An update letter from Zimbabwe where the military crackdown is devastating
23 January 2019
On Monday (January 21, 2019), the Internet and social media shutdown ordered by the Zimbabwe government suddenly ended. After seven days we could now communicate again, and see the horrors that were being masked to us and the world.
It’s been an eerie time, never knowing what is around the next bend and what’s going to happen next. Talking to families of missing people is always haunting. Hearing their stories of the midnight invasion in their homes, with masked soldiers and police breaking down their doors and abducting family members, is deeply disturbing.
Talking to people who have been beaten by the soldiers is also extremely disturbing. Talking to people on the run; people who are afraid to sleep in their own homes and who have been sleeping rough in the bush in case the soldiers and police descend on them is very worrying.
I remember the same fear descending over the nation in 2008 after government’s election loss and its devastating campaign of retribution and fear in the weeks leading up to the presidential run-off election*. People wore haunted, furtive looks. Few smiled. It is the same now. Fear is all- consuming.
In this case though, it’s somehow worse. Then, it was government thugs from the ruling party doing the beating – with an armed soldier directing operations. It was disguised though. We did not see uniforms or army vehicles being used – and the indoctrination meetings each night with the beatings just before dawn were for the purposes of rooting out any opposition supporters in rural communities.
This time the army is openly moving around in army vehicles in the towns and high density areas. Often the number plates are taken off and the army personnel do not wear insignia to denote their military unit. Sometimes they have police with them.
At first they went door-to-door in a random way, in broad daylight, beating down the fragile pine baton doors and invading homes. Now the scale of the operation is massive. Sometimes tear gas is used through a broken window so that the family is forced to come out. Family members are then made to lie on the ground and be severely beaten with batons and sjamboks (heavy whips). I have spoken to family members as young as 10 years old beaten in this way. I have also heard of younger children beaten like this.
Army snatch units have abducted hundreds of people. Their families often do not know where they are for days. Many are still missing. Many of them turn up beaten and in police custody some days later, having not eaten or been given a chance to see a lawyer, or get medical attention. The conditions they are being kept in, some with broken bones, are appalling.
When eventually they are brought to court they are brought en masse. I went to one court room where 61 residents of Epworth high density area outside Harare were brought. The paperwork was a complete sham. Any just magistrate would have kicked the prosecutor out of court and ordered the release of the captives. In this situation, all magistrates in all courts have denied bail to the hundreds of people who have appeared before them. Only children have been released.
Christian people from some of the churches on occasion have had difficulty trying to feed the hungry in the cells. One of our friends who works with street children, went to see the officer in charge to get permission to feed the hungry. She was threatened and denied access. She was told: “I never want to see your face again.”
One man I spoke to told me that he had managed to evade an abduction unit and had been sleeping in the bush with many others. It’s rainy season here, and the rain sometimes comes down in torrents. Another member of his household was taken by the army and beaten and left naked. The army told him that there was a list of people who were to be put in sacks at the bottom of dams so that they would never be found again.
I discovered today that there is a new army unit that has been trained up specifically for the purpose of beating and abducting people. Yesterday a group of people were released from police custody into military hands from the notorious Law and Order Section of Harare Central Police station. Their families do not know where they were to be taken.
It is clear that a widespread, systematic attack is taking place against the people of Zimbabwe at the moment. Apart from the killings and shootings that have left a number dead, the beatings have been very extensive. In some cases wire is used, wrapped around the beating instruments, to cause severe harm.
The main objective appears to be to bring us all into a state of total fear. With the collapse of the economy due to the severe corruption and lawlessness that has prevailed for so many years, the only way the current government can retain power is through the barrel of the gun. On August 1, 2018, the day after the elections, innocent civilians were killed by the army. What we are seeing right now is a continuation of the same on a very wide scale. Nobody is safe.
Pastor Evan Mawarire was trying to get bail in the High Court in Harare today. However, the State said it was not ready for his urgent bail application to be heard and did not even bring him from Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison to stand in the dock. He faces 25 years in jail for the ridiculous charge of trying to overthrow a Constitutional Government unconstitutionally. Pastor Mawarire put out a video calling for a peaceful stayaway immediately after the President announced a fuel price hike of 150 percent, making petrol in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world.
As Wilf Mbanga, editor of The Zimbabwean online newspaper wrote in an excellent opinion piece on Tuesday (January 22, 2019): “Coming on top of decades of poor policies, economic mismanagement and rampant corruption at the heart of government, the swingeing (drastic) fuel increase was the final straw. Zimbabwe’s economy is now largely informal and transport is its lifeblood….” https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/2019-01-22-wilf-mbanga-zimbabwe-spirals-out-of-control-as-people-lose-faith-in-political-classes/
We ask for your prayers for strength for Pastor Mawarire – and indeed for all Zimbabweans – through these very troubled times.
Mike Campbell Foundation
Mobile: +263 773 929 138
E-mail: [email protected]