BY THANDEKILE MOYO
Last week on Wednesday night (May 13, 2020), I woke up to find several missed calls and messages from fellow human rights defenders telling me that Zimbabwe’s youngest MP, Joanna Mamombe (27), and her Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) colleagues Netsai Marova (25) and Cecilia Chimbiri (33) were missing after a demonstration they had held earlier that day protesting lockdown-induced starvation, among other things.
I was told that after the protest, they had all gone their separate ways but a while later, Mamombe called a colleague and told him the three women had been stopped at a roadblock by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), arrested and taken to Harare Central Police Station. The colleague notified some lawyers who went to the station only for police to deny they had ever arrested the three.
MDC youths and their lawyers spent the whole night moving from police station to police station searching for the three young women to no avail. The Daily News ran a story by their reporter Vascoh Chaya, in which he stated that he had spoken to police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi who had confirmed that they had indeed arrested the protesters. The Herald, a state-run newspaper, also ran a story by their reporter Victor Maphosa who also claimed to have spoken to Nyathi who had confirmed that indeed the three young women had been arrested the day before.
Where then had the police taken the three?
From these denials, it quickly became clear that they were being “disappeared”. This was alarming, during Gukurahundi thousands of innocent civilians were “disappeared”, never to be seen again.
Some rights activists including myself took to social media to demand an official statement from the police as all Harare police stations claimed to not have seen the women. ZRP issued a statement on their Twitter page simply saying they did not have Mamombe, Marova and Chimbiri in their custody. It became clear that the young women had been enforcedly disappeared and that their lives were in grave danger.
Zimbabwean political activists and human rights defenders proceeded to give the police and government until 1pm on Thursday to produce the three, but that never happened. We then resolved to take to the streets to protest until the government produced the missing women.
In the early hours of Friday morning, before the planned protests demanding their release commenced, we heard the young women had been found at Muchapondwa (which ironically means you will be beaten/murdered in Shona), Musana in Bindura South, about 87km from Harare. Their lawyers and some MDC members accompanied by police officers, went to get them.
They were horrified by the state they found the girls in. They were all distraught, the youngest, Marova, was crying inconsolably, and could not speak. They were filthy, their clothes torn and in different states of undress. Mamombe and Chimbiri were unable to walk. When I spoke to comrades who managed to see them and talk to them, and saw the pictures they shared with me, I also broke down in tears and posted these tweets:
“I have been unfortunate enough to lay my eyes on pictures of the three ladies soon after they were rescued and I cannot stop crying, My life will never be the same again, Never have I witnessed so closely, such an uncurbed degree of cruelty, an effort to break a people. #ZanuPFMustGo”.
“It is shocking, unacceptable from all angles, that after a demonstration by men and women, police targeted three women for enforced disappearance and torture. It betrays the terroristic nature of the perpetrators, the animalistic nature of those at the helm of #MyZimbabwe. #ZanuPFMustGo”.
“The strategy to target women is commensurate in Zimbabwe only with Gukurahundi. When police brutalised two women in Bulawayo it was a shocking but isolated incident, could have been explained as crimes by individuals. Taking the MDC3 shows it’s a pattern, A strategy. #ZanuPFMustGo”.
The Zimbabwean government seems to be at war with women
The abduction, torture and sexual assault of the MDC political activists came barely a month after another horrendous and brutal ethnicised attack on April 16, on sisters Nokuthula (37) and Ntombizodwa (30) Mpofu by six ZRP officers in Cowdray Park, Bulawayo, under the guise of enforcing the Covid-19 lockdown.
lThis article was first published by the Daily Maverick. You can read the full article on www.standard.co.zw