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Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
September 30, 2007
Africa - They were some of the toughest front-liners in Zimbabwe's
opposition, people who previously had been beaten and tortured by
state security forces and come through it stronger.
Now they are broken men.
sits hunched like a frail old man in a chair on a small strip of
dirt in this township outside Johannesburg. The 34-year-old wears
black slippers and jeans that hang like an empty sack. He had to
flee his country after security forces "full of madness"
nearly beat him to death in March, along with opposition leader
Morgan Tsvangirai and dozens of others.
All he talks
about is going home to his beloved Zimbabwe to continue the struggle
against President Robert Mugabe's regime and resume his work as
Tsvangirai's bodyguard. But the truth is, he can barely walk.
for breath as he tells his story in a pitch so low it is often inaudible.
Forty minutes of conversation exhausts him and he drifts off to
During an interview
with The Times in May, Musekiwa had appeared robust and strong,
although he acknowledged having difficulty sleeping since the beatings.
By the end of August, he had shrunk into himself. His skin hung
off his bones, the flesh and muscle eaten away. His face was like
a skull, with deep hollows under sharp cheekbones and a protuberant
ago, I could not even stand upright," he said. "It just
For his wife,
Edna, summoned to his Johannesburg hospital bed from Zimbabwe shortly
before then, the transformation was shocking. At that point, he
was expected to die of complications of a ruptured kidney, but somehow
he crawled back from the grave.
now, I'll be rolling into Zimbabwe," he wheezed. "I have
no option. That's my home. But I just get tired when I walk along
There are others
like him, some physically destroyed, others psychologically shattered.
This winter, which just ended in the Southern Hemisphere, you would
find them in a back room of a Johannesburg church rented by a Zimbabwean
anti-torture group, a huddle of gloomy men curled around a hot plate
that offered scant comfort against the bone-chilling cold.
Dozens of members
have fled to South Africa in recent months, some of them with severe
injuries, leaving the opposition a shell of itself with the presidential
election six months away. Most of them are afraid for family members
still in Zimbabwe, but too terrified to go home themselves. Or too
and abductions in the lead-up to the March election are seen by
human rights organizations as a deliberate strategy by the Mugabe
government to cripple democratic opposition. The Human Rights Forum,
which unites 17 Zimbabwean organizations, recently reported that
2007 looks to be the worst year for political violence and torture
a couple of people who were beaten on March 11, and to be honest
I don't think they're quite the same people they were before,"
said Andrew Meldrum, an American who wrote a book on his 23 years
as a journalist in Zimbabwe before his 2003 expulsion. "When
you have had injuries to major internal organs, we would say we'd
need some time off, and they need time too.
also frightened. I have seen many people who have left the country.
They're frightened that they could be at home doing absolutely nothing
and that they could be taken out and beaten again."
between the ruling party and opposition over electoral reforms are
still going on and produced some symbolic compromises from the government
this month, with a deal that saw Mugabe's term cut from six years
to five. But many saw it as an indication of the ruling party's
supreme confidence of winning an election, rather than a sign it
was willing to meet opposition demands for the election to be free
Zimbabwe has endured a long descent into economic chaos, with hyperinflation
over 7,000% and chronic shortages of medicines, food, fuel and other
basic necessities. Mugabe blames the West and calls Tsvangirai a
puppet of white colonialists.
But to his supporters,
Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, is
simply known as the President, a reference to 2005 parliamentary
elections, widely viewed in the West as a sham, that saw Mugabe's
party returned to power.
full of madness, and they just wanted to kill us," said Musekiwa,
describing the March beatings. He had been beaten several times
before, but never like this. "They said, 'There's only one
president, and that's Mugabe.' They beat me all over the body using
different weapons: iron rods, rubber batons, sticks, wooden batons
and clenched fists and boots. They beat us repeatedly until Morgan
Tsvangirai was unconscious."
Then in May,
the opposition headquarters in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, were
targeted, everyone in the building was arrested, and 22 computers
as well as documents and files were seized. Dozens of activists
were jailed for "terrorist" bombings of gasoline tankers,
until a judge ruled in July that police had concocted the evidence.
and assaults of opposition and civil activists continue.
talking about virtually hundreds of people who have fled into South
Africa," Tendai Biti, party secretary-general, said in a phone
interview in Zimbabwe. "This is deliberate and it's intended
to cripple the MDC. The people who fled did so because they were
targeted, and they were targeted because they were the most effective
"It shakes the confidence of your structures when the top-quality
leadership flees," Biti said. "It has a demoralizing effect.
It takes years to recover. Leadership doesn't grow on trees."
After the March
beatings, one government official, Nathan Shamuyarira, said of Tsvangirai,
"If you ask for that kind of trouble, you'll get it."
said the opposition had deserved the beatings and that Western critics
could "go hang." The government routinely portrays those
seeking to oust his regime as criminals.
office where the Zimbabwe opposition members meet for mutual support
and comfort has a broken look itself. Some chairs have no stuffing
or the backs are busted, and the shelves are piled with higgledy-piggledy
papers and faded brochures. Many of the men are at loose ends: They
sleep poorly and wake late, then drift into the office midmorning.
They tell their stories in a subdued, matter-of-fact way.
33, the national youth organizing secretary of the party, said he
was tortured for five days, subjected to a simulated execution,
had electric wires attached to his genitals, was beaten on the soles
of his feet; a female security officer even urinated into his mouth.
was almost paralyzed," he said. "Everyone is threatened."
An MDC administrator,
James Mushandu, 30, said he was kept in a dark room for days and
beaten severely at Goromonzi police station, east of the capital.
where all hell breaks loose," he said. "There's where
you have the torture. There's no negotiating in that place. They
said, 'No one is going to give a damn about you.' I thought, 'I'm
well-orchestrated thing to make us run away from Zimbabwe,"
he said. "It's left the MDC a toothless dog."
Like many other
opposition activists, Musekiwa got his grounding in the union movement
in the late 1990s, when Tsvangirai, a former miner and secretary-general
of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, organized anti-government
strikes. In 1999, the MDC emerged from of the union movement as
the first real political challenge to Mugabe, now 83, who has been
in power since independence in 1980.
A searing memory
changed Musekiwa forever in the late '70s, during the liberation
war in the country, then still known as Rhodesia. He had to watch
as two dozen of the rebels fighting the minority white regime beat
his father to death, a farmer who supported the rebel cause but
was a suspected collaborator.
tied to a tree. He only cried when he passed out. We were just sitting
in a half circle. We weren't crying, because they said, 'If you
cry, you'll go with your father.'
cry when I buried him. We didn't cry until after the struggle was
over and we went and put a concrete tombstone there."
that after the killing, the rebels checked his father's papers,
acknowledged that he had been innocent and apologized.
so angry. That is why I never supported ZANU-PF," he said of
Mugabe's ruling party, which grew out of the rebel movement.
When the MDC
emerged, spirits were high and activists such as Musekiwa thought
Mugabe would be unseated quickly because of popular dissatisfaction.
optimistic," Musekiwa said. "I thought the struggle would
In the weeks
after the beatings, Musekiwa felt anger at Mugabe and those who
beat him. But now even that has faded.
"I am no
longer angry towards anybody. During the first two weeks, I was
very cross," he whispered. "But with time I gradually
learned to accept the situation and to think about the field I am
operating in, joining politics." He even feels sorry for the
thugs who beat him, because he knows they were following orders,
out of fear.
He says he has
not lost hope.
is not broken. In the struggle, you can be injured and stay alive,
or you can die. I'm happy to be one of those, because now you will
remember me as a hero.
I die, I will not die a painful death. I mean, my spirit will at
least say I played my part in Zimbabwe."
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