Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Raped Zimbabwean Women Seek Justice

Exiles group spearheads bid to bring their plight to the attention of the international courts.
By Zakeus Chibaya
Still visibly traumatised and walking with the help of a stick, Zimbabwean Silibaziso Tembo vividly recounts being tortured by ruling party Zanu-PF agents, which has left her paralysed.

Her main sin was her participation as an election agent for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, party in the resort town of Victoria Falls in the 2005 parliamentary election.

After surviving several attacks in 2000 from the youth militia and war veterans who spearheaded the Zanu-PF orgy of violence, she finally succumbed during Operation Murambatsvina, a clean-up campaign which left 700,000 families homeless and without a source of livelihood.

Her back-yard house and tuck shop was targeted by the Zanu-PF activists who gang raped her, and destroyed her home.

Tembo fled to South Africa across the dangerous Limpopo River to seek medical treatment and refuge. Her dream is to see her perpetrators brought to book. As the justice and police system in Zimbabwe has failed to prosecute the culprits, she is putting her hopes on the international justice system.

“I would like to see the culprits brought to a trial court and answer for their crimes. The government of Zimbabwe should take responsibility for the brutality, rape and torture, which was orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Organisation and Zanu-PF thugs. I am prepared to stand in the courts to give evidence of torture,” said a sobbing Tembo. “I used to work for myself but Mugabe’s brutality reduced my life to a destitute.”

The period between 2000 and 2006 has witnessed an upsurge of political violence, which has left many women activists supporting the MDC raped and tortured. Women form a large number of Zimbabweans fleeing the country.

Zimbabwe Exiles Forum’s executive director Gabriel Shumba, who is spearheading the litigation process to bring the matter to the attention of international courts, said, “We have filed three communications (petitions) with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights against the Republic of Zimbabwe, which we hold vicariously liable for the perpetration of these violations through its agents.”

The majority of the victims were abused by members of the Zanu-PF state security machinery, such as the CIO, the army intelligence department and youth militia, commonly known as the "green bombers". ZEF has also prepared three more communications for the commission and two complaints will be shortly placed before the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.

The commission was established under the terms of Article 30 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. The body consists of eleven independent members elected for a term of six years. It normally holds two ordinary sessions annually, one around March/April and the second around September/October, each meeting lasting two weeks.

“More abused women are coming forward and we are determined to take their cases to the international courts,” said Shumba.

Since 2003, Zimbabwe civic organisations based in South Africa have received numerous reports of cases of women who say they have been raped and tortured either directly or indirectly by state agents. Zimbabwe Political Victims’ Association, ZIPOVA, an exiled Zimbabwe organisation that is assisting in the litigation project, said they are seeing between five to ten abused women a week.

A project has been launched at ZIPOVA to give abused women confidence to stand up for their rights. The women meet once a week to receive counselling and to discuss their experiences of torture and brutality.

Giyatri Sigh, of the Witwatersrand University’s Forced Migration Department, who has carried out preliminary research on exiled, abused Zimbabwe women, said, “There is rampant abuse of Zimbabwean women, even in South Africa. There is a need to document the abuses and seek recourse.”

A young woman living in exile in South Africa told IWPR of how she was intermittently abducted by CIO operatives between 2004 and 2006 when she was still in high school. She reported that she was forced to join them because her father was a member of the Zimbabwe National Army and she was an MDC activist. She was moved between army barracks and shown people who were viewed as anti-government being tortured and sometimes killed. During her captivity she was repeatedly raped.

ZEF has established through extensive research that an alarming number of Zimbabwean women suffer sexual and other physical abuse in the country, and by border officials while trying to escape from Zimbabwe.

One of the most horrific cases is that of Muchaneta Gomo, who was gang-raped by four members of the youth militia at Mushagashe Youth Militia Training Centre near Masvingo. One of the group forced the barrel of a rifle into her private parts during the ordeal.

“I know my culprits very well. Some of the CIO’s and youth militias I have seen in South Africa on a mission to spy on exiled Zimbabweans. We are ready to demand justice for women. I no longer feel intimidated by the regime,” said Gomo, who is in her early 20s.

Gomo had enrolled at Mushagashe to train as a carpenter, but then discovered that the centre is used to train and teach youths about Zanu-PF ideology. On many occasions they were sent on missions to attack opposition supporters. When she asked questions about her studies, she was beaten and raped.

There are about fifteen youth militia centres in the country that operate as training facilities. Women are abused at the centres as the supervisors take advantage of the vulnerability of the young girls.

Shumba is optimistic that the abused women will triumph at the international courts. He successfully took his case to the commission and the Zimbabwean government was asked to respond to the allegations.

Tembo said, “We are ready to face Mugabe in the courts to answer for his brutality and I have enough evidence to prove my case. Someone has to pay for the atrocities inflicted on Zimbabwean women. We will be representing many Zimbabwean women who have died because of Mugabe’s brutality.”

Zakeus Chibaya is a regular IWPR contributor.

More IWPR's Global Voices

Georgia: Perils of the Enguri Crossing
With the checkpoint closed, some residents of Abkhazia are risking their lives to access services.
Georgia: Perils of the Enguri Crossing
Trapped in Eastern Ukraine