Torture in Zimbabwe: the scars we share (26-06-07)

Issed by Sokwanele

Today, 26 June, is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. One day out of a year to support the victims of torture is not enough in Zimbabwe. Every day should be a day where we support those who have suffered this horrific form of abuse at the hand

s of Mugabe and the Zanu PF regime.

You may have heard the phrase “winning hearts and minds” before, a political euphemism to describe a campaign to win over restive populations, usually in military situations but sometimes used during political campaigning too. The term is only as meaningful as the intentions of the speaker, and critics would argue that it is often little more than empty propaganda; nevertheless, “winning hearts and minds” is a useful marker to use to differentiate between Zanu PF policies, and the policies of some our neighbouring countries where human rights and democracy are important.

Look at the following quotes* made by Robert Mugabe over the years of his stranglehold on power – are these the statements of a man who is concerned with ‘winning over hearts and minds’?

1983 – in response to victims in the Gukurahundi:

“We have to deal with this problem quite ruthlessly. Don’t cry if your relatives get killed in the process … Where men and women provide food for the dissidents, when we get there we eradicate them. We don’t differentiate when we fight, because we can’t tell who is a dissident and who is not.”

“Those who try to cause disunity among our people must watch out because death will befall them…”
2002 – At a party conference in Victoria Falls:

“This is total war. We will have a central command centre. This is war, it is not a game. You are all soldiers of ZANU (PF) for the people. When we come to your province we must see you are ready. When the time comes to fire the bullet, the ballot, the trajectory of the gun must be true.”

“We hear others say we want to go into the streets to demonstrate, to unseat a legitimately elected government. It will never happen and we will never allow it. If a person now wants to invite his own death, let him go ahead.”
2007 – Directly after the world had seen the evidence of police brutality in the form of images of bruised and badly injured civic leaders, an unrepentant Robert Mugabe uttered these ugly words:

“Our arms of Government, the police will act very vigorously and severely on those who go on a defiance campaign. We hope they have learned a lesson. If they have not, then they will get similar treatment.”
The combination of real violence combined with public promises of more violence and threats of reprisals clearly reveal that this regime is not at all interested in winning over the “hearts and minds” of the population. On the contrary, torture, violence and mass intimidation are carefully used, with calculated deliberation, to trample on the care and consideration that Zimbabweans have for one other – to create divisions, to fragment our society, to drive us apart and turn us against each other. Zanu PF’s tactics of force-feeding our nation a diet of lies, hate and fear is an attempt to fill our hearts and minds with anxiety and dread, to use torture and intimidation as a tool to control us. They want to bruise and damage our hearts; they seek to scar and break our minds.

There are many among us who have been kicked and literally felt the hard boots of cruel thugs, or felt blows being delivered with hatred on their bodies. Many who have suffered terrible physical injuries and still struggle today to reclaim their minds from the awfulness of their experiences. Those who haven’t felt those blows may consider themselves ‘lucky’ to have not had the experience.

But don’t kid yourself: when the Zanu PF government tortures a few amongst us, we all end up carrying the burden of fear and we all share the scars of pain. The Mugabe regime understands this, and deliberately builds seeks to maximize the effects of mass torture, riding high on the symptoms they provoke in an entire nation of people.

The UN Convention Against Torture defines the term as follows:

“Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
So ‘torture’ includes deliberate state-sanctioned verbal abuse, intimidation, threats of violence, promises of reprisals – all delivered with the purpose of intimidation and coercion.

This is Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: as a nation we are all subjected to regular threats of death, threats of violence, and non-specific but all-encompassing promises of “wrath”, whatever that may mean. All of this is mainlined directly into our private lives and homes through our televisions, radios and newspapers, right to where our parents and children can see and hear it too.

The intimidation has no boundaries and extends into every aspect of our lives: our need to source food, our need to buy petrol, to run our businesses, to provide healthcare to the sick among us, to educate our children. Every facet of our lives, what is important to us as civilised human beings, has been infiltrated with the Zanu PF policy of violence and verbal filth

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