White mans flesh marks easily, it is a pale canvas on which the path of pain is easily painted. But it takes a lot more to mark a black man. Somehow, the palette of black wounds seem more violent, tearing down through dark skin, into the yellow curd of subcutaneous fat, the red gristle of muscle fibres, down to the shocking whiteness of bones.
Here in ward 2N, bed 1, is Shepherd Geti, thirty-three, who has septic lacerations on his buttocks. They have been so badly beaten that much of the tissue there is destroyed. He was arrested by three guys claiming to be policemen but refusing to produce ID cards. They took him to the local school, Donswe (in Masawa ward), where They sang their songs and beat their drums, and thrashed me and my friend with thick sticks, then told us if we went to hospital they would kill us. But after his wounds became infected and he went into a high fever he came anyway. His wife is still at home and he is so afraid that Mugabes men will return for her this time.
Here in bed 2N-13 is Edison Marisau, from the Mbire district of Guruve, where he is a village chairman for the MDC. He has second-degree burns. ZANU-PF members came (on 20 April) and burned his house down, with him hiding inside it. He managed to get out, though all his belongings went up in flames. When he went to the police they said, We can do nothing as we are no longer working as the police, we only work for Mugabes party. In the next-door village twelve houses were burned down and two men killed there.
Here, in bed 2N-7, is David Mhende, a thirty-five-year-old with a terrible head injury caused by one of Mugabes men wielding an axe. It just missed my eye, he says gratefully. And here in bed 2N-9 is a twenty-nine-year-old man from Masvingo, with a broken leg and broken hands. He is asleep. Georgie consults her notes. He is a victim of political violence too, beaten by Mugabes post-election posses.
In ward 1S, we catch up with Mr Coric, a Yugoslav orthopaedic surgeon who has never been so busy. What he is seeing mostly now is what he calls defence injuries. Its a chilling phrase one the doctors use to describe the shattering damage caused to your arms when you hold them up over your head, in an effort to protect yourself from the blows. The blows of the boot, the blows of the log, the blows of the whip, the blows of the rock, the machete, the axe.
Now Mr Coric has run out of the metal plates and pins he uses to set shattered arms and legs, so he can no longer operate, other than to clean up the shards of bone. He doesnt know what else to do. I cant just discharge someone with fractured tibias, he says, head in hands.
In ward 1S-2 are C. Mutekele and Happiness Mutata. Georgie goes to their bed ends and takes a quick look at their charts, comparing them against her book. Happiness has a fractured right leg and fractured right arm, and no plates or pins, so neither
bone is set yet. If they start to mend then Coric will have to break them again and re-set them. They are PEV victims too. The pace of the terror is so fast now, we are distilling it down to acronyms. PEV. Post-Election Violence. In 1S-10A, beneath a nil by mouth sign, lies Reason Kapfuya, an MDC member from Mrewa-UMP (Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe). He is a big man with his head partly shaved to expose a violet-tinctured wound tacked together by black nylon sutures. Both his arms are broken too, and one leg.
Who did this to you? I ask. He looks at me as though I am an imbecile. ZANU-PF, he says. Mugabes people. Next to him is Hilary Cheinuru, an MDC polling agent from Gutu West. He was ordered to go to a ZANU-PF meeting, but begged off, saying he was unwell with malaria. He was badly beaten with logs and knobkerries. But Im not finished, he says. Im going to be very serious and work harder than before. By giving us this threat, they are giving us power. Weve faced the danger, so now we are used to it.
Also in ward 1S is Reason Mashambanaka from Mrewa, with part of his hair also shaved, to reveal a gashed skull. His whole family was attacked while they were asleep. He is fifty-three. They beat my seventy-two-year-old mother, all over her body with sticks, and even my children though the littlest one is only three years of age.
Jonathan Malikita, thirty-nine, in Bed 15D of ward 1S, is the chief election agent and campaign manager for Maramba in Mashonaland East. It used to be a ZANU-PF stronghold, which the MDC was trying to infiltrate for the first time. He was a
schoolteacher but in 2002 he began working for the MDC full time.
After the elections, he says, they began terrorizing us. At midnight there was a shower of rocks, which broke the roof of my house. There was glass everywhere from broken windows, then they set the house alight. I ran naked from it and fled to the house of Florence Machinga, the MP for Wuzumba, seeking shelter. But they followed me there and burned her house down too. They attacked me there, there were more than a hundred of them. He insists that I write down their leaders: Modesta Mushambi, a ZANU councillor, Kenneth Dzema, Cephas
Chikomo, the ZANU District Chairman, Itai Kandemire, a war vet. They were trying to chop my head off with their axes and I put up my arms to protect myself. My arm was chopped in three places. It was a truly terrible fracture, agrees Georgie, shaking her head as she reviews his chart, with bones sticking out at right angles. And then they left me there because they thought I was dead, continues Jonathan. I heard them say it, Hes dead now, weve finished him, MDC has gone. If they hear I am still alive . . . He trails off.
And what about a run-off? If I go back there, they will finish me off for sure. It will be terrible. There will be a massacre. His wife, Esther, and their youngest child, Denzel, eighteen months old, are over in the paediatric ward.
In Bed 1S-1 is Grace Gambeza from Mudzi. She is twenty nine. She has septic haematoma on her back and buttocks and fractured arms, DW, says the chart defence wounds. She also has a tiny baby that is still breast-feeding. The nurse brings her in, a bundle wrapped in a white hospital sheet, and tries to hold her to Graces breast to feed. With two broken arms, Grace cannot hold her baby to her own breast. It is one of the saddest things Ive ever seen. Grace weeping silently, her broken, un-set arms lying uselessly at her sides, as the nurse holds the crying baby to her breast and tries to get it to feed. Georgie looks up from her patient log, shakes her head, blinks rapidly and takes off her glasses, pretending to clean them. Then, not trusting herself to talk, she turns on her heel and marches off to the next patient.
Bed after bed, in ward after ward, on floor after floor is filled with Mugabes victims. A hospital full of those he has injured, tortured, and burned out of their homes. As I shuttle between the torture victims, moving from bedside to bedside, long after Georgie has left, and on my return, to bedsides here and in other clinics, copiously noting down the details of their experiences, I feel helpless, frustrated and angry.
Im not sure what I can do to help. My role is unclear to me. I seem to be part chaplain (like my grandfather before me, ministering to wounded sailors in World War I), part scribe, part journalist, part therapist. Part lawyer (as I once was) taking testimony. And as these shattered people recount their full experiences in a complete narrative, many for the first time, they sometimes break down. It is as if, until now, these brave men and women have concentrated on staying alive, by taking each minute, each hour and day, at a time, and only now, as they join it all together for a stranger, into a complete narrative, do they see the enormity of the whole thing, of what they have been through.
And their stoicism can sometimes suddenly dissolve, surprising even themselves, as they get a view of the trajectory of their own suffering. But it seems cathartic too. I wish there were a better word than victims to describe what these people are. It seems so inert, so passive, and weak. And that is not what they are at all. There is dignity to their suffering. Even as they tell me how they have fled, how they have hidden, how they have been humiliated and mocked, there is little self-pity here. Survivors, I suppose, defines them better. Again, and again, as I play stenographer to their suffering, I offer to conceal their names or geographical districts to prevent them being identified. But again, and again, they volunteer their names, and make sure I spell them correctly. They are proud of their roles in all of this, at the significance of their sacrifice. And they want it recorded.
I shrink from generalizing what they have gone through, because it can feed into that sense that this is some un-differentiated, amorphous mass of Third World peasantry. Some generic, fungible frieze of suffering. One that animates briefly as you intersect with it, rubber-necking at it, a drive-by misery that disappears as you motor away over the horizon.
And for the first time, in trying to work out why I am here, and whether it is constructive, doing what I am doing, I find myself settling on a phrase that I have always avoided, a description I had found pretentious, but that now seems oddly apt bearing witness. I am bearing witness to what is happening here to the sustained cruelty of it all. I have a responsibility to try to amplify this suffering, this sacrifice, so that it will not have happened in vain.Post published in: Uncategorized