THE violent clampdown on protesters by soldiers and the police has left deep scars and trauma on children and women who were beaten up, raped or were forced to watch as their husbands, fathers or brothers were assaulted and tortured.
News in depth BY VENERANDA LANGA
There are several reports emerging following the recent nationwide protests of women that were raped, assaulted and forced to perform sexual acts on fellow male victims. The government has promised to investigate and bring perpetrators to book. This followed widespread international condemnation of the gross human rights violations.
Several women from Epworth and Hopley Farm were allegedly raped and assaulted. The youngest rape victim is 17 and the eldest 61 years old.
A counsellor at one of the safe houses where some of the rape victims were last week said: “They are at a safe house that we cannot disclose. Most of them are still very traumatised, especially because they were raped without the use of any protection. There is fear of contracting diseases, and we have assisted more than 14 victims.”
He said there could be several other women that were raped allegedly by soldiers, but they feared to come out in the open because they had not yet told their husbands and suspected that the soldiers would come back for them.
One victim narrated to The Standard: “Six soldiers forced themselves into our house in Epworth and two of them took turns to rape me in front of my four kids. After the first one finished raping me, he ordered me to go and wash myself, and then the second soldier raped me again without protection.”
A lady of the night who was coming back home around 4am found soldiers at her home and was also raped without protection.
The Standard on Friday spoke to many victims, particularly in Harare’s Dzivaresekwa suburb where young children and pregnant women narrated how they were beaten up and tortured to force them to reveal the whereabouts of their fathers or husbands.
Dzivaresekwa residents said the soldiers looked scary with many of them wearing all sorts of masks including woollen hats, ladies’ pulling socks and ragged cloths to cover their faces and disguise themselves, leaving only their eyes, noses and mouths.
Most of the victims we spoke to said they could not identify their attackers because of the masks and also because they had never seen them before. Some, however, said they managed to identify a few soldiers whom they said lived in the locality. They also said they suspected, from actions exhibited, that a good number of their assailants were Zanu PF youths who were in the company of heavily armed soldiers. They were travelling in military trucks.
“It was very scary. They were armed with AK47 rifles with bayonets which we usually see in war movies. Apparently they had names of youths and men in the area, mostly MDC Alliance supporters, that they were looking for,” one of the victims, Trymore Mwadya (not real name), narrated.
“They came to Dzivaresekwa 3 on January 16 in two army trucks at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and started beating up any males they saw on the streets, accusing them of barricading the roads during the January 14 to 16 demonstrations. They went door to door kicking doors open, and if they found a man in the house he would be thoroughly beaten and made to sing and dance while they were tortured in various ways.”
Mwadya said he and several other men were captured and smeared with soot from burnt tyres on the streets.
“We were then frogmarched to a puddle of muddy water and ordered to roll in the muddy water despite having sustained serious open wounds from earlier beatings. It was like a war situation as youths were chased around the suburb by armed soldiers. The chase was dramatic as the youths took cover in maize fields where they would be busted and the chase continued with those that were caught being beaten mercilessly. Several youths spent days hiding in maize fields and in nearby hills,” he said.
One of the worst cases of the brutality was meted out on Trevor Zhanje (not real name), who was shot on both legs on January 15, but managed to crawl to a nearby sugarcane field where he was unfortunately fished out.
“He was going to Musawu at Dzivaresekwa 4 turnoff when soldiers in a truck suddenly appeared and when he tried to run away they shot him in the legs. He managed to crawl and hid in a sugarcane field and they came for him and found him. They argued amongst themselves on whether or not to finish him off.
Lady Luck smiled on him and they left him alive,” his mother told this newspaper.
Another traumatised mother, Rudo Sibanda, narrated how her nine-year-old son was beaten up by two soldiers who forced their way into their house carrying AK47 rifles looking for her husband.
“They came around midnight on January 15, but when we did not open the door, they kicked it open. They ransacked the house looking for my husband whom they accused of taking part in the demonstrations. My nine-year-old son was hiding in the bedroom. They found him under the bed and dragged him outside the house where they assaulted him with an electric cable ordering him to disclose where his father was. The young boy still carries unhealed injuries from the assault.
“For a small child the beating was brutal and excessive and I watched all this with tears flowing down my face. They also beat and tortured a 21-year-old man whom we live with who is mentally challenged. Now he keeps hallucinating, shouting that soldiers are coming for him. My son was severely traumatised and he refused to go to school for two days,” a visibly distraught Sibanda said.
Another child in Dzivaresekwa (13) was waylaid along Bulawayo Road by the soldiers as he returned home from school on January 14 when the demonstrations began. His mother, Revai Shoko, said the child was ordered to stop and to remove burning tyres which were barricading the road. After that he was made to roll in a puddle of muddy water.
“His hands were heavily burnt by the hot tyres and he is still receiving medical treatment,” Shoko said.
Along Rujeko Street in Dzivaresekwa 1, an eight-year-old boy was mauled by dogs after soldiers ordered him to open the gate to a house guarded by vicious dogs because they wanted to get inside but were afraid of the dogs.
The dogs pounced on the child and bit him on the legs. This reporter saw the child who is likely to take a long time receiving treatment for the serious injuries.
A 19-year-old pregnant woman, Prudence Moyo, also narrated her ordeal at the hands of the soldiers.
“When soldiers came to Dzivaresekwa in the middle of the night on January 15, I was alone in the house and had locked myself in out of fear. The soldiers were hunting down every male in the neighbourhood and the boys and men were fleeing everywhere. Some were jumping over fences in a bid to escape and that is how soldiers saw some of them who had apparently fled through our yard. They entered our yard, forced my door open and demanded to know where I had hidden the youths.
“I was ordered to lift up my dress and was beaten up with something that looked like barbed wire wrapped in cloth on my back which tore off my skin,” Moyo narrated.
Moyo is six months pregnant and is now receiving treatment at a private centre which has been assisting victims of military brutality.
Another young woman, Tendai Phiri of Dzivaresekwa 4, was visibly in pain as she narrated her encounter with the soldiers on January 20 where she was beaten with a metal object on her right hand.
Phiri’s arm was broken at two places and it is still swollen. She said she got medical assistance from doctors that were treating the victims of the brutality for free. Because of a shortage of medicine at the centre, she said she only got tablets for her pain and a sling to support her broken arm.
A visit to her one-roomed lodgings showed that she and her husband Steven Phiri are poor and cannot afford proper medical treatment.
“It was around 7pm in the evening of January 20 when soldiers just appeared from nowhere in an army truck while I was walking with my husband. They carrying guns, baton sticks and different assault objects, including barbed wire. I have problems with my legs and so when the soldiers started beating and chasing people I could not run. My husband did not have a choice but to run as well, so I was left alone.
“I felt a very heavy metal object hitting my right arm and I screamed. It hit me again, breaking my arm in two places. The soldiers were wearing masks, and they had covered the number plates of the army trucks with a cloth,” Phiri said.
She said doctors had told her that her hand needed to be operated on, but her unemployed husband cannot raise the fees.
Several men recounted how they were rounded up from their homes, severely beaten and made to roll in flowing sewage, muddy water and to smear their wounds with soot from burnt tyres.
Onward (22), who said he is a known supporter of the MDC Alliance, was one of the youths who were badly beaten and tortured. He admitted to taking part in the demonstrations and burning tyres and barricading roads with heavy stones.
Onward, however, said he was not taking part as an MDC Alliance youth, but as a disgruntled Zimbabwean suffering from economic hardships.
“Five soldiers who had masks on their faces came to my house on January 16 in the wee hours of the morning and dragged me outside where they beat me up.
They pushed me into a pool of water with their heavy boots. They used vehicle fan belts, baton sticks, bicycle chains and other objects to assault me until I bled and lost consciousness,” he said.
“They dipped me in sewage and ordered me to explain who had sent me to take part in the demonstrations. I was stripped naked and beaten up until I bled in all parts of my body. They pushed a thick stick through my backside before ordering me to go back and sleep at home.”
When he was taken to a safe house for treatment, the soldiers accompanied by the police allegedly came back for them and arrested them, although they were later released.
MDC youth organiser for Dzivarasekwa, Donias Mutenha said most of the victims of the beatings were his party supporters.
“What I saw was that local Zanu PF youths were working with the soldiers. They had names of MDC Alliance supporters whom they targeted for beatings and torture,” Mutenha said.
Dzivaresekwa MP Edwin Mushoriwa said he escaped the soldiers by a whisker and had to hide in a maize field when he heard they were coming for him.
“If they are members of the army, then these are criminals within the army because I do not think that soldiers that live in Dzivaresekwa would commit such heinous acts,” Mushoriwa said.
Besides Dzivarasekwa, many other people in Harare, Chitungwiza and Bulawayo were also brutalised by soldiers.
Asked to explain if members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces were sent to brutally assault citizens over the demonstrations, ZDF spokesperson Overson Mugwisi responded: “Please put your questions in writing and then I will respond to them.” He had, however, not done so at the time of going to print.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission in their report last week said after doing investigations they found that citizens were brutalised by people dressed like soldiers.
During a press conference last week, Home Affairs minister Cain Mathema and Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi issued a statement saying the alleged abuses on citizens, including cases of rape by the security forces, would be investigated.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage wishes to acknowledge reports of alleged rape, sexual abuse and assaults that have been perpetrated by security forces during the recent operation. They will be investigated,” Mathema is quoted as having said.