As Zimbabwe’s 2013 Elections Approach: A Call for an End to Torture

Photo Accredited to Sokwanele
Photo Accredited to Sokwanele

The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture was created by the United Nations to end torture and raise awareness of an international convention, which went into effect on June 26, 1987 after it had been ratified by 20 states.

In support of victims of torture around the world, this year’s theme honors the “Right to Rehabilitation,” assured in Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture.  This right entitles survivors to long-term holistic medical, psychological, legal and social services.  Access to these resources is vital to healing the lives of those who have suffered and ensuring their safety and inclusion in society.  To truly restore hope to the victims of torture, this year’s focus on rehabilitation must be more than a slogan, but honored with concrete actions to guarantee these rights are implemented. 

As the world observes this day of solidarity, I pause to reflect on the Zimbabwean 2008 elections when human rights activists and opposition supporters were targeted and tortured for their political affiliation.  I believe the year will be remembered by many as the darkest year in the history of Zimbabwe since independence.

I was present in Zimbabwe during that fateful year and watched powerlessly as my fellow human beings were subjected to some of the most degrading treatments.  Examples of these abuses were reported by international media like  Dateline,  an Australian current affairs news program.  Some supporters of the opposition party were held at a torture camp known as Matapi Base in Mbare—a township on the outskirts of Harare—where they endured beatings on a daily basis.  There were 328 cases of torture alone by August of that year.  The wave of violence that engulfed the country left many with permanent physical and psychological scars.

Those who lived to tell the stories of their ordeals were left in a state of constant fear due to intimidation from their victimizers. Many among the victims are yet to find rehabilitation for the abuses they were subjected to.

In the following video produced by WITNESS and our partner in Zimbabwe, Research and Advocacy Unit, one survivor tells her story of the sexually based violence she and many other women and girls endured in the last election.  Targeted and raped for her political activism, her struggle to cope with the trauma of her experience stresses the urgency of focusing on rehabilitation for victims and their families.

We can no longer afford to stay quiet when our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters are faced with uncertainty.  As Zimbabwe prepares for the next election in August, we must stand in solidarity with them by persuading decision makers (both local and international) to put necessary mechanisms in place that will ensure survivors’ right to rehabilitation and to elections free from torture.

This Blog is reposted from the witness website, the original can be found on


Celebrating our Heroes.

Zimbabwe will celebrate its Heroes of the liberation struggle that fought gallantly and selflessly to bring about independence from colonial rule.  This is an important date on the calendar as it reminds us of why men and women took up arms and sacrificed their lives for the freedom we enjoy today. This will be a 2 part article as we commemorate Heroes Day on 13th August. I must say this article is inspired by political developments in the country especially comments attributed to the Prime Minister during a memorial service of the late Nationalist, Reverend Ndabaningi  Sithole.

The PM said, “Leadership is very unique, it must inspire future generations and shape where the country is going and what you are leaving for the children”. These words will form the basis of my article in relation to our country’s history.

The late nationalist Ndabaningi Sithole

Hate Speech Fuels Violence.

Hate speech is something we seem to underrate, yet its effects have regrettably been felt throughout history. From the Second World War to the genocide in Rwanda, one of the tools used to subdue was the use of hate speech to influence people into producing the desired effect. Notably in Rwanda the radio station was used to spread propaganda which caused hatred and resulted in the loss of many lives.

According to Wikipedia, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. The words have an effect of inciting violence, something we are all too familiar with in Zimbabwe. ‘Hate language is specifically intended to excite hostility and public contempt for those individuals or groups who are its targets to an extent that they no longer deserve to have their basic human rights protected.’[1]

In Zimbabwe, hate speech has become a poisonous epidemic that has fractured and polarized society by promoting extreme levels of political and social intolerance and hostility towards any group.[2]  With little regard of what the law says, politicians continue to make careless statements that have over the years cost many people their lives.

Statements such as:-

People who promoted sanctions and opposed the land reform were enemies.

Minister urged chiefs to banish ‘people who support homosexuality’ from their communities and take away their land.

Zimbabwe will not be ruled by homosexuals or people who support it. 

You can vote for him (Tsvangirai) but if he brings back the whites, toenda kuhondo” (we will go to war).

“Elections are coming and the army will not support or salute sell-outs and agents of the West before, during and after the presidential elections. We will not support anyone other than President Mugabe who has sacrificed a lot for the country.”

Hate speech can result in heinous crimes against a group that is viewed as the enemy. In The State Vs William Nhongo et al, in 2003, the High Court decided on a case of three men charged with killing MDC activists. They stated they had believed government media reports that they were indeed fighting a legitimate Chimurenga war against the MDC. As a result, the three responsible for killing the MDC activists were found guilty of culpable homicide and not murder.[3]

The effects of hate speech can be seen from the violence unleashed on the people in 2008 during the election period. People were attacked because they ‘supported’ the wrong party and others raped, badly beaten, and tortured for reasons that seem directly related to the encouragement given by vicious hate speech.

But would you blame the perpetrators only for the violence if a leader openly stands up and says

We will never allow an event like an election to reverse our independence, our sovereignty, our sweat and all that we fought for …… all that our comrades died fighting for.

What then do these words say to people who voted for the opposition party? What do they say to the party fanatics, who will then find justification to ensure their party stays in power at all costs?

In my earnest view, hate speech by politicians has been allowed to go too far. If it is left to continue, there is no doubt the catastrophic events of 2008 will be repeated again during the next election.

Creating Schools as Zones of Peace.

One of the best celebrated statistics in Zimbabwe over the years since Independence in 1980 has been the high literacy rate largely as a result of the policy of providing basic education to every child up to Ordinary level (Form 4). The policy also ensured the construction of schools throughout the country and deliberate efforts were made to encourage adult learning. These gains are under threat, unfortunately, and it all has to do with the politics of contestation. RAU recently published a report documenting teachers’ experiences with election violence since 2000, with teachers reporting that they were subjected to targeted violence because they were perceived as sympathisers of opposition political parties.

The report revealed that schools were setup as militia bases, leading up to and during election periods, where teachers were summoned for various acts including assaults, being taught the liberation history of Zimbabwe, among others. Some of the military activities took place in front of children during working hours, where teachers were violated, humiliated and, in some cases, female teachers sexually abused. The message was clear for all children to warn their parents how “sell-outs” would be dealt with. And interestingly, some students became informants, keeping an eye on their teachers, who had to find survival strategies by way of fleeing the communities resulting in more than 94% of schools in the rural areas being closed at one point.

Rural Schoolchildren in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is not in a state of war but the periods around elections, since 2000, frequently resembled a state of war, reminiscent of the liberation war, where villagers and communities would flee and schools would close. The United Nations Security Council in July 2011 unanimously adopted Resolution 1998 which affirmed other earlier resolutions on the protection of children in situations of armed conflict, declaring “schools and hospitals off limits for both armed groups and military activities, asking the Secretary-General for such crimes to be placed on a list of those committing “grave violations against children.” The text of Resolution 1998 expressed concern about attacks and the threat of attacks on schools and/or hospitals, including attacks on personnel in relation to them and the closure of the institutions in times of conflict and threat of attack.

As a member state of the United Nations, Zimbabwe must take positive steps to refrain from attacks on education and advance the rights of Children. The positive steps would be to take action and stop violence and the exposure of children to violence during times of elections. That commitment could also be demonstrated by putting in place legislation that prevents the use of schools for political purposes, because this practice exposes children to violence. The commitment would unite communities in defending the rights of children, especially girls. It would   ensure that schools were safe zones for learning, especially in rural areas where the highest incidences of violence was recorded, and also that traditional leaders were not ZANU PF bootlickers who terrorise teachers because they are perceived to be opposition members.

Promoting the right to education is a sure sign that a country is investing in human capital. The concept of “Safe Schools” is incomplete without also ensuring that the personnel associated with education is safe. Through the Education Transitional Fund (ETF) the child text book ratio has improved but the political hindrances have also to be addressed, and this is the challenge Minister Coltart must address. We cannot afford to continuously have schools attain a zero percentage “pass rate” because schools were closed for the better part of the year and also because politicians use school facilities for electioneering.

If you would like to read our 2 reports written as a result of our teachers’ survey go to:

Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference – Pastoral Letter – Zimbabweans in the Diaspora

Please follow this link to read the letter:

In this letter the Bishops are wanting to give recognition and hope to those Zimbabweans living in the diaspora who may feel abandoned by their country, Zimbabwe.

Many of these people are economic migrants and don’t qualify for refugee status in their adopted countries.Most of them left in times of elections when violence rates increased considerably and people thought to support the opposition parties were targeted. Especially in South Africa, many of these people live in dire circumstances and are targeted for xenophobic attacks.

An open letter to Major General Martin Chedondo.

This letter was written in response to our post on Patriotism dated 6th June 2012:

Dear General,

Some 65 years ago, observing the men in the dock at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, an American journalist coined the enduring phrase “the banality of evil”.

In a month, during which Patrick Chinamasa has been busy applying lipstick to the toad of Zimbabwe’s human rights record for the benefit of the UN Human Rights Commissioner, and you and a fellow General have hinted at army preparations to redeploy the tactic of intimidation and violence utilised during the 2008 elections, that phrase has often come to mind.

Throughout the inter-election period in 2008, the Zimbabwean Association Doctor’s for Human Rights (ZADHR) produced a series of reports documenting the atrocities which were taking place. To ensure the credibility of these reports, only objective information, detailing the injuries sustained by the victims of violence, was included. As one of those involved in their documentation, I was acutely aware that much of the harrowing detail and personal stories behind those injuries was never published.  However, with the spectre of a return to violent intimidation in the upcoming elections, I would like to draw the following to your attention:

Firstly, to place this letter in context and for the benefit of our perfidious Minister of Justice and his ilk, who seem to have air-brushed the events of 2008 from their memories, what follows is an excerpt from a human rights report for the first week of May 2008:

“One hospital in Harare has treated an average of 23 victims a day over the last week. On the 8th of May, there were a total of 53 more seriously injured patients (13 females and 40 males) admitted to wards in three Harare hospitals. These included one 30 year old man on life support in the intensive care unit with severe, irreversible head injuries and a 30 year old man with severe soft tissue injuries to the buttocks and secondary renal failure, also on life support. Both of these patients died later that day. Also admitted was a 3yr old boy with trauma to his right eye from being struck with a rock and a 78 year old man with a fractured lower leg from blunt trauma.   One young breast-feeding mother had bilateral fractures of her hands and was unable to hold her baby to feed her. Among the other patients, 20 had defensive, forearm or hand fractures, 5 had leg fractures and 1 fractured ribs.  Fourteen patients had severe injuries to the buttocks from blunt trauma which required surgery for the removal of necrotic (dead) tissue.  The perpetrators in all cases were alleged by the victims to be war veterans and Zanu PF supporters. Similar patterns of injuries are being reported from other hospitals”

In April of 2008, as a member of a local NGO, I was tasked with interviewing hospitalised victims of political violence. Over a period of several days, I interviewed 52 men and women, ranging in age from 18 to 68 years. All of them resided in communal areas and most were ordinary villagers. They were not political activists and none admitted membership of a political party.  It seems their only crime was to have been suspected of voting “incorrectly”.  They had injuries similar to those of the victims described in the press release above. The vast majority stated that they had been beaten by gangs of youths led and directed by men in army uniforms or known war veterans.

It is not possible to recount their individual stories here, but one story stands out in my memory and will serve to illustrate the point I wish to make. It was that of an 18 year old village boy who told me of how a group of militia came to his village in the night and gathered all the young men. They conducted a pungwe (an all-night vigil), accompanied by alcohol, political speeches, slogans, songs and dancing. At around midnight, the leader announced they were all to proceed to the next village where they were to beat up the occupants who were deemed to be “sellouts”. This young man had refused and saying that he had known those people all of his life and that some of them were his friends. He couldn’t do it. So the thugs had beaten him instead. I recorded that he had a fractured arm and leg and had welts and bruises over his buttocks and back. However his spirit was very much intact and at the end of the interview, he told me with a sardonic smile that he had actually voted voluntarily for ZanuPF in the first round of the elections. He had recounted his story proudly and bristling with defiance which left me with no doubt that given the choice, he would make the same decision again.

And that, General, is the point of this letter. You must agree with me that the purpose of this carefully planned and methodical campaign of unrestrained and merciless brutality was not to punish, but to instil fear; sufficient fear to guarantee that the rural population would vote “correctly” in the run-off election.  But here is the rub, just like that brave village lad, none of the 52 people I interviewed, showed any sign of fear. They were not, as you may have imagined, a broken, cowering and pliable rural peasantry. They told their stories with dignity, stoicism and courage. The one emotion they had in common was anger; a deep and abiding anger at the affront to their human dignity.

This was for me a profoundly humbling and inspiring experience but one I have no wish to repeat. I came away convinced that your strategy had failed and that none of the victims, their relatives or fellow villagers would ever vote for your party again.

Therefore, General, if you and your comrades are seriously contemplating a return to the tactics of 2008, I beg you to consider the following:

Firstly, dwell on the law of unintended consequences. Do not underestimate the dignity, resilience and courage ordinary Zimbabweans.

Then have regard for the thousands of innocent young men whose minds you will fill with hatred and distorted history and then cause to do evil things, for this will rank as your greatest crime.

And finally, you should study the lessons of history, recent and past, perhaps remembering the eventual fate of the once smug, arrogant men who sat in that Nuremberg dock 65 years ago.

Yours sincerely

Dr Greg Powell

Who’s Brave Enough to go to South Africa?

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre’s (SALC) reported last week that the North Gauteng High Court dismissed an application for leave to appeal against last month’s ruling that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and South African Police Services (SAPS) must investigate crimes against humanity committed in Zimbabwe.

This application, brought by the NPA and SAPS, was in response to the High Court’s landmark ruling in favour of the SALC and Zimbabwe Exile Forum’s (ZEF). The NPA and SAPS were found to have ignored their international and domestic Rome Statute obligations to investigate torture as a crime against humanity regardless of where the crime is committed or by whom. The High Court ordered the SAPS and NPA to investigate allegations of torture committed in Zimbabwe which were brought to the attention of NPA and SAPS in 2008.

The NPA and SAPS argued that the High Court’s finding that South Africa’s domestic Rome Statute Act requires South Africa to investigate core international crimes when committed outside of South Africa was incorrect. The NPA and SAPS maintain that South Africa only has jurisdiction to prosecute these crimes if they are committed in South Africa. It was also argued that the court had erred in accepting that SALC and ZEF had legal standing to bring this case.

Judge Hans Fabricius dismissed both arguments finding that NPA and SAPS failed to demonstrate that this case was not brought in the public interest and in the interest of the Zimbabwean torture victims. Judge Fabricius also found that the NPA’s and SAPS’ interpretation would render South Africa’s domestic Rome Statute Act meaningless and that they ignored the fact that investigations are a necessary component of prosecutions.

Anti-Torture Protesters

In dismissing the application Judge Fabricius concluded that an appeal has no reasonable prospects of success and noted that even if leave to appeal had been granted he would not have suspended the initiation of an investigation pending the outcome of an appeal.

In response to the case President Mugabe said ‘the ruling constituted interference and a direct assault on the country’s sovereignty by residual Rhodesian and Apartheid forces in South Africa.’ The President urged the African National Congress (ANC) to deal decisively with the matter. ‘That judgment, like those outrageous ones of the SADC Tribunal which has now been dissolved, constitutes a direct assault on our sovereignty by shameless forces afflicted by racist nostalgia. I wish to urge our colleagues in the ANC of South Africa to see this for what it is and apply every means at their disposal to ensure that such machinations are not in the end, allowed to negatively affect our cordial relations.’

In response the ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said that ‘the ANC does not ignore the rule of law, so we respect the ruling made in the High Court.’ If the words of the ANC are to be taken literally if any of the people on the list (whom no one has seen) travels to South Africa they will be arrested. The fact that no one knows who is on that list makes it all the more interesting.

I applaud the ANC and would like to see their words transcend to action. It is outrageous that   President Mugabe thinks it is the ‘colonial masters’ that orchestrated  the case, but has he ever thought it is his very actions that have brought these desperate Zimbabweans to seek justice in South Africa?  Who was torturing and beating people?  In fact who continues to do so? I don’t see any Boers or British doing it! But I guess introspection is not easy. So let’s see if you are brave enough to travel to South Africa now!