THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

Babies abandoned as police beat mothers
Jan Raath, The Times (UK)
July 27, 2007

A group of nursing mothers were ordered to put down their babies by Zimbabwean police before being beaten for hours.

The six women were among 160 people rounded up at the offices of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), an organisation dedicated to constitutional reform, after activists tried to hold a demonstration.

They were taken to Harare central police station and told to leave their babies in the corner of a hall and join other adults lying on their stomachs.

For the next four or five hours, witnesses say, the infants screamed as police lashed their mothers and the other adults continuously with metre-long, heavy rubber sticks.

"We were half men, half women. There were six women with children. There were grandmummies," said a 35-year-old woman in hospital with a suspected broken shoulder. "We were made to lie down on our stomachs in rows of five or ten with our hands stretched out in front. All were beaten.

"From about 6pm to 11pm they were beating us, nonstop, going up and down the rows, one after another. When one group of police got tired another would take over.

"They trampled on our bodies with their boots. One of them hit me on my ear with his hand. Now I cannot hear. They said we wanted to have the country recolonised by Bush and Blair."

One of the mothers - a thin, desperate-looking young woman in a worn, soiled red dress - had not been on the march, but was arrested anyway. Her infant son, who had been strapped to her back, was struck with a baton as she was being forced on to the back of a police truck. Still in shock in hospital yesterday, she was unable to answer questions.

She was given a packet of powerful painkilling tablets for deep soft-tissue bruising to her buttocks, back and the back of her thighs. "This is so perverse it makes me want to vomit," the doctor examining her and her child said.

Wednesday night's beatings were the largest mass assault yet carried out by Zimbabwean police. Violence in March, when Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, and about 30 others were beaten for 2 1/2 hours, sparked international outrage.

"This time the intensity was ten times worse," said the NCA chairman, Lovemore Madhuku, who was among those assaulted in March but was not at the organisation's offices when the police raided it on Wednesday. The victims yesterday were so numerous that they had to have beds made for them on the floors of at least two private hospitals. At a private clinic about 20 were still queueing for attention at 10am, including a scrawny, elderly woman on her knees babbling prayers.

Among the injuries were more than 30 skull, hand, arm and rib fractures. Nearly everyone had widespread deep soft-tissue injuries.

After the March assaults President Mugabe said that the victims "got what they asked for". Mr Tsvangirai and the others were arrested on their way to a prayer rally for peace, which police had been ordered not to interfere with by the High Court.

The NCA holds "guerrilla" demonstrations in the face of police brutality so often that they are scarcely reported on. Almost every week young activists wander into the city centre in ones and twos and, at a given signal, sprint through the streets holding banners demanding a new constitution, dispersing and regrouping with the riot police in pursuit. Inevitably, several are caught and emerge a few days later, bloodied and battered. "Yes, you will be beaten up, for sure," Mr Mugabe said last year after trade union leaders had been assaulted for attempting to hold a peaceful demonstration in Harare.

All those arrested yesterday were released later. "We weren't made to pay a fine. There were no charges," a man who gave his name as Ernest said. "All they did was take our names. They didn't detain us overnight because they knew it would be embarrassing to take us all to court."

A woman said that Mr Madhuku had warned them that if they were caught they could be beaten up. "I was scared. But I made myself strong. I told myself if anything happens to me, it will happen to all of us," she said.

"These beatings are to break our resolve," Ernest said. "But they have strengthened it. The more they beat us, the more we realise we have serious work to do."

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.