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tortured over cyanide
Nkululeko Sibanda, The Financial Gazette
November 07, 2013
Villagers here are accusing
government and the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority of Zimbabwe
(PWMAZ) of using torture tactics to extract “confessions”
from those suspected of holding onto the dangerous cyanide chemical.
While the parks authority has vehemently denied the allegations,
villagers in Tsholotsho say the torture tactics are reminding them
of the trauma and fear they endured during the Gukurahundi era.
National Park massacre
comes after more than 300 elephants
died in the Hwange National Park area after drinking water laced
with the chemical. Suspicion in government circles is that the villagers
were responsible for the lacing of water with cyanide. Several people
in the area have been arrested and brought before the courts for
allegedly being in possession of the deadly chemical. Some of the
villagers are languishing in remand prison for allegedly being found
in possession of cyanide. Villagers interviewed alleged that they
were being picked up for questioning by rangers from the PWMAZ,
working with security agents in the area, in the wee hours of the
They claimed the interrogation
was intense and at times involved the use of torture methods to
force them to confess being in possession of cyanide. Those suspected
to be holding on to cyanide were allegedly taken to an interrogation
base inside the Hwange National Park where the inhumane acts were
carried out. “When they came to pick me up on one of the days,
they arrived at my house at around 0225 hours. They asked me to
produce the cyanide and I told them I did not have it. They searched
my home and could not find any. They ordered me to crawl on my knees
to the nearest car which was 800 metres away,” one of the
villagers explained to the Financial Gazette.
At the base, the villager
said he and five other suspects were tortured for days on end. He
alleged they were beaten under the feet using logs cut from trees
in the bush.
Another villager said
he was forced to squat over a smouldering fire from red hot charcoal.
ordered to squat over the fire from the charcoal. I could feel blood
in my testicles boiling as a result of the heat. I cried out but
they would have none of it.
They only ordered me to move from the fire upon realizing that I
was about to collapse,” said the villager.
is that we are being assaulted and tortured by the game rangers
who are trying to force us to admit that we have the cyanide they
are looking for. The unfortunate part is that there are some who
had the cyanide but most of us know nothing about the it,”
The PWMAZ denies receiving any such complaints.
and Wildlife Management Authority has not received any such reports
and as such cannot comment on a matter without facts,” PWMAZ
spokesperson, Caroline Washaya Moyo said.
Recently, a ministerial
taskforce comprising Environment, Water and Climate Minister Saviour
Kasukuwere, Sydney Sekeramayi (Defence), Kembo Mohadi (Home Affairs),
Ignatius Chombo (Local Government), Jonathan Moyo (Information)
and Walter Mzembi (Tourism and Hospitality) ordered villagers in
the area to surrender the cyanide they had in their possession to
Chief Siphoso from Tsholotsho district by month-end or face arrest.
A Bulawayo-based group
of lawyers, Abammeli Human Rights Lawyers Network, said it had received
the reports of alleged torture of civilians in the Tsholotsho communal
lands and was gathering evidence with the view to sue for damages.
“We have received
the reports of the alleged torture of people in Tsholotsho,”
said Advocate Lucas Nkomo, a member of the lawyers’ group.
“We are gathering
evidence of what happened. Once that is done, we shall file the
necessary papers with the courts,” Nkomo added.
Agenda, a pressure group, recently condemned the torture of
the executive director of the group, said government and the parks
authority needed to conduct their investigations in a civil manner
and refrain from using torture.
“Reports about the widespread use of cyanide are very disturbing
and need to be properly handled to avert a looming ecological disaster
including loss of human lives. But what is even more worrying is
the alleged reaction of armed game rangers who are said to be torturing
citizens suspected to be in possession of or involved in the use
of cyanide,” said Nyoni.
He added: “Bulawayo
Agenda calls upon responsible authorities not to use this issue
as an excuse to perpetrate atrocities against the villagers but
conduct professional investigations in order to put this issue to
rest and prosecute offenders. Torture is an inhuman and dehumanising
experience and must not in any way be used against citizens for
whatever reason. In conducting their investigations, the responsible
authorities must care to avoid reminding citizens of the heavy handedness
that has been visited upon citizens on numerous occasions since
According to the Catholic
Commission for Justice and Peace report released in 1988 titled
Breaking the Silence; Building True Peace, villagers in the Matabeleland
and Midlands provinces were subjected to torture and massive beatings
and killings during the Gukurahundi era.
Most of the victims were
shot and killed in public executions, often after being forced to
dig their own graves in front of family members and fellow villagers.
Some were buried alive, while pregnant women were reportedly bayoneted
with the foetus in their wombs crushed to death by slamming them
against rocks. Torture methods, the report says, included electric
shocks, falanga (beating under the feet) and submarine (putting
a person’s head in a bucket of water). People were also suspended
by their wrists, or interrogated naked.
The report also says
those who were detained were kept in terrible conditions.
They were overcrowded,
under-fed, could not clean themselves, and had poor bedding. In
addition, they were kept within earshot of others being tortured
so they could hear their screams. Tortured people would be returned
covered in blood to communal cells.
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