Soldiers deployed in Hurungwe, Mashonaland West province, are reportedly campaigning for ZANU PF by forcing villagers to divulge their political affiliations and threatening to evict them from the area if they refuse.
But a local activist told SW Radio Africa the majority of the soldiers are recent graduates from the youth militia training camps in Hwange, who have returned to live among the villagers in order to monitor opposition activity.
A report by the Crisis Coalition said Chief Ephraim Matawo is working under instructions from the soldiers to compile a list of villagers in his area, which also includes the political party they support. The information is turned over to the military.
Crisis said despite the intimidation, three villagers from Zvipani in Hurungwe West reportedly refused to give up their personal details, insisting that the party they support is their secret and questioning why the information was to be handed over to the military.
The three brave villagers, named as Simbarashe Mbareta, Josphat Muringapasi and Tawanda Mavhondo, were summoned by Chief Matawo and forced to pay a $25 fine. They were also threatened with eviction from Zvipani village.
A local activist from Makonde told SW Radio Africa that the villagers know these soldiers are not part of the mainstream army. They are local youths who dropped out of school earlier this year and were recruited into ZANU-PF's youth militia training programmes.
"Before they were recruited chiefs were involved in the exercise. They had to identify the recruits and most came from Matawo and Makonde areas. They went for training in Hwange and what we feared at the beginning is happening now. They graduated from 6 months training and returned to live among the villagers," our source explained.
The activist, who chose not to be identified, said it is not clear whether these youth militia are part of the main army, but they are referred to as soldiers.
He added: "They were not given a formal place to camp. They live with their parents and guardians, so that they can hear what everyone is saying and minimise opposition activities."
This confirms reports by the Crisis team, who said that villagers fear the exercise is a ZANU-PF strategy to identify MDC-T supporters to be victimised by the army and youth militia.
Crisis said soldiers are also campaigning for ZANU PF in Masvingo and Manicaland provinces. Traditional chiefs in Nyanga North and South were recently visited by soldiers from the 3 Brigade in Mutare, for so-called "orientation programmes. In Bikita traditional leaders were allegedly ordered to attend meetings at the army headquarters.
There are real concerns that ZANU-PF is mobilising army units in order to duplicate the violent mayhem that was attributed to the military in the run-up to the 2008 presidential runoff. ZANU PF supporters and officials, army officers, war vets and youth militia, went on a violence spree that left over 500 MDC-T supporters dead, tens of thousands injured and half a million displaced.