When Gibson Nyandoro raised his arm and slowly unclenched his fist to make the open-palmed salute of Zimbabwe's opposition at a rally eight weeks ago, it was a moment so loaded with symbolism that it stilled the crowd.
Only days before the presidential election, the gesture by this 53-year-old war veteran and former government supporter reflected a nation's rising defiance of President Robert Mugabe and the growing hope that a change of regime was really coming, and with it a path back to prosperity and freedom.
This weekend Nyandoro's body lies rotting somewhere near the army barracks where he was taken and tortured to death. His friends and family, and his fellow political campaigners, are all too scared to collect it for fear of a trap that might cost them their lives.
Nyandoro's story is the story of his country - he fought for its freedom in the independence struggle, he backed Mugabe's ruling party, Zanu-PF, acting as his henchman, one of the feared 'war vets' who seized white-owned farms, beating and sometimes killing anyone who got in their way. He told The Observer of how he regretted his violent past. 'People were very, very afraid,' he said. And how he had come to see that Mugabe had betrayed Zimbabwe and brought people not land but starvation. Now, he said, he wanted change.
The remarkable bravery of that public salute in March, watched by The Observer, was quashed in the most brutal way by the militias of Mugabe, the president Nyandoro had fought for.
They came for Nyandoro on 2 May as he sat at one of the long tables of the Zimunhu Bar in Epworth, 15 miles from Harare, chatting with old comrades about football and politics. Sungura music was playing, a fast beat danced with fast moving feet to imitate horses' hooves, and the drinkers were making their glasses of sour white beer made of sorghum last. Around 15 men, some in uniforms, arrived in cars, poured into the bar, smashing out with long iron bars before taking Nyandoro away.
A political 'cleansing' campaign in Zimbabwe is escalating fast. For the five weeks it took the electoral commission of Zimbabwe to announce the disputed results of the 29 March presidential vote there was an uneasy, but mostly peaceful, calm as everyone waited out the unexplained delay. When it finally came, it was claimed Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, had beaten Mugabe - but only marginally, not by enough to prevent a second round. With that run-off election now set for 27 June, there is mounting evidence that the political violence against anyone who supported the MDC is increasing by the day as Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party supporters work hard to ensure that far fewer voters dare to defy them at the polling stations this time.
The body of Emmanuel Nelson, 30, has also not yet been returned to his family - he leaves a mother, a wife and a three-year-old daughter. He was taken from his home at Hopely Farm, a poor scrabble of half-built breeze block homes outside Harare, after dark by four men and bundled into a car. He was found last Monday, unconscious, bleeding and dumped in the road. He was taken to hospital, where he later died. He had been slashed in the face and stabbed in the side with a screwdriver.
Nelson's wife, Joice, sits outside their home with her mother-in-law receiving the mourners, their faces glazed with the shock of fresh grief. 'He was MDC and they say that is why he was killed. But I don't understand. My daughter keeps on asking and asking where he is. I have had to send her to a relative's house because I cannot answer her,' she said.
Tsvangirai was in Johannesburg last night, having delayed his return home for the third time in as many weeks, saying there was evidence of an assassination plot against him. He has been busying himself in Africa and Europe trying to raise support and cash for his campaign. An MDC rally planned for today in Bulawayo has been banned. At least 32 people have been killed. Hundreds have been beaten and tens of thousands have been intimidated into fleeing their homes. Young men are slipping away to South Africa or Botswana. Last week in Harvest House, the MDC's Harare offices, about 350 people were clustered in the corridors and stairwells, many with fresh bandages on wounds and broken limbs inflicted by soldiers and militias. Some had come straight from hospital; all were too afraid to go outside on to the streets or to go home.
With the desperate food shortages, unemployment and a lack of available cash in the country, MDC activists are struggling to feed the influx of refugees, but they can and do offer counselling for the traumatised and everywhere people huddle and listen to one another's stories.
But it was the story of Gibson Nyandoro that persuaded Batanai Muturu where his future lay. 'He was my friend and now he is killed. He was a soldier and they didn't care. He worked to help make people see that Mugabe is a wrong man. Hundreds of people are being attacked now, all the time. They take away MDC people's food and they go to funerals to arrest others there. They were expecting people to vote for Zanu-PF and now comes the punishment. They are trying to get rid of all these people. I don't think I will be in Epworth again.'
'This is it,' he said, lifting up a battered sports bag. 'All I have now, a few clothes.' He was leaving. 'I have no money for visas, so I will jump the border. We're not secure. Any time we can be killed.'
Muturu reached South Africa last Wednesday. He joins more than three million Zimbabweans now in exile.
Shaking hands at the end of the interview in March, Nyandoro spoke excitedly of his belief that change would come to the blighted country for which he had fought so many wars; he was going to persuade more war vets to join the opposition. With great warmth he thanked The Observer 'for your bravery in coming here to meet us'.
The irony is Nyandoro had no idea that it was his courage, the bravery of all Zimbabweans defying Mugabe's regime, that would cost him his life.
- Guardian , to read more on Zimbabwe (link)