Victims recount politically-motivated sexual assaults

HARARE - She is sick, and sits leaning on the wall of her hut. She shifts her small frame, peers into the distance and in a voice laden with anguish, she recounts: “I was raped.”

It is hard to digest the words from the tall 46-year-old mother of seven.

She is one of the few people in Maramba who openly support the opposition party, MDC.

“I was raped while my son watched. I know the people who raped me. I meet them every day and now they are threatening to do the same thing they did in 2008 if I continue supporting the MDC,” Florence Kazembe told the Daily News on Sunday.

Seated at her home along with her husband Bamusi Kazembe, who is the MDC Maramba ward 6 chairperson; her two children and hubby all look down, troubled souls, seemingly searching for answers nine years after the despicable politically-motivated sexual assault.

“In 2008, I spent four months sleeping in the forest. I used to keep goats here but they were burnt, they looted my property, hupenyu hwakandiomera (life has become hard). I lost everything, including blankets when they burnt down my house.

“It was at night and we were at our own base where we had congregated since our entire home had been burnt. I know the people who raped me, they are free and openly threaten that they could repeat what they did to me,” she said, referring to the violence that erupted after the MDC and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF in a historic March 29, 2008 vote but failed to win the absolute majority needed to avoid a second ballot. Mugabe’s government unleashed security forces and militia to use strong-arm tactics to ensure a Mugabe victory in the subsequent June 27 run-off poll, boycotted by Tsvangirai.

Florence Kazembe

Far from public glare in the mountains of Maramba, the ghost and horrors of 2008 visited Florence and her family a week ago.

After receiving an MDC legislator who was on a fact finding mission in the district as the opposition prepares for next year watershed elections, the family seemingly angered many in the community who believe that only Zanu PF should rule.

In this downtrodden, almost godforsaken land, no one dares join the opposition. It is a no go area for those who support Tsvangirai or any other leader besides Mugabe.

Ahead of next year’s elections, the opposition is alleging that Zanu PF is now “harvesting fear”. After all, the wounds of 2008 are still fresh, and many are scarred and scared of the wrath to come.

Already, it is not looking good for those who live in this land that treats any stranger with suspicion.

“On the 20th of April around 9 am, I went to sleep and left the family in the kitchen. My wife was collecting her laundry on the line and stones started to fly. I heard them falling on the roof. I immediately instructed my wife to put out the fire in the kitchen and also switch off the lights. We were besieged for over three hours,” Florence’s husband Bamusi said.

“Most people have surrendered, they are scared. People lost their hands, homes and wealth. How can you support the opposition? It is only people like me who have nothing to lose, but still we continue losing the few things that we have.”

Apart from the spectre of violence that hovers over their heads and haunting memories of 2008, officials from the ruling party also allegedly use food to settle political scores.

With most Zimbabweans only getting relief now after the country received above normal rains, in the past years when successive droughts ravaged most crops, people like Kazembe were left with nothing to eat as they were not included in the government food relief programmes that are run by traditional leaders and Zanu PF councillors.

“When I heard that government was going to distribute rice, I also went but I was disappointed because before people were given the food aid, those in charge were chanting Zanu PF slogans. I was told I did not qualify because I was an opposition supporter. Even orphans whose parents were killed in 2008 were denied food,” a distraught Bamusi said.

Turning 55 this year, Bamusi is not afraid anymore, he has lost everything, almost.

He seems to care less of the threat posed by his tormentors.

“Why should I be afraid?” he asks, rather rhetorically. “My wife was raped, I lost everything and I cannot even afford to send my children to school.”

Their 20-year-old child, Mike, is a tall lad, but life seems to have been blown out from him.

When he was seven, he was beaten and left for dead by Zanu PF thugs. He struggles to hear and was last at school around May in 2008.

“I last went to school when I was doing my Grade 7. I hope one day the people who beat me up will be brought to justice. I also hope one day I will be able to be a mechanic, that is my dream,” he said.

Ironically, one of his closest friends is a child of one of the family tormentors.

“We play together but don’t talk about politics,” he said.

The MDC and civil society claim that over 200 opposition supporters were killed by suspected Zanu PF militia in one of the bloodiest elections since the country attained its independence from the British in 1980.

In its central committee report, which was presented at the ruling party’s annual conference in Masvingo last year, Zanu PF admitted that its supporters were facing murder charges emanating from their violent conduct in 2008.

According to the report, “Mashonaland East province has 40 pending court cases largely arising from the 2008 presidential run-off.”

“The cases are mainly assault, arson and murder,” the report said.

And it appears the worst awaits this forgotten lot.

When his homestead was attacked, Kazembe reported the matter to Mutawatawa Police Station. Up to date, not a single suspect has been arrested.

“I had my suspects and I started calling out their names, which is why they left. Early in the morning, I went to report the matter to the police and I was referred to the department of peace. Instead of being assisted, I was shocked to learn that I was being charged for organising an illegal meeting at my homestead.

“They wanted to arrest me, and I told them to go ahead. After a heated argument, I was then referred to another police officer who was quite helpful. I gave her the names of the people who I suspected to have been involved in the attack of my home.

“However, when I made a follow up, I was frustrated with the police saying they could not arrest the suspects because they were all said to be ill and this is the same thing they did in 2008.

“However, after persistent inquiries, I was then given an RRB number 2998664. The matter was supposed to go to court but we are still to get anything,” said Bamusi.

MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said Zanu PF activists are making it hard for the opposition to reach out to rural communities such as Maramba, because of “impunity”.

“Because of the culture of impunity, perpetrators of gross human rights abuses such as murder, rape and arson still remain free out there because they are being protected by the Zanu PF regime. This has resulted in a culture of pervading fear gripping most rural communities in Zimbabwe.

“It is an extremely big risk for villagers to attend opposition political party meetings or rallies in the rural areas because they will be victimised by Zanu PF thugs and some misguided elements among traditional leaders. This is one of the major reasons why the MDC is strenuously pushing for the adoption of electoral reforms before next year’s plebiscite. The Zanu PF regime is harvesting from the culture of fear that has taken root among rural communities,” Gutu told the Daily News on Sunday.

Mugabe and Zanu PF insist nothing is wrong with the country’s electoral playing field, with top party apparatchiks openly saying the ruling party will not reform itself out of power.

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