ZIMBABWE'S beleaguered opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has been forced to take much of its political activity "underground" to avoid the violence of a government widening its net of repression and terror to attack diplomats and aid workers.
There have been assaults on the press and the judiciary by a government desperate to cling to power at any price. Now its tyranny has extended to diplomats, aid workers and private companies.
The MDC president, Morgan Tsvangirai, told The Independent the party had scaled down public shows of strength such as political rallies, because of the risk of sparking violence between its supporters and those of President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party.
"We have gone quiet to organise ourselves on the ground," Mr Tsvangirai said. The party has initiated a "whispering campaign" of one-to-one political education - a strategy reminiscent of underground movements in totalitarian regimes - holding rallies only when there seems no danger to supporters
A jittery diplomatic corps met the government last week to express concern for the safety of staff after veterans threatened to raid foreign missions and agencies that they believe support the MDC.
Several non-governmental organisations - including the British Council in Harare - closed their doors, some after visits from the self-styled veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war, who support Mr Mugabe and Zanu- PF.
Canadian diplomats were assaulted while defending staff at the Care International charity when it was invaded. The incident, in which the Canadian high commissioner was involved in a scuffle, prompted Canada to suspend new development aid to Zimbabwe.
The Canadian Foreign Minister, John Manley, said all new funds would be blocked immediately because there was no response to a formal diplomatic protest. "We regret that the lack of rule of law, which has long affected the people of Zimbabwe, is now having a direct impact on Canadian citizens," Mr Manley said. "This means we must re-examine our aid relations with Zimbabwe."
Nine staff of the German charity Help were imprisoned for several days after trying to stop a mob of about 1,000 people, led by war veterans, from plundering its warehouse. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation, based in Germany, has closed its regional office and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have sent home the families of expatriate staff.
Invasions of companies have struck fear into the hearts of business leaders and destabilised a sector already struggling to keep afloat. …