Fri, 23 Aug 2019

Before the family of Kelvin Tinashe Choto knew he had been killed, social media in Zimbabwe was circulating a photo of his battered body lying on the reception counter of a local police station. Angry protesters had left him there.

The 22-year-old was shot in the head, one of at least a dozen people killed since Monday in a violent crackdown by security forces on protests against a dramatic increase in fuel prices.

Dozens of Zimbabweans have been shot. Others say they have been hunted down in their homes at night, with soldiers and masked people in plainclothes dragging them away, severely beating them and leaving them for dead.

Some are activists and labor leaders. Others, like Choto, have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. A captain at a small soccer club in Chitungwiza, a town southeast of the capital, Harare, he had been planning to travel to neighboring South Africa next week to look for better-paying teams.

"He was our future," said his father, Julius Choto, as the family buried him on Saturday. Teammates chanted the team's war cry, handed the family his jersey and carried his coffin. "He was disciplined, respectable and nonviolent. All he cared for was his football. He was a very good footballer."

His son had been watching the protests from a soccer field, "some meters away from the action," on Tuesday when he was gunned down.

"Maybe they thought he was an (opposition) activist since he was wearing a red Manchester United jersey," his father told The Associated Press.

Another man with burnt hands said he and others had been forced to put out burning tires with their bare hands. They all spoke condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Albert Taurai, who had a broken spine, said he had ventured out to look for bread when he saw a group of plainclothes, armed men approaching.

They struck people with iron bars on the back, thighs and ankles "so that we would not be able to run away," he said. The masked men told them: "Zimbabwe will never be shut down."

"I am 46 years old," Taurai said. "I have seen both Mugabe and Mnangagwa. This just is worse than Mugabe."

Zimbabwe's government has defended the response by security forces, blaming the unrest on the opposition and calling it "terrorism."

The main opposition MDC party, which had contested Mnangagwa's narrow election win last year in court, "is hoping to influence the international community's view of Zimbabwe. They are hoping a government of national unity will arise from this. It will not happen," the deputy information minister, Energy Mutodi, told the AP.

The leader of that opposition, Nelson Chamisa, attended the funeral of Choto the soccer player on Saturday, to loud cheers.

The government should compensate the victims of this week's crackdown, Chamisa said. He said Mnangagwa's government has turned out to be much like Mugabe's.

"This is a sick government, because no serious government will deploy the military and ammunition on ordinary citizens," he said, Choto's seven-month-old daughter in his arms.

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