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Police Brutality Victim Speaks Out

Female trade union leader severely beaten in recent anti-government protest recounts ordeal.
The first vice president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, ZCTU, has spoken to IWPR about the appalling injuries she said she received at the hands of the police after an attempt to lead an anti-government protest earlier this month.

Lucia Matibenga said she was among 15 ZCTU leaders who were arrested and tortured by police when they tried to attend a rally against low wages and the authorities’ inaction on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, at a time when some 500 Zimbabweans are dying daily from AIDS-related infections.

Matibenga, the only woman in the group, suffered a fractured arm, perforated eardrum and bruised kidneys. Matibenga, who has received treatment at Johannesburg's Milpark Hopsital, spoke by cell phone to IWPR's Dzikamai Chidyausike in Harare.

IWPR: Mrs Matibenga you were one of fifteen ZCTU leaders arrested during nationwide demonstrations against the policies of the ZANU PF government on September 13. Press reports said you were severely beaten by the police. Can you take us through the events leading to your arrest?

MATIBENGA: We had barely marched 100 metres from our offices in Harare as planned when police stopped us. They told us to sit on the tarmac - which we did - then they crammed the fifteen of us into a police vehicle and took us to Matapi police station. There they took our cell phones and handcuffed us in pairs.

Each pair would be force-marched into an empty room at the station, and then six police officers would use truncheons to beat them. Sometimes they used clenched fists and their police boots.

IWPR: What were the police saying during these beatings?

MATIBENGA: They accused us of trying to take back the country to the British (Zimbabwe’s former colonial power). They told me that they were going to put me in my right place as a woman. They said they were beating me so I could learn to concentrate on raising my family instead of demonstrating. One of the police officers even boasted that he had been trained to kill traitors like us.

IWPR: You said they were beating you with batons and clenched fists. Can you tell us where specifically they hit you?

MATIBENGA: They beat me all over the body but they particularly targeted my back and buttocks. During the torture I hit my head against the wall three times and I was bleeding but the officers told me to stand up because they had not yet finished with me.

IWPR: Are you still in pain?

MATIBENGA: As I speak right now, my face is swollen. I can’t hear anything with my right ear; the doctor told me that my eardrum is perforated because of the impact of the claps from two of the officers.

IWPR: What other injuries did you sustain?

MATIBENGA: My left hand is swollen; I have an arm in a sling. One of the police officers hit me just under the breast and I have difficulties breathing.

IWPR: What did the police do after assaulting you?

MATIBENGA: They locked my fourteen colleagues, all men, in a private office. I was made to sit at the reception area because I was the only woman there and they did not have a cell for me. I could hear my colleagues whining in pain. Most of them had broken arms and limbs and they were bleeding. I was later told that three of them fainted. They were forced to sit under a table for hours.

IWPR: Did they take you to the hospital?

MATIBENGA: Not until the next day. Our lawyers were not allowed to see us. For hours our lawyer was told that we were not at that station. It was only after a struggle that they allowed him to speak to us. He is the one who negotiated with the police to take us to the hospital. They only took us to [Harare's] Parirenyatwa Hospital [from where Matibenga was later flown to Johannesburg for advanced care] around 10 pm about 25 hours after the beating but not before they had transferred us to the Central police station to charge us under the Public Order and Security Act [a draconian catch-all law which bans gatherings of more than two people without police permission, and which outlaws the making of statements "prejudicial to the State" or which "insult the President"]. During that time none of us was allowed to take a bath.

Up to now, I am shocked by the level of aggression displayed by the police. I can imagine how many people go through these things everyday, especially women.

IWPR: Will you go back into the streets to protest after the torture.

MATIBENGA: This government is dangerous. I am afraid they will come back for me, but there is no going back. We will continue with the demonstrations because we have realised that is the only language that the [President Robert] Mugabe government can only understand.

IWPR: Do you consider the demonstration to have been successful?

MATIBENGA: The fact that they had to resort to arresting and torturing us is a clear sign that the government is aware of the concerns of the workers. This government is scared. So, yes, they can arrest us but they have got the message. It's loud and clear.

Dzikamai Chidyausike is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.

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