Concern raised as women and children flee ZANU PF violence

Human rights groups have expressed concern at the increasing intimidation, violence, and reprisals being experienced by MDC-T supports in the rural areas.

Since the results of the July 31st elections were announced, ZANU PF activists have unleashed a wave of reprisals which have seen some villagers, including women and children, seeking refuge in the mountains.

Rights campaigners Amnesty International (Amnesty) last week revealed that six women from Mukumbura, in Mash Central, were now living in the mountains after they were targeted for being MDC-T supporters.

The women told Amnesty that they were being victimised after they resisted ZANU PF instructions to feign illiteracy, blindness or injury so they could be “assisted” to vote in the recent elections.

“It appears the ZANU PF supporters wanted to ensure that these women did not vote for the other parties and tried to compromise the secrecy of the ballot,” said Noel Kututwa, Amnesty’s deputy director for Africa.

In the election, Mash Central recorded an unprecedented number of assisted voters – 10,000 out of 17,000 – in what observers have slammed as a case of fraud.

Amnesty called on the Zimbabwean police to guarantee the safety of political activists in rural areas, adding that “the authorities have a duty to investigate any threats of violence and ensure those responsible are brought to justice.”

In Muzarabani, also in Mash Central, some villagers have also been displaced and fled to the mountains, after the local chief, Chiweshe, instigated a campaign of intimidation as he seeks to rid his area of the MDC-T.

One victim, Frank Machaya, said they had fled to the mountains together with their wives and children to escape attacks from ZANU PF activists. He said despite a report being made to the police, there had been no arrests.

Advocacy and victim support organization, Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HealZim), said it had received reports of outbreaks of politically motivated attacks on opposition supporters, particularly in recent weeks.

HealZim director Rashid Mahiya said: “Since 2000, some people have made it their business to be violent, to harass and intimidate and kill and these people and have not been accounted for by the law. As long as they are on the right side of the political divide, they know they can even kill with impunity,” said Mahiya.

Mahiya said it was not surprising that local leaders were being fingered in the post-election retributions, “as these institutions, like many others that should be neutral and impartial, have long been compromised.”

He added: “Civic groups work hard to bring communities together, and this works well before elections. Once election season begins, politicians stir up hatred and intolerance, and the retributions reflect a lack of political will to root out violence.”

So without any recourse to formal institutions of justice, the displaced villagers have turned to non-governmental organizations for help.

Mahiya told SW Radio Africa that HealZim was in the process of assisting some of the displaced villagers with shelter.

“We are working with others to at least accommodate these families until such a time when it is safe for them to return to their homes.

“We also have children that cannot attend their usual schools since their families were displaced and we need to ensure that they attend lessons during their period of displacement,” Mahiya revealed.

However, he could not reveal which families HealZim was working with to protect them on their return.

President Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF say they won the July 31st election with a “landslide” but rather than celebrate, the party’s supporters have escalated acts of intimidation against the losing MDC.

Other retribution hotspots include some areas of Mberengwa, Guruve, Chimanimani, Mt Darwin, Zaka, Bindura and Chikanga-Dangamvura in Mutare.

Last week, two Mberengwa women had their clothes ripped off by ZANU PF supporters who accused them of mothering MDC-T “sellouts”. – SW Radio Africa

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