So is this democracy?

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Immediately after the March 2008 harmonised elections, terror was unleashed on Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters whose only crime was choosing to support a party that Zanu PF accused of “selling out”.

An encounter with the terror victims shows the attacks were brutal and ruthless.

The widespread use of torture on MDC supporters was merciless as men and women were taken to Zanu PF bases which were hell on earth. Here every horror imaginable was played out in barbaric fashion: rape, torture and murder.

One married woman was held hostage for two months by a base commander in Zaka District, Masvingo, during which she was repeatedly raped. She gave birth to a baby that died before turning one year.

The base commander, who lives in the same neighbourhood with the woman, also attends the same church with her husband. Although the matter was reported to the police, it was never investigated to its finalisation.

As Zimbabwe heads towards another election next year, survivors of the 2008 political violence have vowed they were more determined than ever before to participate in the polls. Their only concern, however, is the shambolic voters roll from which their names may have been erased.

During a visit to Zaka district recently, some of the survivors detailed how this orchestrated campaign to eliminate opposition party supporters left thousands either maimed or dead. Their homes and property were destroyed. Livestock were not spared as cows and goats were also stolen.

“The violence is slowly streaking in as traditional leaders in the area tell the electorate that more violence will be unleashed on dissenting voices. We are campaigning for next year’s election and we are not afraid of these threats by local chiefs,” said Rose Chawatama, MDC-T councillor for Ward 13 in Zaka.

Chiefs, who fall under the Ministry of Local Government, have been accused of throwing their weight behind Zanu PF when their traditional office entailed that they be non-partisan. Zanu PF has lavished them with salaries, vehicles and such other things in what has been perceived as a loyalty-buying scheme.

Villagers allege that a chief from that district has warned about a repeat of the violence that stalked Zaka during the 2008 elections.
President Robert Mugabe has openly denounced political violence, but the opposite is happening on the ground.

The violence has apparently now targeted political leaders of the MDC in the area so as to induce fear in their supporters. An elderly man, Nelson Vhudzijena (72), from Ward 8 is recuperating at St Antony’s Musiso Mission Hospital following a petrol bomb attack on September 30, 2012.

Vhudzijena, who is also MDC chairman for Ward 8 in the Mashingaidze area, alleged in an interview at the hospital that a nephew of a local traditional leader was assigned to assassinate him.

“I heard a loud bang as I was lying in bed that night, but this has just hardened me. We are not going to be intimidated that way. We want change and that change has to come through the ballot box.  All tactics have failed and they (Zanu PF) now want to burn us to death so that the MDC electorate becomes weak. But we are going to stand by Morgan Tsvangirai in the coming elections. We are geared for the elections.”

Rose Chawatama’s husband David, a retired soldier who served first in the Rhodesia Army and the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), said that the war to eliminate MDC supporters started at his home on June 1, 2008.

“Zanu PF deployed soldiers to murder MDC leaders and supporters, a situation that has actually fuelled hatred for that party. The atrocities perpetrated on Zaka people by Zanu PF are worse than what happened during the war of liberation,” he said.

“How can you fight a defenceless villager using AK rifles and petrol bombs?” he asked. The assailants burned down four buildings at Chawatama’s homestead after ransacking it. He was shot in the foot by a senior ZNA member and lost a toe in the fracas.

“The rest of the structures will be worked on after next year’s election because we fear losing more property again. I was beaten with a rifle butt and logs. My wife managed to escape and sought refuge at the local police camp. One soldier broke my ribs. They then turned the place upside down as they searched for weapons and looted in the process.”

David Chawatama was admitted to St Antony’s Musiso Hospital, but the soldiers came the following day to investigate how he had survived the assault.

“They still wanted to eliminate me, but quick witted supporters discharged me from hospital and I left for Harare,” he said.

Zaka Central legislator Harison Mudzuri (MDC-T) described the attack on Vhudzijena as barbaric: “This is brother-to-brother violence which has an element of savagery. We will forgive, but we will certainly not forget. These atrocities give us inspiration and we will not betray our brothers and sisters in the struggle.”

A survivor of the petrol bomb attack at the MDC offices on June 4 2008, Isaac Mbanje said it was a miracle that he was is still alive.

A well-known soldier from the area locked them up at the MDC offices in Jerera and tied the door with a wire after pouring petrol on them before setting them ablaze.There were five people in that office.

“When one of the men kicked the door open trying to escape, he was shot three times and died instantly. Washington Nyamwa was ablaze and defenceless when he was shot dead. Crison Mbano was also killed in the process. Two women that were sleeping in the back office were taken hostage and forced-marched to a base where they were savagely raped. One of them died soon afterwards.”

“We are pleased that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was brave enough to mention these soldiers’ names at a rally on October 6. All we want is justice and all we are asking for are free and fair elections so that we choose a leader of our choice,” he said.

According to a report by the Centre for the study of Violence and Reconciliation, torture has been reported in the past three decades, but there have been periods when it was relatively uncommon.

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