Original Post Date: 2002-03-31 Time: 19:54:54 Posted By: Jan
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK), March 31, 2002
By Brian Latham and Philip Sherwell in Harare
THE terror began at eight in the evening and lasted until dawn for Felicia Matamure. In tears, the young trainee teacher described last week how she was captured by government youth militia in north-eastern Zimbabwe and dragged to their camp near Mt Darwin.
There she was gagged and gang-raped by a gang of 10 young men high on drink and drugs in a horrifying night of sexual abuse and beatings. “They tied my legs and arms to poles,” the distraught 23-year-old told The Telegraph from a safe house in Harare. “The men took turns to rape me while the others watched and sang liberation songs.”
Felicia was untied at dawn, but threatened with death if she fled the camp. Undaunted, she escaped the next night and tried to report the case to the police, only to be turned away. “They were not interested,” she said.
“The war vets and the militia are above the law.”
She said there were dozens of other abducted women at the former school that has been turned into a militia camp. Some were made to wash and cook, others were forced to sleep with the gang-leaders. Most were too scared to flee because of the retribution that their family or village would face.
Lilian Nzirawa’s ordeal was just as appalling: the militia forced her into their camp, ripped off her dress and slashed her underwear with knives.
“I was tied, gagged and blindfolded while they raped me,” she recalled. After about an hour, her abductors removed the blindfold, but took it in turns to rape her again as their comrades cheered and sang revolutionary songs.
With tears rolling down her face, Lilian, in her early twenties, said she recognised some of her assailants as local men from her home area near Bindura, 60 miles north of Harare. “All I want is justice and all I can do is cry,” she said softly.
Both Felicia and Lilian are now in hiding but risked their lives to reveal the horrors they endured; their names have been changed at their request. Their revelations come as the militia and war veterans indulge in a new wave of political violence.
After resorting to rampant electoral fraud in this month’s election, President Mugabe is desperate to ensure that the MDC can never again mount such a strong political challenge to his regime.
Across the country, opposition activists have been attacked, forced to pay heavy “fines”, hounded from their homes and – in at least six cases since the election – killed by Zanu-PF mobs.
White farmers are also being targeted: in Zanu-PF’s Mashonaland strongholds, dozens have been forced from their homes in revenge for backing the MDC, while Terry Ford was shot dead on his farm at Norton.
It is local black MDC activists who are bearing the brunt of the anti-opposition crackdown, however. Laina Marowa, Tsanangurai Marowa and Dorcas Maneni fled into the bush in the eastern Manicaland province after serving as MDC polling agents.
Mobs had turned up outside their houses and local Zanu-PF leaders had ordered them to pay “fines” of almost (163)£50, a small fortune in rural areas.
Across the country, the MDC estimates that 1,200 of its election agents are on the run and there are countless reports of abuse at militia torture camps. Photographs obtained by The Telegraph reveal that new recruits are still being trained in the Bindura area, 100 miles north of Harare.
Sexual assault has also been used as part of this new strategy of terror: one 15-year-old girl was repeatedly raped by youth militia shortly after the election because they could not find her parents, both MDC activists.
According to Dewa Mavhinga, a research officer with the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’ Association (ZWLA), there are more than 1,000 female sex slaves being held in 56 militia camps.
“These militia are now in celebration mode,” he said. “They act like they’re unafraid of anything.”
The victims fall into three categories. “Some are promised money,” he said. “Others go in because they’re ordered to and they’re too frightened to disobey. The last group are taken into the camps as punishment for supporting the opposition MDC.”
The fear that they will be discovered and killed by their former tormentors is common among escaped sex slaves, according to Mr Mavhinga. “They have been told that they will be hunted down and killed by the militia and the war veterans,” he said.
Even once they have escaped, the stigma attached to rape in rural areas means that women’s suffering continues. “They can’t just admit they’ve been raped because they fear their husbands will not have anything more to do with them,” said Mr Mavhinga.
Felicia confirmed the problem as she broke down in tears and explained that she was married with a small child. “My husband works in South Africa. When I escaped I wanted to phone and tell him but I just couldn’t do it. By the time I spoke to him, he had heard. When he answered the phone, he just said: ‘I know’. That was it.”
Asked if she will ever see her husband again, Felicia smiled sadly and shook her head. “I don’t think so,” she said.