Political violence in Zimbabwe has increased dramatically in 2016, with record levels of assault, abduction and torture recorded as opposition to President Robert Mugabe’s 36 year rule escalates
About 654 cases of political violence were recorded by a local nongovernmental organisation, the Counselling Services Unit (CSU), as of October 21, compared to 476 cases in the whole of 2015. The CSU found that assaults were overwhelmingly perpetrated by State security forces — including police, military and the secretive Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) — while opposition supporters and civil society activists had been on the receiving end of the increasingly violent treatment. One activist interviewed, Gift Siziba, a student protest leader at the University of Zimbabwe, said he was abducted by State security agents in August and taken to Zanu PF headquarters in Harare where he was hung from the ceiling by his feet. “It is at this time that I experienced brutal, callous and inhumane treatment,” he said.
“I was tortured and assaulted with my feet hanging upwards and my head downwards as 21 youths and men exchanged chances to beat me until I passed out.” Siziba said his interrogators demanded information about other human rights defenders, and claims at one point he was dangled over a large drum of sulphuric acid. Siziba was then transferred to Harare Central Police Station, where the beatings continued. “At this instant, I had lost a lot of blood and I was still bleeding. I was injured in almost all parts of my body.
I was denied water, and the right to call my parents, a lawyer, or anyone. I received no treatment and had to become my own doctor,” he said. Siziba’s experience tallies with testimonies from other victims, indicating that it is not just the frequency of political violence that is on the rise, but the severity too. Other victims reported being injected with unknown substances during interrogations, kept in solitary confinement, and subjected to sexual threats. Frances Lovemore, the director of CSU, said the allegations of torture were becoming increasingly shocking.
The injecting of unknown substances during torture is of concern, as is the abduction of relatives of human rights defenders when the target cannot be found. The sheer force of the beatings by the police, resulting in bone fractures and lifethreatening soft tissue injuries is reminiscent of the previous violent responses by the State and ruling party when opposition parties were deemed a threat to power,” Lovemore said. Lovemore’s NGO provides medical and rehabilitation services to survivors of organised violence and torture in Zimbabwe. The statistics are a record of people who have sought medical and counselling assistance from the organisation, and therefore provide an indicative rather than complete picture of political violence in Zimbabwe. The real number of incidents of political violence is likely to be even higher. Popular resistance to Mugabe has intensified this year ahead of the presidential election scheduled for 2018.
Opposition has been increased by a severe drought, which has left millions hungry, and a cash shortage that is disrupting businesses and has left the government struggling to pay wages. CSU’s statistics show that of the 654 incidents of political violence recorded, the vast majority occurred in Harare (334 incidents) and Bulawayo (92), both of which have become centres for the recent wave of political opposition.
The CSU found that 45 percent of victims were of indeterminate political affiliation, and of those with clear links to the opposition movement, more than 52 percent were supporters of the official opposition, the main MDC. MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu, responded to the findings by saying the ruling Zanu PF regime had “over the years routinely targeted MDC supporters for assault, torture and intimidation”. He added: “We are the largest and most popular political party in Zimbabwe and the regime is acutely aware of the fact that we command massive support throughout the length and breath of Zimbabwe. Hence, the regime has always targeted our supporters for victimisation”.
Linda Masarira, a former National Railways of Zimbabwe employeeturned independent political activist, has also suffered at the hands of the police. She was arrested on July 6 and charged with engaging in violent demonstrations, and spent 84 days in jail before being released on bail. She says she experienced constant physical and psychological abuse while in detention, beginning on the day of her arrest. “I was the only female person that had been arrested, made to sit between male people’s legs (on the prisoner transfer vehicle). They were touching me all over.
Police were poking me with baton sticks. They try to take away your dignity and selfesteem,” she said. After leading a protest by prisoners against the poor conditions of the Chikurubi female prison, she was moved to the notorious Chikurubi maximum security facility, which is usually reserved for male prisoners. There, she was kept in solitary confinement for 18 days, and forced to wear leg irons. “These are some things I had to deal with. When you oppose the ruling party, you know you’re going to go through hell. I told myself all this, that I had to be strong. And it actually made me stronger. I thought: if they are doing this to me, then what I’m doing has an impact,” said Masarira