By Kuda Chitsike
One of the major reasons, leading to the negotiation of the Global Political Agreement was that violence during the run off period had reached unprecedented levels. Approximately 200 people were killed, thousands displaced and assaulted, but there was no mention of the rape that women suffered. It is well known that there was widespread violence, but what is less known is that sexual violence was perpetrated against women as a political strategy. Previously, there was a lot of anecdotal evidence but no proper documentation was available in the aftermath of the election. Civil society organisations, including women’s groups were hesitant to talk publicly about politically motivated rape, even though survivors were seeking refuge in their organisations and their horror stories were known. The silence of the women’s groups muted the voices of the survivors; if well-established organisations were unwilling to speak on their behalf, who would listen to their individual voices? But as time went on the survivors of rape became bold, began speaking out about their experiences during the election period, and demanded to be heard and taken seriously.
The first public report on sexual violence in Zimbabwe during the election period was written by an American-based organisation, AidsFreeWorld, ‘Electing to Rape: Sexual Terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.’ This report was released in December 2009 and it was based on 70 affidavits collected from women who were survivors of rape and were living in South Africa and Botswana where they felt free to speak. A second report was produced by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) and the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) in 2010, entitled, ‘No Hiding Place: Politically Motivated Rape of Women in Zimbabwe.’ In these two reports, women reported that they were repeatedly raped and beaten for their support of the MDC, whether perceived or real, as the perpetrators told them so during the ordeal. Some stated that this happened in front of their children and family members, and, as a result of the rape, their marriages broke down. Most of the women did not receive appropriate care for the trauma that they had experienced. The women exhibited high levels of sleeplessness, nightmares, flashbacks, and hopelessness: symptoms, which are commonly associated with experiences of trauma.
These two reports gave credence to the claims that the women were making about politically-motivated sexual violence, and the issue could no longer be ignored.
The recently released findings of the Khampepe report supported what Zimbabwean organisations have been saying for the last 14 years, violence and intimidation are part and parcel of elections. This report has implications for Zimbabwean women who lodged a case in 2012 in the South African courts with the support of AidsFreeWorld. The women brought their case to a South African court because they had failed to get any recourse in Zimbabwe. When they tried to report their cases to the police they were either turned away, told that the police were not dealing with political violence cases, or told by the police that they gor what they deserved. Sometimes the police outrightly refused to open dockets, which effectively meant the women were unable to go for medical examinations.
AidsFreeWorld submitted an amicus brief to the South African courts after a case was brought by the Zimbabwean Exiles’ Forum and the Southern African Litigation Centre in 2008 on behalf of MDC supporters who alleged that they were tortured by ZANU PF supporters and state agents. On 30th October 2014, the Constitutional Court in South Africa ruled that the South African Police Service (SAPS) is obliged to investigate crimes against humanity “where the country in which the crimes occurred is unwilling or unable to investigate.” The ruling is based on the fact that South Africa is obliged to investigate because it signed and domesticated the Rome Statute on the establishment of the International Criminal Court.
This ruling has given hope to the Zimbabwean women who were brave enough to tell their stories. Unfortunately not all perpetrators will be brought to justice, but it sends the right message; that sexual violence will not be tolerated in any society for any reason.
Had the election report, which was compiled by the high court judges Sisi Khampepe and Dikgang Moseneke, been released when it was compiled it is highly probable that 2008 might never have happened as a government of national unity could have been negotiated in 2002. The Kamphepe report supported other observers’ groups that stated that there was serious election violence and it would have added to international pressure to end the Zimbabwean crisis.
As we commemorate the 16 days of gender activism, there is hope that justice will be delivered and that the victims of election violence, particularly the victims of rape that have not been acknowledged will get the redress they deserve. Although their voices may have been largely silenced at home, they can get justice abroad-proving that justice is a universal principle and that no atrocity committed against another human being can be hidden forever.