Johannesburg – Zimbabwe ’s President Robert Mugabe has been on the warpath since the formation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party in 1999. Mugabe alleges the group is a Western front aimed at toppling him. Key among Mugabe’s strategies to decimate MDC has been the deployment of state security agents to brutalize and torture opposition officials, journalists and civil rights activists.
In her affidavit to the Harare High Court late last month, abducted and now incarcerated human rights defender Jestina Mukoko, 54, describes her first 19 days in the hands of state security agents last December as hell. On December 1, 2008, Mukoko was seized at gunpoint from her home in the dormitory town of Norton, 40 kilometers west of Harare, by 15 armed men suspected to be members of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), Mugabe’s main torture machine.
Like those arrested before her, the former newscaster for the government-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), who is currently the national director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), is facing charges of plotting to topple Mugabe. She recounts that she was blindfolded, beaten, and denied medication, while being forced to confess before television cameras that she had sent people to neighboring Botswana to train as bandits who would later remove Mugabe from power.
I was tortured. At first I was assaulted under my feet with a rubber-like object while seated on the floor. Later I was asked to raise my feet on a table and the other people in the room started to assault me...and that lasted at least five minutes. They took a break and then continued with the beatings after a few hours. They were all visibly drunk and some had bottles of liquor. After continuing to deny the charges, she said, “I was ordered to pull up my clothes and kneel on the gravel. The interrogation continued while I was lying on the gravel."
Emmanuel Chris Dhlamini, the MDC director of security, also among the 32 alleged plotters of acts of banditry, was abducted in Harare on November 25 by six armed men. They shoved him into the back seat of a small black car – blindfolded and handcuffed from the back, and took him to a bushy area, where he was tortured.
“I was told to lie on my stomach, with my hands now cuffed in front, and I was severely assaulted by many individuals who took turns to beat me on my back and all over my body non-stop,” says Dhlamini. “The soles of my feet were also beaten with hard objects - falanga style.”
His captors told him to say something about who was paying the bandits, and how and where the training was being conducted. Later, they shifted the subject of the interrogation and started questioning him on alleged bombings of police stations. Again he denied any knowledge. He recounts how his torture continued:
I then, still blindfolded, had my legs tied together, my hands were cuffed behind my back, and I was suspended from a considerable height. The first time I was hung upright and subjected to further assaults, including further beatings on the soles of my feet. If I did not provide information, I would hear something like a tin with stones in it being swung round and round making a lot of noise, before I was assaulted with this all over my body. The second time I was hung upside down, and fell or was dropped from this height to the ground, sustaining injuries on my upper forehead and below my nose. I was bleeding profusely over my face and shirt. This, together with the severity of the assaults, led me to lose consciousness at least twice. Each time, I was revived by a woman (I could see a little underneath my blindfold, which had been loosened when I fell to the ground) who would spray water on my face.
He was then taken to a cell for some time where he was left alone. Dhlamini says he was told to repeat the information about the alleged training which he had supplied when they interrogated him in the field. Sometimes he would be told direct statements to add to his so-called confession while on camera, including implicating MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
“After I was filmed, I was hurriedly removed from the room, and heard that the individuals were in a rush to finish the video as it had to be taken for use at the talks (between ZANU PF and MDC) in South Africa,” he said.
Dhlamini says the following day, which he believed was November 30, he was again blindfolded and taken to a large outdoor cement sink.
“I was lifted up and my head was submerged in the sink and held there for long periods by someone, in a mock drowning...This mock drowning went on and on, until I felt that I was on the verge of dying.” The mock drowning went on even during times he admitted to having committed the bombing incidents. After those ordeals, he was returned to his cell where he remained in solitary confinement until December 22, 2008.
There he was nearly starved to death. “Each day, I was given a 2-litre bottle of water which I was told was my breakfast and lunch. Each afternoon at around 16:00 hours, I was given a small plate of plain pap.”
On December 22, he was taken to Hatfield Police Station where a police officer identified as Assistant Inspector Mudarichira took custody of him while he was still blindfolded. The following day, he was taken to Harare Central Police’s Homicide section where a statement was recorded from him on the alleged bombing of police stations.
Ishmael Kauzani and Solomon Chikohwero, tortured in 2000, say that the same methods were used on them and other MDC activists and human rights defenders, the less fortunate of whom have been found dead. Some of those who have died have been found strangled with shoe laces, riddled with bullets, decapitated or drowned in dams.
With the power-sharing agreement signed between Zimbabwe’s rival political parties on September 15 looking certain to fail, these gross human rights violations are set to continue.
African leaders are doing very little to help in the Zimbabwean crisis by failing to condemn the 84-year-old Mugabe, who boasts that they are not brave enough to challenge his legitimacy. He may be right; cruelty alone may be enough to keep him in power.