President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe in the 22nd African Heads of State Conference on February 21, 2003 in Paris, France.
Credit: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

"Here's what they did to him," said Kerry Kay, sitting in her suburban home in Marondera, ten miles away from the farm she and her husband, Iain, had owned. She handed me a photo album containing pictures of Iain. I looked at them, then at Iain, a blond, wiry man in his late 40s. He'd healed remarkably. He'd been beaten with clubs and whipped with wire. His back was a maze of lacerations, and his face had been so pummeled that his cheeks had swollen to the size of small eggplants. In one photo, he was almost unrecognizable: just a lump of black-and-blue flesh.

The Kays had been among the first white farmers to openly support the MDC. For this, they paid the price. At its essence, fast-track land reform was a dual campaign of land redistribution and terror. What happened to the Kays was a bit more extreme than what had happened to their neighbors between June of 2000 and March of 2002, the span of time between the parliamentary and presidential elections. Most farmers were simply driven out once, but the Kays were driven out three times. The incidents were more or less the same: truckloads of men, claiming to be war veterans and wielding clubs and occasionally AK-47s, would arrive, proclaim the farm theirs, and set up camp on the land, staying for days. The Kays' farm had finally been taken over for good after Mugabe's election. "It was destroyed," said Kerry. "And no insurance. When it's anarchy, they don't pay."

In the wake of the farm seizures, the international media descended on Zimbabwe, startled by reports, and then photos, of whites under siege in Africa. But it was the hundreds of thousands of displaced black farmworkers and black MDC supporters who bore the brunt of Mugabe's campaign of terror: withholding of food, torture, rape, beatings, house burnings, disappearances, murders. These incidents received little or no attention.

In the end, Mugabe's strategy worked. He had won the election through open intimidation of voters. The reports from the countryside had included stories of people being driven away from the polls by club-wielding party loyalists and party youth who'd been formed into a national militia, nicknamed the Green Bombers. Overnight, Great Britain and most of the European Union joined the United States in slapping travel sanctions on Mugabe and other key members of his party, and the Western press denounced Mugabe as a desperate old man who'd stolen an election in a last-ditch attempt to hang on to power.

But the fact was, Mugabe was now the country's absolute leader. With the white opposition effectively destroyed, he could now focus his energy on any blacks who opposed him.

twenty percent of the zimbabwean population has been tortured, asserts the Amani Trust, a ten-year-old human-rights group set up specifically to work with the country's torture victims. On average, the organization receives 50 cases a week, though in regions where local elections are being held, the rate can top 20 cases a day.

For six days in October 2002, the people of Harare waited for word about Raymond Majongwe, the city's most famous dissident: a garrulous former youth-soccer coach and the head of the embattled Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe. In early October, Majongwe had led 80,000 teachers – 80 percent of the national teaching force – on strike, demanding better pay. For his actions, Majongwe had been arrested and charged with violating the Public Order and Security Act, which bans political discussions of two or more people, strikes, rallies, marches, or other quasi-political displays. He was held for 48 hours and released on bail. Five days later he was arrested again and disappeared. The police denied any knowledge of his whereabouts. He finally reappeared after six days.

Two weeks after his release, Majongwe met me in the garden of the Brontë Hotel in Harare. A massively built man, he walked with a slight limp and seemed nervous. He was leaving Zimbabwe that night, "by the mercy of God," he said. It was just temporarily, he added. He wouldn't say where he was going.