“What is happening in Zimbabwe is terrible,” Dr Sheila Meintes
By Sheryleen Masuku
Zimbabwe celebrated its 41st Independence Day over the weekend amid reports of a violent crackdown on opposition leaders and activists, prompting pressure groups and some opposition leaders to call on the international community for assistance.
The call comes amid reports that the government has approved plans to resuscitate a violent youth militia group, which unleashed terror on opposition members during Robert Mugabe’s reign, under the guise of a National Youth Service (NYS) that was nicknamed “Green Bombers”.
Mbuso Fuzwayo, the secretary general of a human rights pressure group Ibhetshu LikaZulu, appealed to the international community to intervene in Zimbabwe ahead of the planned youth militia training given the country’s current volatile political situation.
Fuzwayo said his organisation received the news of the reintroduction of green bombers with shock given the current violent crackdown on dissenting voices in the country.
“It’s not only shocking, but warrants speedy intervention by not only SADC and AU but the world, especially now that we have a seating president who has a well-known record for passion for violence and human rights violations during Gukurahundi and previous elections”.
MDC Alliance deputy chairperson and Zengeza West MP, Hon Job Sikhala, whose supporters were brutally assaulted and tortured by state security agents for attending his court session in Harare last week, echoed these sentiments made by Fuzwayo, posting on his Twitter account “that the world cannot continue to be silent on human rights violations taking place in Zimbabwe.”
Sikhala said torture was nothing new in Zimbabwe as it had been used by the regime since independence but it had intensified since President Emmerson Munangagwa ascended to power through a military coup that ousted the late president Mugabe.
“Torture as an instrument to cow down everyone opposed to ZANU PF has been used since we obtained independence. It intensified to being used as a political tool to harm opponents even after the so-called new dispensation”.
Referring to the torture of the two MDC Alliance activists Lengwani Mavhunga and Munyaradzi Mafararikwa who were tortured in police custody last week and sprayed with an unknown substance suspected to be sulphuric acid, Sikhala said torture in Zimbabwe has the full backing of the state.
“The two were tortured in police custody by state operatives. So this must be clear, that such operation has the acquiescence of the state”.
Activists and opposition leaders have expressed their concern for the most vulnerable groups of society such as women and girls ahead of the military youth training. During Mugabe era the youth militia was accused of human rights abuses including cases of rape.
“The Border Gezi youth used violence, rape and terror” said Sikhala.
Despite claims by the Zimbabwean government that the country is under a new dispensation human rights organisations and journalists documented several reports of army rapes in Zimbabwe in 2019. Army rapes have been reported by civilians as punishment for protests and defying orders.
“Everyone with a dissenting voice is not safe and this is worse for women” said Fuzwayo.
“The harrowing stories that women went through from the fifth brigade assisted by the youth (militia) runs deep, beyond our thoughts or imaginations of any evil act against civilians”.
The revival of the NYS was instigated by Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry.
In 2003 Witwatersrand University in South Africa screened a documentary film about gender-based violence in Zimbabwe perpetrated by the pro-government militia the NYS.
The documentary film aimed to raise awareness of the plight of women and young girls in Zimbabwe who had been raped by the youth militia.
The film which never saw the light of day in Zimbabwe during Mugabe’s era shows a 16-year- old girl from Zimbabwe narrating how she had been raped by NYS men as a way of punishing her mother for supporting the opposition.
Dr Sheila Meintes, a retired member of South Africa’s Commission on Gender Equality and a Research Associate in political studies at Witwatersrand University said:
“What is happening in Zimbabwe is terrible”.
Meintes said it was sad that SADC member states like South Africa had remained quiet on the human rights violations taking place in Zimbabwe.
“More human rights abuses and it seems with impunity. And the South African government says nothing nor does the Gender Commission. It is abysmal”.
Meanwhile, heavily armed police officers and riot police were deployed in Bulawayo on Monday morning ahead of Mthwakazi Republic Party’s MRP planned Independence Day march.
“Police did not only ban the march but also deployed heavily armed police officers in anti -riot gear, Central
Intelligence Officers, CID officers in plain clothes, dog section mounted unit and the radical paramilitary forces popularly known as the Support Unit in Bulawayo CBD where the march was scheduled to take place” lamented MRP in press statement released this morning.
MRP’s President Mqondisi Moyo emerged from his hideout with the intention of addressing journalists and party members during the march which was disturbed by the police.
In the same statement, Moyo lambasted ZANU PF for the increased state perpetrated violence and its plans to re-introduce NYS.
“We note with great concern the alarming levels of lawlessness in the country perpetuated by State security apparatus”.
Moyo likened the NYS to a militia arguing that the youths will be indoctrinated with ZANU PF politics of “thuggery, mass violence and mass killings”.
“This time around Green Bombers or the Militia will come at the right time, when the people’s revolutionary MRP is there to defend Mthwakazi territory. We will not allow ZANU PF misguided youths to terrorise our people who have suffered genocide. We will match them man for man” threatened Moyo in the statement.