SA-Zim rendition survivor tells all

“Clubs, rifle butts, vehicle spanners and different kinds of metal objects landed all over my body during interrogation and whenever I was being transferred from one group to another. They did not care about the blood that gushed out of my body, or the fact that I had not fully recovered from the horrific earlier injuries. They were just determined to force a confession out of me.”

Gift Nhidza: SA soldiers said they could not stop my torture by the Zimbabwean soldiers.
Gift Nhidza: SA soldiers said they could not stop my torture by the Zimbabwean soldiers.

This is the horrific experience of Givemore Gift Nhidza, one of the few survivors of rendition (official kidnapping and transport to another country) carried out by South African and Zimbabwean security officers.

Five years have gone by, but the 35-year-old, who has received no post-trauma counselling, broke into tears as he recounted his ordeal exclusively to The Zimbabwean. He was abducted in South Africa in 2007 as part of what is said to be an on-going operation between the two countries. The abduction came a few months after the former MDC security officer was hounded to SA by President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) government.

He suffered seven fractures to one of his legs when state security agents, Zanu (PF) militia and war veterans descended on him in the politically-volatile Odzi area in Zimbabwe’s eastern province of Manicaland. Nhidza thought he was safe in SA and was actively involved in humanitarian work, taking care of fellow activists who had just arrived in the neighbouring country, when the situation suddenly changed.

Pushing a fellow activist in central Joburg one day, who had been left wheelchair-bound after being shot seven times inside the MDC’s Harare headquarters by a member of Mugabe’s notorious CIO, Nhidza met Justice Chihota, the CIO operative who did the shooting.

“I was a state witness in that case and Chihota had threatened to eliminate me. Seeing us in Joburg, he stopped his Land Rover in the middle of the road. I don’t know what he was planning to do, but he quickly drove away when other motorists began hooting at him and passers-by became interested,” said Nhidza.

“I knew that I was no longer safe, but I had nowhere else to go, so I continued living as a refugee at the Central Methodist Church. I met Chihota again in Central Johannesburg and he again threatened to eliminate me. I made a report at the Central Johannesburg Police Station, where I was given a protection letter and pointing letter.”

Nhidza remained oblivious to one fact – he was being tailed. Having gone to meet newly-arrived MDC activists in Polokwane one afternoon, tragedy struck.

“Five pick-up trucks and another in South African army colours pulled over behind us at a BP service station and while I was coming out of a toilet, three men grabbed me. They accused me of training insurgents that would later be used to topple Mugabe, but I knew nothing about that. When I told them so, the three SA army officers and three others who spoke Shona and wore Zimbabwean army uniforms, would not listen. They bundled me into the army vehicle at gunpoint, claiming that they had reported me to Interpol on the same allegations.”

He was driven to a bushy military camp near the border town of Musina, where the torture began.

“Members of the South African military intelligence officers asked me when and why I had left the army, what I was doing in South Africa and why I had travelled to Polokwane that day. I told them what had brought me to South Africa and showed them my asylum seeker permit, which they verified to be true.

“I even showed them my medical reports for the first torture in Zimbabwe”.

Admitting that my case was genuine and expressing sympathy, they said they could not stop my torture by the Zimbabwean soldiers. They said the operation was a government to government onslaught which they had no power to stop. They kept telling me that given a chance, they would assist.

“The Zimbabwean soldiers did not care about the injuries I already had. They struck me with baton sticks on the same injuries that had not fully healed and laughed each time I wailed in pain. They said I was one of MDC officials who allegedly trained bandits in two camps – alleging one was in South Africa and another in Botswana. They said we were working with whites on this, but I knew nothing, so the beating continued.”

In the last two days of interrogation, Nhidza was moved to a solitary cell. Human waste and blood were scattered all over the floor and walls.

“They said the waste had come from detainees tortured during interrogation, people who were as stubborn as me and most of whom had died. Some advised that I lie about senior MDC officials’ involvement in training insurgents, but I refused and the torture worsened. After about a week, he was taken to the Zimbabwean side and his asylum papers were torn up.

“I was handed over to a group of uniformed soldiers and others wearing plain-clothes, who were driving three Toyota and one Nissan pick-up trucks, which I recognised to be those from Harare Central police station,” he recounted.

“Before they could even be told anything, they descended on me with various objects, shouting that I was a stubborn dissident who had refused to reveal information in South Africa. They said they were not sure if they would get me to Harare alive”.

“I lost all hope to live. They produced a phone which had belonged to an MDC member, but I don’t know who that was and what happened to them, but it had my number and that of other exiled MDC activists, all prefixed with the word ‘Captain’ and claimed that these were our ranks at the alleged training camps.” Nhidza was detained in an underground cell at Chikurubi Maximum prison, under the same torture conditions.

“I was beaten almost every day, denied food and water and medical attention most of the time. I went through hell. I was released after a year, towards the March 2008 elections, with strict instructions to report fellow activists I came across at any South African police station, where I should ask them to call what I think they said was the Military Protection and Intelligence Department.”

South African Police Minister, Nathi Mthethwa last month announced that the renditions were to be investigated by the Civilian Police Secretariat, which is yet to make a statement on the matter. Concerns have been raised that, although the secretariat has a civilian oversight role, it has no investigative capacity.

The Pretoria High Court recently ordered that Zimbabwean state officials accused of torture in their country should be arrested and prosecuted if they came to South Africa and this has raised Nhidza’s hopes of finding the justice that has eluded him.

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