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take on Mugabe's thugs
Sunday Times (UK)
September 23, 2007
A Harare taxi driver,
Tafadzwa Nyatsanga, was negotiating fares with passengers outside
an agricultural show when a policeman arrived and demanded to be
taken somewhere for a fare of just Z$50,000, about 10p.
When Nyatsanga refused,
pointing out that other people had been queuing for hours, the officer,
Michael Masamwi, began beating and punching him, whacking him round
the head with his truncheon.
There was nothing unusual
about this in the Zimbabwe of President Robert Mugabe. But then
something strange happened. Someone from the crowd stepped forward
and told the officer that what he was doing constituted "a
human rights abuse" and he should stop.
Masamwi laughed and hit
him too. The man again told him that what he was doing was wrong
as there were hundreds of people waiting. This time the crowd joined
in, turning on the policeman and beating him.
The officer called in
riot police. They dispersed the crowd violently and arrested the
taxi driver, who is still in jail two weeks later. A few days after
the incident, however, Masamwi received a legal summons. Then last
week about 500 people gathered outside his police station to demonstrate.
This protest was also broken up by riot police and 11 people were
arrested, but the demonstrators returned the next day.
Such unprecedented public
action is the result of a new movement that has been launched in
Zimbabwe to try to end police brutality by naming and shaming the
most violent officers and taking them to court.
Restoration of Human
Rights is the brainchild of two Zimbabweans, one white, one black,
who were living in Britain.
Until a few months ago
Justin Shaw-Gray, 33, was in Godalming working in IT sales; Stendrick
Zvorwadza, 38, was a business studies teacher at a college in Bradford.
But the two men were so shocked at the repression in their homeland
that they decided to give up their jobs and do something.
"We're saying enough
is enough of police brutality," said Shaw-Gray. "We felt
you might not be able to get rid of Mugabe, but we could make people
aware of their rights and how to act.
"It seemed to us
there were plenty of human rights organisations documenting abuses,
but none actually doing anything about it."
Using their savings and
contributions from friends, they have spent the past two months
meeting district leaders and recruiting members. This is no easy
task, given Zimbabwe's notorious public order laws that require
police licences for gatherings of more than five people.
The pair have
been arrested several times. "My mum is so scared she can't
sleep at nights," Shaw-Gray said. Yet so far they have signed
up more than 15,000 people.
"We tell people
if you stand up alone you're at risk; if five of you stand up, you're
at risk, But if we stand up in our thousands, they can't do anything,"
"There are around
45,000 police, of which maybe 5,000 are bad guys. The rest want
to do their job. What we want to do is start weeding them out and
naming them so they can no longer hide behind the cloak of the system
and will be living in fear."
The plan is
to hold demonstrations outside offending officers' homes and workplaces,
and to sue them, working with Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights.
On one occasion last
month the two men were driving with three colleagues to donate footballs
at a match in Gutu, south of Harare, at which they hoped to spread
Police roadblocks had
been set up to prevent people travelling to a memorial service for
a leading member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC). About 15 miles from the match venue, they were stopped as
the game had not been approved by police.
"We explained that
we were a nonpolitical group working with orphans and children,
but they refused to let us go on," said Shaw-Gray.
Loveness Matapura, the
district police chief, then arrived. She called in armed riot police
who surrounded the men and pointed guns against their heads while
others searched the car.
"All they found
were footballs," said Zvorwadza. "We told them this is
an abuse of our human rights, but they replied that if we attempted
to go on we would be shot."
After two hours the men
were allowed to go, but only if they returned to Harare. The following
Sunday they took out a full-page advertisement in the Standard newspaper,
recounting the incident and explaining that they were taking Matapura
"We know where she
lives. If she does not respond to the summons we will hold mass
peaceful demonstrations outside her house, preventing her from leaving,"
When asked about the
risks, he said: "Zimbabwe has the lowest life expectancy in
the world and people are starving. We're explaining to people if
you don't stand up you'll be dead anyway in six months, 12 months,
18 months, because the economic situation is so bad. You must stand
up or you'll die."
Inflation is estimated
by bankers to be about 13,000% and a military-imposed campaign of
price controls has left nothing on the shelves. As the economic
crisis grows, police brutality, long a feature of the Mugabe regime,
In a typical
incident nine days ago, police descended on Nyaradzo funeral home
in Harare and prevented a service taking place for 24-year-old Memory
Jenaguri. Her home had been destroyed in Operation
Murambatsvina (Drive Out the Filth), a government demolition
campaign that began in 2005, and she had been living in the open
for the past two years until dying of hunger. The police arrested
all 60 mourners.
More such repression
is expected in the run-up to next year's parliamentary elections.
if the government will make it that far. A report
published last week by the International Crisis Group described
Zimbabwe as "closer than ever to complete collapse".
It stated: "Four
out of five of the country's 12m people live below the poverty line
and a quarter have fled."
David Coltart, an MDC
MP from Bulawayo, said: "There might not be blood in the streets,
but people are just falling off the edge everywhere. Pensioners,
orphans, child-headed families are literally starving."
Few see any likelihood
of a Ukraine-style uprising. "It's like asking people in intensive
care, why aren't you protesting," said Coltart.
Pointing out that there
are no guards on the Zimbabwe side of the border, he believes the
regime is encouraging people to flee. "Mugabe knows every person
who crosses the border is one less vote against him."
Coltart welcomed Gordon
Brown's stance in threatening to boycott the EU-Africa summit if
Mugabe is invited. "If Mugabe is allowed, he will think Europe
has lost its resolve. It will encourage him to run for office again."
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