence and has accused civil society groups as well as presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai and his party, MDC, of being puppets of the West.

He has vowed that Zimbabwe will not return to "imperialist rule," and warns that there will be war if MDC wins.

Chikowore told ABC News that the irony of Mugabe's rhetoric is that his actions have turned the former freedom fighter into the oppressor of his own people.

Pointing to the history of repression under former president Ian Smith's white-rule regime, Chikowore said that now, "it's a brother-kill-brother situation."

The Associated Press contributed to the reporting of this story.