ZIMBABWE has a prevalent history of violence dating back to the 1890s when colonisers invaded the country. All governments — pre and post-Independence — have largely relied on violence to suppress political opponents and dissent.
Before Independence in 1980, torture and abductions were systematic and widespread, particularly during the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) period. It intensified during the 1970s when the military wings of Zanu and Zapu — Zanla and Zpra — escalated the war against white minority oppression. Captured and suspected freedom fighters were mercilessly tortured to extract information and also to deliberately intimidate them.
Torture, abductions and enforced disappearances were some of the many forms of gross human rights violations that transpired during the liberation struggle.
Nearly 45 years since nationalist leader Edison Sithole and his assistant were abducted by Rhodesian forces, the mystery lives on. Following a brief period of peace after Independence, an estimated 20 000 civilians were killed during the Gukurahundi era and again torture and abductions became endemic.
George Ayittey puts it more succinctly in his book Africa in Chaos that: “Criticising them became sacrilegious and, very quickly, the freedom and development promised by (Kwame) Nkrumah and other African nationalists transmogrified into crocodile liberators, Swiss bank socialists, quake revolutionaries and grasping kleptocrats.”
Many Zimbabweans would agree with this description of the nationalist leaders that fought for this country’s liberation. Some events that have occurred in independent Zimbabwe, particularly from 2000, when the ruling party faced its most formidable challenge from the newly formed MDC party, amply demonstrate that the liberators have become the oppressors.
In shocking events last week on Wednesday, three members of the MDC-Alliance youth movement were allegedly arrested at a roadblock guarded by police and soldiers for taking part in protests in Harare’s Warren Park high-density suburb. They were protesting the state’s failure to provide for the poor during the country’s Covid-19 lockdown.
They then disappeared after they were allegedly taken to Harare Central Police Station, until they were found at a roadside last Friday morning, about 86,9 kilometres north-east of Harare in Bindura, Mashonaland Central province, by a local man, badly injured and traumatised. The three, MDC-Alliance legislator Joana Mamombe and youth leaders Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, have chronicled their torture, humiliation and repeated sexual assault after the abduction by suspected state security agents.
The three are among the many that have faced the full wrath of an increasingly partisan state security. The crackdown on opposition activists and human rights defenders continues unabated.
What happened last week is not a new phenomenon in post-Independence. The likes of Rashiwe Guzha and army captain Edwin Nleya disappeared in the 1980s and were never found. Then in the 2000s, Patrick Nabanyama, Jestina Mukoko, Tonderai Ndira and many other MDC supporters, were abducted, with some being killed. Five years ago, Itai Dzamara was also abducted and is still missing.
It is a systemic problem. Violence, in various forms, including torture, murder, beatings, rape, death threats and enforced disappearances, have been woven through the fabric of Zimbabwe’s political history.
What has been exposed over the decades is a dearth of justice or inaction by the state against perpetrators of brutality.
The Mukoko case is especially important. Even though she was compensated and the Supreme Court confirmed the gory details of her torture, none of the perpetrators have been brought to book. Instead, they have been promoted. The lack of punishment infers the perpetrators are incentivised to carry on.
Government needs to set up an independent commission, preferably an international one, to investigate such critical issues because the offending state cannot probe itself. There must also be enforcement because all enquiries over the years have not resulted in justice prevailing. These include enquiries on the Gukurahundi atrocities to the recent former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe Commission on the killings of civilians by soldiers in August 2018.
Government must stop paying lip-service. Police officers, who handed over the trio to the torturers, are known. The ministry knows who is deployed to which police check point. The details of the outcome have to be made public.
Unless that is done, abductions will escalate, as the perpetrators know they are protected. The continued disregard for the dignity of citizens should never be tolerated.