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Gary Younge
'This is not racism, it's politics'

His friends describe him as retiring but he knew how to hold a crowd.

"When he was addressing people about democracy he spoke with a certain intensity," says one of his peers in Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

On Saturday evening he was driving with another MDC supporter, Talent Mabika, when his car was stopped by supporters of President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party. They were carrying clubs, sticks and iron bars.

They dragged both him and Ms Mabika into the road, clubbed them to death and then set their bodies alight. His family had planned to bury him yesterday but his body was so charred that the funeral parlour needed an extra day to treat it. They hope to lay him to rest later today.

In the meantime his father's house in the township of Highfield, near Harare, plays host to displays of defiance and grief. In the front garden MDC supporters toyi-toyi (protest dance) to the chant: "MDC is for the masses".

With T-shirts proclaiming "land to the people, not to the politicians" they shuffle and jive in an apparently endless circle around a drum. They rise and fall with the beat, their open palms - the symbol of the MDC - held high. When they get tired they sit on sofas underneath the lemon tree.

In the back garden family members are grieving: women prepare dinner in tears; others simply sit, in the arms of friends and neighbours, and stare into space. The weeping is sober and persistent.

Chiminya's father-in-law stands by the kitchen door, trying to maintain a dividing line between the personal and political. "To you this is about politics," he says. "To me it is about my daughter's husband."

That line is occasionally breached. A weeping relative will dry their eyes and shuffle past the vegetable patch to join the demonstrators.

Chiminya was not only a husband and son-in-law but also the father of a daughter of 15 and a son of 11. Once the national organiser of the Chemical Workers Union, he had recently been appointed the driver for the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Few of these details emerged when he was killed. Chiminya was one of at least six black Zimbabweans - five MDC supporters and one policeman - who died in the violence that has engulfed the country over the past two weeks.

He was murdered on the same day as David Stevens, the first white farmer to be killed, but while the Stevens murder triggered headlines of impending civil war, the lives of Chiminya and Mabika earned little more than a footnote in reports of the day's violence.

MDC supporters say that the portrayal of recent events in the country as a racial war is precisely what Mr Mugabe was hoping for. With interest rates, unemployment and inflation all high and only a month before elections are due, opposition leaders regard the land invasions as a bloody sideshow.

"This is not about racism but about politics," says Remus Makuwaza, an executive member of the MDC. "The government is trying to divert attention away from its political and economic problems so it has targeted a minority."

White Zimbabweans make up just 1% of the population but own the vast majority of the best farmland, which was taken from the indigenous people over many decades.

Most Zimbabweans, including many whites, agree that there must be land reform. Few, including most blacks, believe the government is going about it in the right way.

Polls suggest Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF remains the single most popular party but little of that popularity is rubbing off on Mr Mugabe. The MDC has been gaining ground, holding rallies around the country.

"We have been independent now for 20 years," says Kitizo, a young man who lives in Harare and refuses to give his full name for fear of reprisal. "So of course we cannot continue with such a small group of people owning so much land when so many in rural areas have nothing. But we should not be killing them. We need democracy also."

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