Zimbabwe's war veterans have launched fresh invasions of the country's few remaining white owned farms as Robert Mugabe appears to be falling back on the tested tactics of violence and raising racial tensions in preparation for a run-off vote in the presidential election.
But the opposition Movement for Democratic Change warned that it might boycott a second round of elections because it would lead Zimbabweans "to the slaughter" of a wave of government sponsored violence.
It is instead taking legal action to force the state election commission to immediately release results from the presidential election, held nine days ago, which the MDC says will show that its candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won outright with 50.3% of the vote, making a run-off election unnecessary.
The high court is expected to rule on the petition today. Writing in today's Guardian, Tsvangirai calls on Britain, the US and South Africa to come to the defence of democracy in Zimbabwe. He said Zanu-PF was withholding the election results and planning a violent second round campaign in an attempt to maintain its "untenable grip on power".
War veterans, many of whom did not actually fight in the liberation struggle against white rule, targeted farms in Masvingo, one of the provinces where a significant number of rural voters swung from Mugabe to the MDC in the presidential and parliamentary elections.
A camera crew from state television accompanied the war veterans, who gave one white family four hours to get out of their home, suggesting the invasions were officially sanctioned.
The police eventually moved in and some of the families were able to return. But Hendrik Olivier, director of the Commercial Farmer's Union, said the country's remaining 300 white farmers, out of the 4,200 a decade ago, feared they were again to be made political targets.
"It's the war veterans in Masvingo, about six farms there, where they've been going round giving notice to farmers to get off immediately. They've been taking over equipment and livestock and telling the farmers their time is up," he said.
"The police have been cooperating but the authorities stand back for these things to happen. Why was the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation there to film the threats to the farmer? You can see this thing is orchestrated."
Chanting war veterans, some of them beating drums, also threatened farmers in Centenary, where the owners were given hours to leave. There were also signs of pressure on the opposition in Manicaland, another province with a significant rural swing away from Mugabe.
Prosper Mutseyami, a newly elected opposition MP from Manicaland, said the police were
arresting MDC election agents there. "Nine of our agents were beaten up by the police and then arrested for behaviour likely to provoke a breach of the peace," he said.
In a sign that the government intends again to make white farmers an election issue, the justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, a Zanu-PF hardliner, claimed the MDC was bringing exiled farmers back in to Zimbabwe ready to reclaim their land.
"The MDC claim they have won and they are unleashing former white farmers on farms occupied by new farmers to reverse the land reform programme," he said."Their intention is to destabilise the
country into chaos over the land issue."
However, if the government is attempting to rekindle the land battles of the
past it may not have the same resonance with voters. "The problem is that the countryside has turned and it will be a tall order to turn sentiment around," said Wilfred Mhanda, head of the Zimbabwe Liberators' Platform, a group of war veterans who no longer support Mugabe.
"He is a desperate man and the money printing machine will be working overtime. Some will take part [in land invasions] but not out of conviction. They will be more or less like mercenaries.
There's a lot of misery in the countryside and people know who is to blame. Life is getting more desperate for them by the day."