JOHANNESBURG - Gangs of ruling party youths beat to death 11 opposition activists in a remote Zimbabwean town Monday, setting a gruesome new standard for the post-election violence surging through that nation, according to opposition party officials.
Two large truckloads of youths, led by two senior members of President Robert Mugabe's party, marauded through Chiweshe, a rural area about 90 miles north of Harare, the capital, and beat prominent members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change with branches, gun butts, bicycle chains, and whips, party officials said. Four of the victims were teachers, and at least two were elderly.
The deaths brought to at least 32 the number of opposition activists killed in the past two weeks, said party spokesman Nelson Chamisa. Thousands of others have been beaten, tortured, arrested, kidnapped, or chased from their homes since the March 29 election, opposition officials say.
"They converged and they attacked," said Shepherd Mushonga, a lawyer and newly elected opposition member of parliament who visited Chiweshe yesterday. He spoke extensively with witnesses, including several relatives of the victims, and provided a list of all 11 of the dead. Mushonga said that two were relatives of his.
He said the violence was intended to weaken opposition resolve ahead of a possible runoff election. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the election but failed to reach the majority necessary for a first-round victory, according to official results.
A second vote has not yet been scheduled, but violence has been focused in areas that supported the opposition. The attacks have been especially vicious in areas, such as Chiweshe, that once were strongholds of Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front but supported Tsvangirai in the election.
In the neighborhood where the 11 people were killed Monday, Mushonga said, Tsvangirai got 70 votes compared with 15 for Mugabe.
"They want to instill as much fear as possible so either you run away and don't vote, or you succumb and vote for the ruling party," Mushonga said.
His account was backed by a close relative of one of the victims, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear that he could be assaulted. He said he received a text message on his cellphone Monday night saying that the relative had been "murdered by ZANU-PF youth."
When he arrived in Chiweshe on Tuesday, he found his relative's body severely battered and bloodied. Funerals are scheduled to begin today.
"When people do that to people, it's not even human," the man said. "I don't know what will happen tomorrow."