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  • 2002 Presidential & Harare Municipal elections - Index of articles

  • Women's groups in Zimbabwe mobilise to condemn post-election sexual violence
    Women's Coalition
    April 03, 2002

    The following report has caused shock waves in women's groups in Zimbabwe. There are efforts underway to mobilise around the issue of sexual violence and YOUR PARTICIPATION is vital.

    From The Sunday Telegraph (UK), 31 March
    'We were the sex slaves of Mugabe's men'

    THE terror began at eight in the evening and lasted until dawn for Felicia Matamure. In tears, the young trainee teacher described last week how she was captured by government youth militia in north-eastern Zimbabwe and dragged to their camp near Mt Darwin. There she was gagged and gang-raped by a gang of 10 young men high on drink and drugs in a horrifying night of sexual abuse and beatings. "They tied my legs and arms to poles," the distraught 23-year-old told The Telegraph from a safe house in Harare. "The men took turns to rape me while the others watched and sang liberation songs."

    Felicia was untied at dawn, but threatened with death if she fled the camp. Undaunted, she escaped the next night and tried to report the case to the police, only to be turned away. "They were not interested," she said. "The war vets and the militia are above the law."

    She said there were dozens of other abducted women at the former school that has been turned into a militia camp. Some were made to wash and cook, others were forced to sleep with the gang-leaders. Most were too scared to flee because of the retribution that their family or village would face.

    Lilian Nzirawa's ordeal was just as appalling: the militia forced her into their camp, ripped off her dress and slashed her underwear with knives.

    "I was tied, gagged and blindfolded while they raped me," she recalled. After about an hour, her abductors removed the blindfold, but took it in turns to rape her again as their comrades cheered and sang revolutionary songs. With tears rolling down her face, Lilian, in her early twenties, said she recognised some of her assailants as local men from her home area near Bindura, 60 miles north of Harare. "All I want is justice and all I can do is cry," she said softly.

    Both Felicia and Lilian are now in hiding but risked their lives to reveal the horrors they endured; their names have been changed at their request. Their revelations come as the militia and war veterans indulge in a new wave of political violence.

    After resorting to rampant electoral fraud in this month's election, President Mugabe is desperate to ensure that the MDC can never again mount such a strong political challenge to his regime. Across the country, opposition activists have been attacked, forced to pay heavy "fines", hounded from their homes and - in at least six cases since the election - killed by Zanu-PF mobs.

    White farmers are also being targeted: in Zanu-PF's Mashonaland strongholds, dozens have been forced from their homes in revenge for backing the MDC, while Terry Ford was shot dead on his farm at Norton.

    It is local black MDC activists who are bearing the brunt of the anti-opposition crackdown, however. Laina Marowa, Tsanangurai Marowa and Dorcas Maneni fled into the bush in the eastern Manicaland province after serving as MDC polling agents. Mobs had turned up outside their houses and local Zanu-PF leaders had ordered them to pay "fines" of almost 50, a small fortune in rural areas.

    Across the country, the MDC estimates that 1,200 of its election agents are on the run and there are countless reports of abuse at militia torture camps. Photographs obtained by The Telegraph reveal that new recruits are still being trained in the Bindura area, 100 miles north of Harare.

    Sexual assault has also been used as part of this new strategy of terror: one 15-year-old girl was repeatedly raped by youth militia shortly after the election because they could not find her parents,
    both MDC activists.

    According to Dewa Mavhinga, a research officer with the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers' Association (ZWLA), there are more than 1,000 female sex slaves being held in 56 militia camps. "These militia are now in celebration mode," he said. "They act like they're unafraid of anything." The victims fall into three categories. "Some are promised money," he said. "Others go in because they're ordered to and they're too frightened to disobey. The last group are taken into the camps as punishment for supporting the opposition MDC." The fear that they will be discovered and killed by their former tormentors is common among escaped sex slaves, according to Mr Mavhinga. "They have been told that they will be hunted down and killed by the militia and the war veterans," he said.

    Even once they have escaped, the stigma attached to rape in rural areas means that women's suffering continues. "They can't just admit they've been raped because they fear their husbands will not have
    anything more to do with them," said Mr Mavhinga. Felicia confirmed the problem as she broke down in tears and explained that she was married with a small child. "My husband works in South Africa. When I escaped I wanted to phone and tell him but I just couldn't do it. By the time I spoke to him, he had heard. When he answered the phone, he just said: 'I know'. That was it." Asked if she will ever see her husband again, Felicia smiled sadly and shook her head. "I don't think so," she said.

    Zimbabwean women respond

    Violations against women are still a present day issue and many of us live with them on a daily basis in the private enclosures of our homes and offices. In Zimbabwe the very recent presidential elections saw an escalation of sexual and physical violence against women in many communities and in many ways. This is something we have seen increasingly since the 2000 constitutional referendum that marked the beginning of farm invasions.

    With those farm invasions came a class of "war vets" who were championing the invasions and finding young girls and women to use sexually in their "camps". This has continued and has given birth to the youth camps of the recent presidential election of what we have called "the militia". Young boys who were kept in halls and camps to beat up people and cause terror both in rural and urban areas. The girls who were there, were there to cook, clean and provide sexual relief to these boys.

    Do we think they all used condoms every time they had sex? Indeed condoms were found discarded all over the camps but did they use them all the time?

    I hope we tell the stories of the women of our country and expose the many horrors and abuses inflicted on us especially those that have taken place on our bodies, on our gender in the recent elections and the period before and after. I hope we gather that information. I hope we document it. I hope we use it against those who have and continue to fund and protect those inflicting this violence.

    "How can you be a legitimate leader to me when you got that position by raping me, beating me up, burning my property, cutting my husband/son's back, taking over my home and taking away my dignity and humanity". These are the questions that need to be asked.

    If it is happening to one sister, it is happening to you also. It is just a matter of time.
    Janah, Harare: email

    My heart sank with despair when I read of the sexual violations against Zimbabwean women. The environment we are living in today calls for more activism than ever before. What you chronicle regarding the happenings in the youths camps seems to happen everywhere else. The question is what to do about it. Starting from the premise that information is the prerequisite of empowerment, would it not be helpful to gather as much information about the happenings in these places and to publicise the goings on in public meetings or through the various religious groupings . We need reasoned arguments that illustrate that there is institutionalised violence against women.
    Juliana, Harare: email

    We know that the world over camps are a place of sexual violation for women and girls. In terms of documentation, The Girl Child Network has documented reports of sexual violations which happened to women and girls during the election period. The Amani Trust has done some work and we, ZWRCN, have a draft report done during the Parliamentary Elections.

    We do not have on record any information about systematic rape in the training camps. Several years ago I spoke with some women ex-combatants who said they had been raped in the training camps during the liberation war. They said to me because of the bigger cause they were fighting for they did not turn it into a sexual rights matter.

    I think we may want to consider expanding the forum a little to include organisations like the Girl Child Network, The Musasa Project, etc. but who can we ask to provide the all important evidence? And testimonies? I would hate for our cause to be dismissed because we cannot provide clear documented examples. This may seem cautious coming from an activist but I know that without the data we will really be told we are being emotional and unreasonable and can't prove anything.
    Bella, Harare: email

    While we were in Shurugwi during the last week of January, word came to us through some of the participants at our awareness meetings that girls were being coerced into having sexual intercourse with the "trainers" in the training camps. One of the culprits was even mentioned by name. The problem l envisage is getting the communities to talk. What if they do and we have a recurrence of the post 2000 elections fiasco when offenders were granted blanket amnesty. The victims would suffer double jeopardy so to speak.
    Catherine, Harare: email

    This is devastating. If all of us collectively or individually, do not do anything about this, we stand to be
    haunted by the gruesome experiences of Felicia and Lilian. I believe that we have both a social and national responsibility to save our country from worse degradation. I challenge each one of us to use their mouths, pens, e-mail, networks etc to make sure that this rot is brought to an end. Anyone from a Pressure Group? Can we assist?
    Sta, Harare: email

    I think as women we also need to speak persistently and consistently against these violations because our silence may indicate that we probably approve of what is happening. Can you imagine, last week a woman (teenage girl) in Manicaland was gang-raped by 10 war veterans in one go and nobody has said anything about it.

    I guess part of the problem is that this information is not circulating so we cannot speak against violations that we are not aware of, hence the urgent need for an information hub where all violations against women are reported and acted upon immediately. When we know what violations are taking place, then we can begin to take action and speak out, but we need to move quickly, our women folk cannot continue to suffer while we remain silent.
    Matilda, Harare: email

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