by Constance Manika
- Zimbabwe -
In the early hours of April 25th, Tariro Gweru and her husband Wellington awoke to a deafening knock on their bedroom hut. Wellington says he identified the frantic voices of his two friends, Simon Takavada and Misheck Dzikamai, got up and quickly opened the door.
As his two friends made their way breathlessly into his house, Wellington knew there was something seriously wrong. Simon and Misheck indeed had bad news: while coming home after having a beer, the two spotted trucks packed with ZANU PF youths, war veterans and soldiers making their way to their village.
Wellington and his friends had heard about the violence and knowing that some of the well known opposition MDC party activists were nearby in Howa, knew that ZANU PF's retributive campaign would one day catch up with them.
While Tariro quickly packed a few of their belongings into a bag, Wellington and his friends ran to the few homesteads nearby and warned other opposition activists of the pending danger. They were soon joined by other MDC party youths and supporters who helped them sound the alarm bells.
Moments later Wellington returned home, picked up his wife and three year old daughter Trish and fled into the mountains with Misheck and Simon, avoiding major roads so they would not be tracked by the ZANU PF thugs. Risking attack from lions and elephants, Wellington and his family walked 50 kilometers to St. Albert's Mission to catch the first bus to Harare. Their destination was the MDC headquarters where they hoped they could seek refuge, but instead were met with more bad news.
I spoke to Wellington and Tariro upon their arrival in Harare on the morning of April 25th.
Police had raided the MDC headquarters where more than 300 displaced families had sought refuge. Among the arrested were women and children, the youngest having been around five months. Police commissioner Augustine Chihuri claimed the MDC headquarters was harboring criminals guilty of "politically motivated acts of violence."
Wellington shook his head in disappointment.
"All I wanted to do was to take my family to safety. I knew that once I got to Harare my family would be safe, even if this meant traveling through the bush… Being attacked by wild animals was much better than dying at the hands of Mugabe's army. As I fled my home, my only thought was for my three-year old daughter - how could I let her die for my sins? My crime is supporting Morgan Tsvangirai and standing in the council elections against a ZANU PF candidate. Now ZANU PF is baying for my family's blood."
Had the Gwerus and their two friends arrived one hour earlier they too would have been victims of political violence and among those arrested. They felt lucky but watched helplessly as police forcefully loaded hundreds of activists from the MDC headquarters into police trucks.
Wellington and his family were eventually referred to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights for placement with a social welfare organization (not disclosed for security reasons).
Days later, through the MDC information office the Gwerus learned that many of their colleagues back home were nursing injuries of varying degrees. ZANU PF youths had left many homeless after torching homes and burning cotton and maize crops.
On the verge of tears, Tariro responded to the news saying, "I left my hard earned property, my unharvested cotton crop which I had worked hard to produce. I am deeply saddened by what has become of our lives. How can we keep killing each other like wild animals? I am just grateful to God for having spared my daughter's life."During the interview, the strain of the long journey on Tariro was quite evident: her legs were swollen and she could barely concentrate.
But the Gwerus are among the few people who have been lucky during this terrible time in Zimbabwe. Many people have not been this fortunate.
As the post election violence here in Zimbabwe escalates, I count myself among the extremely lucky too, particularly when I consider the number of journalists who have been arrested since this whole chaos began. Since the election on March 29th at least ten local and international journalists have been arrested and victimized by police.
One of my colleagues Frank Chikowore is a freelance journalist and spent close to a month in police custody. He was arrested on April 15th with journalist and MDC's Director of Information and Publicity, Luke Tamborinyoka, while covering the MDC’s work boycott.
Others arrested include local journalists Sydney Saize, Precious Shumba and Stanley Karombo, along with international journalists Barry Bearak (New York Times), Stephen John Bevan (a British freelancer), Sipho Moses Maseko and Ismail Gaibbe (both South Africa based journalists). Last week police raided the Agencie France Presse (AFP) and Reuters offices and arrested photographer Howard Burditt.
Even worse is that Mugabe has stepped up his terror campaign after the results of the presidential elections were finally announced by the ZEC on May 2nd.
The results show that the MDC faction, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, won 47.9% of the vote while Mugabe won 43.2%. According to the Electoral Act, the ultimate winner of the election has to garner at least 50 percent of the vote, but because no candidate managed to do that, the law requires a runoff between the two rivals.
As vindictive as ever, Mugabe has unleashed his army and so called war veterans and ZANU PF youths to teach Zimbabweans a lesson.
People have died, lost their livelihoods, their possessions, their homes and everything they have worked hard for almost all their lives because Mugabe cannot accept defeat. Even a brief look at Mugabe's rule shows that he is vindictive by nature.
In 1983, Mugabe unleashed a reign of terror that became known as Gukurahundi in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces of Zimbabwe. He said this was meant to quell "disturbances" he claimed were caused by "dissidents" who were threatening national peace.
The so-called dissidents were in fact former Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) forces who fought in the war under the command of the late Joshua Nkomo. The ZIPRA forces were accused of trying to cause a civil war in Zimbabwe.
However, the truth is that after independence, ZIPRA forces were unhappy about not being incorporated into the new Zimbabwe, though they had played a huge role in liberating the country.
Mugabe wanted the Zimbabwe National Liberation Association (ZANLA) forces that had been under his command during the war to take all the credit for the defeating the British forces and gave them preferential posts in the army, police and air force while ZIPRA forces were sidelined.
When ZIPRA forces spoke out, Mugabe hounded them like dogs. More than 20,000 innocent civilians were killed, accused of hiding and feeding the alleged dissidents.
The MDC now reports that at least 30 of its supporters have died in post election violence clearly perpetrated by ZANU PF. More than 3,000 people in rural Zimbabwe have also been displaced.
Eleven of the victims died on May 5th after ZANU PF militia descended on the rural village of Chinehanda in Chiweshe. Human rights activist say the Chiweshe incident has been one of the worst since this terror campaign began. Even aid officers from local humanitarian organizations that assist the displaced families are being arrested by police and harassed by the army.
The situation only gets worse and we pray for God's intervention.
In the event of a runoff I believe that ZANU PF will yet again suffer a huge and humiliating defeat. I know that once again Zimbabweans will vote tyranny out.
Tariro summed it up by saying, "Should this regime eventually get me, they should not make the mistake of leaving me alive because even in a wheelchair I will go and vote Mugabe out in the runoff."
About the Author
Constance Manika is a journalist who works for the independent press in Zimbabwe. She writes under this pseudonym to escape prosecution from a government whose onslaught and level of intolerance to journalists in the independent press is well documented.
In Meltdown in Zimbabwe, an exclusive and ongoing series at The WIP, Constance provides continued on-the-ground reporting from her embattled country where Zimbabweans struggle daily for democracy, economic sustainability and human rights.