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Soldiers granted asylum in Australia

Dumisani Muleya

TWO Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) soldiers who fled the country last year after they were tortured for allegedly supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have been grante

d asylum in Australia.

The servicemen, Corporals Irvine Ndou and Kwanele Ntini, arrived in Perth – the state capital of Western Australia – on April 8 and are now settled there.

Their trip was facilitated by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Botswana where they had sought refuge after last year’s presidential election fearing for their lives.

Ndou and Ntini, who had joined the army in 1999, fled the country on April 27 last year and arrived in Francistown in Botswana on April 28 by foot from Plumtree.

On arrival in Botswana, the two soldiers contacted the UNHCR which then sent them to Dukwe refugee camp near Francistown.

Relating their ordeal to the Zimbabwe Independent last week, Ndou and Ntini said they survived harsh conditions and death by a whisker.

They said some “senior elements” in the army, who tortured them, wanted to kill them for political reasons.

The two corporals said they were tortured and harassed for refusing to campaign for President Robert Mugabe during last year’s presidential poll.

“Our problems intensified immediately after the presidential election,” they told the Independent.

“The accusations against us were that we were campaigning for the MDC before the election. This was simply because we had vehemently resisted the army’s efforts to draft us into the Zanu PF campaign team during our field attachments as environmental health officers.”

Ndou and Ntini had enrolled at the Medical Training School at Imbizo Barracks on the outskirts of Bulawayo where they took an environmental health course after returning from the war in the DRC.

They were then deployed to Natisa Clinic at Mapisa growth point and later to Sikhathini Clinic in Plumtree in Matabeleland South province.

“We refused to campaign for Zanu PF because it was against the ethics of our profession and also on account of the fact that we were not political activists. We had done our job in the DRC and we did not want to be involved in politics.”

Ndou and Ntini said there was a massive crackdown in the army after the election. “Uniformed political activists”, they said, targeted those referred to as “born frees” – those born since 1980.

“We were branded MDC sellouts and alljunior NCOs who were earmarked for promo-tion were later replaced by old unqualified war veterans who are actually Zanu PF political commissars,” Ndou and Ntini said.

“The claims against us were all false and pure and simple nonsense. It was a matter of political intolerance and repression, which is at the heart of Zimbabwe’s political crisis. We were nearly ‘liquidated’ just because we refused to be part of the army’s project to prop up a collapsing dictatorship.”

Information on Ndou and Ntini’s dramatic escape came as it emerged that one officer, Captain Ernest Chuma, who also fled after being tortured by the army in Harare, was still detained in Botswana “for personal security reasons” awaiting clearance to be sent abroad.

Chuma escaped to Botswana two days after the presidential poll. He tried to get refuge at Dukwe camp but was arrested by Botswana’s security agencies on suspicion he was tracking down Ndou and Ntini.

Intelligence sources in Gaborone this week said Chuma was still in detention pending arrangements for his travel overseas. He was nearly repatriated to Zimbabwe last year but the plans were shelved after a thorough verification process of identity.

A family member said Chuma’s whereabouts were unknown but he last wrote to his relatives earlier this year saying he was in Botswana.

The army has said Ndou, Ntini and Chuma are deserters. It recently alleged 26 “rogue soldiers” were arrested for deserting and beating up people. This has, however, been dismissed as a propaganda stunt to cover up army brutality against civilians.

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