The majority of people [in Zimbabwe] are a happy lot despite the hardships we’re going through. —President Robert Mugabe, The New York Times, April 24
After a two-day strike on March 18 and 19—described by The New York Times as “the largest public protest against President Mugabe since he was re-elected last year in a contest that was marred by widespread allegations of fraud”—Mugabe’s enforcers cracked down on his opponents. There were the customary arrests and torturings, as reported in the same New York Times story, in which the dictator crowed about his people’s “happy lot.”
But there are no protests on the streets of America.
No American newspaper, as far as I know, has detailed the torture inflicted on members of the opposition. However, I have “A Report on Organized Violence and Torture in Zimbabwe From 20 to 24 March 2003” from the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. As I noted in “Hell Is a Real Place” (October 11, 2002), the coalition is composed of trade unions, women’s rights organizations, students, and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
In Appendix 2 of the report from Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, 32-year-old MK, secretary of that city’s Movement for Democratic Change, the country’s leading opposition party, declares:
“At approximately 1 a.m. on Sunday 23rd March, 2003, 20 men (16 in army uniform and four in civilian clothing) climbed over the boundary wall surrounding our home. When my father answered the knocking on the door, the men burst in shouting that they wanted his wife. They called her out and attacked her.
“She was wrapped in a cloth and they did not wait for her to dress before they started to beat her with hose pipes and the butts of their AK-47 assault rifles. Her cloth fell off leaving her naked, and they continued to beat her. They locked my father and the younger children in a bedroom. I heard my mother screaming—they made her open her legs and they tried to push the barrel of an AK into her vagina. . . . It is clear that my mother was severely traumatized by the attack. She has said that she wants to commit suicide.”
From the coalition’s medical reports: Patient Mrs. K has a large bruise of her right eye and tender swellings on her head. She has multiple deep bruises of her back, buttocks, and legs, and a bruise in her vagina consistent with her story of assault with a rifle barrel in her vagina. She is at present admitted in hospital. She shows signs of acute anxiety.”
There are other case histories, and in a summary of the attacks, the coalition reports: “The majority of the perpetrators were dressed in Zimbabwe National Army uniform, and were conveyed in military vehicles to the homes of the victims. Some perpetrators were in police uniforms. . . .
“Many victims reported the use of torture tactics . . . burning with cigarettes and acid, inserting foreign objects into the women’s genital areas, urinating in the victim’s mouth, and forcing the victims to drink substances such as urine. . . . Many were threatened with further assault if they reported their injuries.
“In several cases, victims who had received life-saving treatment at a hospital and were discharged were assaulted again, requiring readmission for other injuries. . . . Photographic evidence of injuries received is available.” Perhaps New York City Council member Charles Barron will send for these photographs and display them at City Hall, where he lauded Mugabe last September.
Zimbabwe is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission—whose name has become a repellent oxymoron that Eleanor Roosevelt could not have foreseen when she worked so hard to help create the United Nations. At this year’s session in Geneva, as an April 18 editorial in The Washington Post noted, “The commission . . . voted against putting Zimbabwe on its list of countries requiring special observation.” (Emphasis added.)
If you were to imagine the convening of a Human Rights Commission in Hades, it would consist of Cuba, Syria, Sudan, China, and Saudi Arabia. Libya would be the chair. But I have actually named the real-life members of that United Nations body—the hope of the tortured of the world. Even Mugabe’s Zimbabwe sits there!
And at the very session during which Zimbabwe was given a pass by its fellow whited sepulchers in the commission—I was informed by the American Anti-Slavery Group—the African bloc of nations at the UN succeeded in upgrading the human rights status of Sudan, the notorious land of genocide. The National Islamic Front, which rules that nation—where black women from the South are still taken into slavery and raped—is now freed from all previous UN economic restrictions.
Meanwhile, The Economist (April 5) reports that in a friendly lift to Robert Mugabe, “South Africa, Zimbabwe’s most influential neighbor, is actively seeking to end [Mugabe’s] isolation.” And in the April 15 New York Times, Ginger Thompson writes, “Moses Mzila Ndlovu, a high-level official in Zimbabwe’s leading opposition party, has charged that South Africa helps prop up the Mugabe government by allowing Zimbabwe to defer payments of millions of dollars in debt for electricity, fuel, telephone service, and food. ‘President Mugabe is taking that money and using it to build structures of repression,’ said Mr. Ndlovu.”
From Catherine Buckle—a Zimbabwean who has written extensively on conservation and wildlife education, and who sends a weekly online letter chronicling Mugabe’s repressions—there is this news: “A visiting delegation of Southern African foreign ministers were in Zimbabwe [in March]. . . . At the close of their nine-hour meeting in Harare, a spokesman for the South African Foreign Ministry said: ‘Our position is that the people of Zimbabwe must be the masters of their own destiny.’ ” But who is going to help the Zimbabweans get rid of the dictator who is their master now?
But it is not only South Africa and other democratic African nations that have been very slow to react to Mugabe’s terrorism of his people. The Economist (April 5) says candidly, “The truth is that neither Britain nor any other western power has made more than token efforts to curb Mr. Mugabe, because he poses no threat to their vital interests.
“If the people of Zimbabwe desire a change of regime (and it is obvious that they do), they can expect little outside help. . . . Outsiders could do more to help . . . They could increase the pressure by . . . pursuing the ruling party’s business associates, especially those who have helped the Zimbabwean army to loot Congo, where it was sent in 1998 to prop up another despotic regime.” Any investigative reporters working on those business associates?
Next week: the press in Zimbabwe.